Police stop and search innocent black man for ‘looking at officers with hands in pocket’

Member of public’s detention while on way to work prompts claims of racial profiling

Zoe Tidman
Friday 21 February 2020 14:46 GMT
One of the men stopped was on his way to work at the time and agreed to publicise the form he was given by police
One of the men stopped was on his way to work at the time and agreed to publicise the form he was given by police (Griff Ferris/Big Brother Watch)

Police stopped and searched a young black man in central London, apparently because he “looked at” officers and put something in his pocket.

The man’s detention – along with that of another man of colour, who was also subsequently released without charge – prompted allegations of racial profiling.

A form purportedly issued to the man following the search in Oxford Circus was posted to social media by privacy campaigners, who were monitoring the deployment of facial recognition technology in the area.

“Subject was walking past uniformed officers and continued to look at them,” the form said.

“Subject also reached back into trouser pockets, appearing to secure items in there.

“When stopped, subject used foul language and was getting more agitated by throwing bag on floor.

“Subject kept reaching into trouser pockets despite instructions not to do so.”

The man was questioned by police, handcuffed, searched and released without charge, according to Griff Ferris, a campaigner for civil liberties group Big Brother Watch.

The form also said officers were in an “area affected by gang violence and robbing in the West End”.

Mr Ferris said the man told him he was on his way to work at the time and agreed to let him publicise the form he was given by police.

“Police standing around the facial recognition surveillance van have so far racially profiled and stopped and searched two innocent young black men,” Mr Ferris said.

He told The Independent he believed the searches were humiliating, having taken place in broad daylight in a very busy area of the capital.

Silkie Carlo, the director of Big Brother Watch who also witnessed events, told The Independent that the other man stopped by police was asked what shops he was going to.

“He said not sure, then they cuffed him,” she claimed.

Officers thought it was “suspicious” that he was “walking slowly”, Ms Carlo claimed.

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said Thursday’s live facial recognition in Westminster was in support of an operation “to disrupt robbery and associated crime in and around the West End”.

They said: “Two men were stopped by officers as part of this proactive operation, one in Oxford Street and one in Regent Street, neither of whom had passed through the Live Facial Recognition zone.

“Both men were released with no further action.”

The Met has been approached for comment on allegations of racial profiling.

Figures show black people are nine and a half times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in England and Wales, and use of the powers were expanded by the government last year.

Controversial facial recognition technology was deployed in Oxford Circus on Thursday, to the outrage of civil liberties and privacy campaigners.

Hannah Couchman, from campaign group Liberty, compared the technology to “having your fingerprint taken – but without your knowledge or your consent”.

Live facial recognition checks people against “watchlists” – said to contain suspects wanted by police and the courts – and officers can approach a member of the public if there is a match.

A spokesperson for the mayor of London said Mr Khan has sought reassurance police have met conditions set out in a report on the ethical use of the technology by an independent panel.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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