Wayne Walton recounts his experience of being targeted by police and asks what can be done to change government policy
Prime Minister Theresa May admitted at the Conservative Party Conference that “black people are seven times more likely to be targeted” for random stop and search by police.
Yet, she stopped short of recognising the impact this police policy has on the people who are searched. It is clear the government has either run out of solutions or doesn’t want to find any.
In my own experience of being stopped and searched by police officers, they have behaved in ways that I can only describe as abusive and corrupt. Last year I was stopped six times in seven weeks and searched three of those times, and again for the seventh time a month later.
On one occasion I was approached while reading a newspaper in the street, near the Orient football ground in Leyton. Three police vans stopped and surrounded me from different directions and around ten police officers jumped out ready to pounce on me.
I didn’t even hear or notice them because I was engrossed in my newspaper. One of the officers told me they’d received a call that a masked man was walking around in the street. I was lost for words. The officer then said that someone in the street who saw me called the police maliciously and described me as a masked person going mad in the street. The officer asked me for my name and address, but I just told him that I hadn’t done anything wrong and carried on reading my newspaper.
Unfortunately, it appears some people do call the police against people of African heritage maybe because they know they will subject the individual to a humiliating interogation.
I like to take pictures when I am out and about and often carry my camera around with me, but one day six police saw me take a photograph of a building and then questioned me and detained me under terrorism laws because they said it was unusual to have pictures of a building. But they didn’t delete the pictures, I was not arrested, and they gave me back my camera, because they know the reason why they stopped me was not reasonable and would never progress in the justice system.
On another occasion I was stopped by six police while waiting at Stratford Bus Station. There was a Black Lives Matter protest taking place that day and a man at the bus station kept looking at me. I had taken a picture of the bus station and he asked me why. I told him there was nothing wrong with taking pictures, but he called the police. When they arrived one officer told me they were going to search me “in case the station goes boom”.
But by far the worst incident I had was early one evening in Ilford. I was a bit lost and had quickly crossed the road in front of moving traffic. One of the vehicles happened to be a police van. The van screeched to a halt next to me and six police officers jumped out and accused me of “running away from police”. I asked: “How did you work that out when I crossed the road in front of you?”
I was then told I would be searched. The officers grabbed my wrists, twisted my arms up behind my back, and pushed my face and body against a fence before locking their handcuffs so tightly on my wrists that the edges on the inside rim were digging into my bones.
I pleaded with them to loosen the handcuffs but was told they weren’t that tight. After about 40 minutes, when nothing of criminal interest had been found on me, the officer released one cuff but then twisted the other upwards behind my back.
The handcuffs left deep marks and bruising on the sides my wrist for over a fortnight and I could still feel the pain even then. I ended up in hospital a few days later resulting from the police brutality, with a heavily bruised jaw which I could not open or move even to drink water.
My situation is not unique. There are many people of African heritage who are arrested based on police provocation. But they are less likely to report instances when they have been badly treated by police, often because they feel they are rarely believed while police are exonerated of indiscretions.
Politicians do not seem to know what is happening on the street or how to hold the police to account. The 1824 Vagrancy Act made it an offence to sleep rough on the streets and saw the beginnings of stop and search police tactics. Since then there have been studies into the impact of stop and search but no independent investigation into the impact on the health of individuals affected.
I am demanding an end to police searches that unfairly discriminate against black people; a UK independent investigation into the impact of stop and search on individuals and families; new humane police powers to replace stop and search and effectively target criminals; a change in the design of handcuffs; and improved police recruitment to weed out corruption and abuse.
I would encourage people to question their Members of Parliament (MPs) and hold them to a higher level of accountability. Let us not be afraid to denounce abuse. Let us not be afraid to do the right thing. We will be a better nation for it in the long term and it will be our way of serving future generations.
Wayne is keen to hear from anyone who would like to support his campaign to end police stop and search. He is also happy to talk to anyone who has been unfairly targeted by the police.