Friday, March 23, 2007

Stop-and-Search Under Attack

The BBC is reporting that Sir Menzies Campbell is going to attack the police stop-and-search powers in a speech later today. He is expected to claim that their overuse is "alienating ethnic minority communities".

The BBC quotes figures from the Lib Dems of 167,000 stops under terrorism laws and only 40 convictions. It's probably safe to assume that the figure "40" comes from the Home Office statistics and, once again, conveniently ignores the other 186 convictions, the 98 on-going trials and the 74 people handed over to immigration.

Furthermore, it is safe to assume that the "ethnic minority communities" referred to are Muslim communities; the speech is due to be given in a mosque in Birmingham. This also ignores statistics from the Metropolitan Police Authority (read all here [pdf] pages 45-46). These show that approximately 50% of all stops are of white people and that in the region of 16-18% are of Asian people (except in South London where the figure is 21%). They also report that a total of 12% of the population of London is of Asian origin. In other words, the Asian community is being stopped-and-searched slightly more often, but not a huge amount.

The statistics show that the police stop-and-search powers are not being abused. All that is left is the feeling that they are. This feeling is partly due to poor communication from the police on wider anti-terrorism matters, partly due to poor reporting, but mostly due to political exploitation. It suits Sir Menzies to pretend that police are abusing their power. It suits Muslim leaders to pretend that they are being unfairly victimised. It suits the angry Muslim youth to feel angry.

But one final point. If Muslims were being targeted by stop-and-search powers, why would this be? Of course, it would be because they are more likely to be terrorists than other people. This is a harsh fact that so many Muslim people do not want to accept.

It is a fact that there are Muslims in Britain who want to kill and maim innocent British civilians and that casts a shadow over every Muslim in Britain. That means that Muslims will have to work harder than most to convince the public that they mean no harm. In the years since 9/11 and even since 7/7 we have not seen such an effort. Sure we have had condemnations of terrorist attacks; but we've had stronger condemnations of the police. We've had threats of "2 million terrorists". We've had angry protests against terrorism arrests and the Iraq war and against Israel. But when was the last time we had a protest against terrorism?

It will no doubt be hard work, but if Muslims want to remove the suspicion they must put in that effort.