Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Stopped on "Sus"


Technicians with a Polish theatre group putting on a show at a local London venue were working late into the evening one day last week, getting the performance space prepared when someone inadvertently set off the burglar alarm.

This of course triggered an alert at the local police station and a cop duly turned up to see what was going on. The Curator for the performance noted that the response of one of the Poles was quite telling; the appearance of a policeman seemed to invoke distress and a little fear. That probably says something about his memory of Polish history. 

I have no doubt that there are at least one or two in the Police ‘Service’ (not ‘Force’) in this country who would probably enjoy being feared. But if the police are really there to ‘protect and serve’, and need ‘intelligence’ to do this effectively, then being ‘feared’ does not really work.

Even as a woman, albeit a black one, I have so many horror stories of growing up with the Police ‘Force’ in South London during the 60s and 70s. Often the faces of many male friends were bruised and swollen after being picked up by the Special Patrol Group (SPG ~ now disbanded) under the notorious ‘sus’ (suspect, suspicious) laws. Not that this has gone away.

Last year I was incensed and almost driven to apoplexy when a policeman decided that he would stop and search my 14~year~old granddaughter on her way home from school one afternoon. Apparently he only lifted up the topmost book in her bag – but what was he hoping to find? A gun, a machete or class ‘A’ drugs? Unfortunately innocence was unaware of her rights and how she should respond to such an experience, why would she at that age? But she does now.

Needless to say an incendiary letter was fired off to the Home Secretary, which elicited a ‘this is not an issue for the Home Secretary's attention; she is too busy and important to respond to the likes this sort of thing' brush off. Well, that got me going...it is her issue and the bucks stops with her as she sets the tone for policing.

The response to my second letter came from someone else, this time suggesting that I should approach the Police Complaints Commission (that ‘reporting the Romans to Caesar’ organisation).

The third letter, copy and attachments sent to the local MP, elicited a response from the Home Secretary’s private office, apologising for my granddaughter’s experience and suggesting that I should take the matter up directly with Scotland Yard and as well as Caesar, and hoped I would receive an appropriate response. During a time of Coalition Government with a meagre majority, every vote counts.

In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Eighteen months on, and I hope after thousands of such complaints, the Home Secretary proposes to amend the stop and search laws, ‘suss’ by another name.

Who knows why David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist who wrote about US and British securities services, was stopped and held at Heathrow for 9 hours under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act? It’s good to see that one of my elected representatives is checking on the justification for Miranda’s detention.[1]

Yes the advent of terrorism actually does mean that we have to change the way we live and even be prepared to give up certain freedoms but that does not mean that certain communities and people with a particular complexion must be targeted, harassed and intimidated. Why did the ‘authorities’ not go direct to the journalist in question, rather than detaining his Brazilian partner?

Over 200 years ago Thomas Jefferson, the third US President said...when people fear their government there is tyranny …and that is never a good thing, especially in a democracy. We need to constantly speak out against tyranny in all its forms in case (to paraphrase the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller during the Nazi era in Germany)...when they come for you, there will be no one left to speak for you. 
 

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