Guest Blog by Cllr Mark Blake, Cabinet Member for Communities and Engagement London Borough of Haringey
The former EHRC Chairman fails to learn the lessons of the past and advocates policies that will not only further erode trust and confidence in the Police from those communities most affected by serious youth violence but increase the risk of civil disorder.
A number of people have approached me with regards to Trevor Phillips recent article in the Mail newspaper calling for the police to be made exempt of race equality laws to allow them to carry out more stop and search operations on predominantly young black boys in areas with high levels of violent crime. This article came in a month when the National Police Chiefs Council floated the idea of reforming the PACE codes for stop and search (lowering the threshold for reasonable grounds which were implemented after the Scarman report following the 1981 Brixton riots) and the Met suggesting that armed officers should patrol known knife crime hot spots. All of these interventions have caused anxiety and concern in those communities most affected by serious youth violence.
There are a number of facets around these developments which I find concerning. Firstly there is a very loud authoritarian lobby at the moment that Trevor appears to have joined who believe the answers to the rise in serious youth violence across our country can be addressed via more enforcement and punitive measures. This sits in contradiction to the much vaunted public health approach with its emphasis on treating violence as similar to a contagious disease and that better prevention is the only long term method to eradicate the source of the contagion.
In my view the more punitive and enforcement-driven the response the less likely we are to address the underlying conditions feeding the upward trend in youth violence. In fact if we draw on the lessons of the past the more reactive the measures from the state the more likely I would suggest you increase the risk of violence and civil disorder. PACE was implemented as a direct response to the use of the SUS laws that were a key instigator of the Brixton riots in 1981 according to Lord Scarman. Of course the inequities in stop and search continued for black communities after PACE and, up until a few years ago, Theresa May (when she was Home Secretary) was reviewing its effectiveness and fairness citing directly its negative effect on young black men.
As a former Chair of the EHRC, the apparent disregard for any consideration around the impact on community relations and the likelihood that his proposals would result in many innocent young black children being subjected to what is a highly frightening experience is reckless and highlights a disconnect from the realties on the street for black communities which afflicts most of our political and policy making establishment. After eight years of austerity which has decimated many of those preventive interventions such as youth services that helped to keep inner city kids safe what young people in Haringey from our most impoverished communities are telling me is that they want safe spaces, activities and economic opportunities for themselves and their families and a more positive and less punitive relationship with the police, schools, council and other government bodies.
What we need in a time of great stress for children, families and communities is leadership from our politicians and public services that actually listens and wants to work with those communities most affected by serious youth violence and builds trust. You cannot build trust with communities while simultaneously supporting policies that will potentially criminalise innocent young people and children. As Trevor should know we have trod this path many times before with often horrendous consequences.
With the lessons of our history in Haringey I am determined to place community engagement and building trust at the heart of what we as a council do with our public sector partners, civil society and faith organisations, and the community in response to serious youth violence. We need our politicians and public bodies to be more accountable to our communities.
I am convinced the kind of knee jerk authoritarianism put forward by Trevor will only worsen what is a very dangerous moment. It’s the 20 year anniversary of the launch of the McPherson Report next year, a poignant milestone to reflect on where relations with the black community and the police are. Dare I say to Trevor that this is not a time to be making proposals that will only further worsen those relationships and will do nothing to address the causes of serious youth violence.
Cllr Mark Blake Cabinet Member for Communities and Engagement London Borough of Haringey