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Police say stop and search is essential for preventing crime – but its use has fuelled distrust in black and minority ethnic communities for decades. David Woode meets young people in south London who are seeking to create change

Tristan Banton was 13 and travelling home from a family party. Joel Chigbo was 16 and cycling to school. Despite the different situations, both young men share similar feelings about their first time being stopped and searched by police.

“There had been drug dealing in the area and [the police told us] me and my dad ‘fitted the description,”said Tristan, now 16.

“The situation was blown out of proportion. My dad ended up getting detained and, being 13 and seeing him in that state, it scared me. I froze. I was shocked.”

Tristan Banton was 13 and travelling home from a family party. Joel Chigbo was 16 and cycling to school. Despite the different situations, both young men share similar feelings about their first time being stopped and searched by police.

“There had been drug dealing in the area and [the police told us] me and my dad ‘fitted the description,’” said Tristan, now 16.

“The situation was blown out of proportion. My dad ended up getting detained and, being 13 and seeing him in that state, it scared me. I froze. I was shocked.”

He continued: “I had my back up against the wall and I ended up getting detained. It’s one of those things that you hear about and think, ‘Surely that won’t happen to me?’ And then it does.”

Tristan, who lives in South Norwood, south-east London, and is studying for A Levels in business, philosophy and ethics, and government and politics, said he has been stopped and searched “five or six times”.

He continued: “To experience that at a young age, with my family, makes you think, ‘I’m never really safe’. To be stopped, searched and detained in front of them made me feel powerless.”

Fellow sixth-former Joel, who lives in Peckham, south-east London, said he has been stopped and searched twice – the first time when he cycled to school in May last year [2021].

“I was stopped by undercover officers who said they had suspicions I was trying to get away from them. They said I looked at their car and [pedalled] quicker. The reason I looked was because I was riding across the road and needed to check both ways.

“It was so ridiculous that I could only laugh. I mentioned I was picking up my prefect blazer and they let me go. I was surprised but I was calm and polite.”

Joel, who studies psychology, economics and English literature and is considering a law degree, added: “When it comes to justifying their actions, don’t make it any easier for them to be violent towards you.”

Articulate and ambitious, Tristan and Joel know that hundreds of thousands of men and boys, spanning generations and ethnicities will have their own stop and search stories.

But having reflected on their experiences, they want all young people to know stop and search legislation to protect and advocate for themselves.

Tristan said: “When you’re approached by police it’s frightening; even if you’re one of the most secure people on earth, you feel fear. Knowing your rights is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself; you don’t have to be violent and aggressive and fit the stereotype that they lay out for you.”

Joel added: “The culture of hatred towards the police is not constructive and only leads to more violent and aggressive interactions. Similarly, the culture surrounding stereotyping and preconceived judgements that cause stop and searches needs to change. [The community and the police] need to inwardly reflect change.”

These sentiments were typical of the remarks expressed by Gen Z changemakers at a recent stop and search event in Kennington, south-east London.

The controversial policing power, deployed to identify offenders and prevent crime, has long fuelled distrust in black communities in England and Wales – where trust in the police is around 20 per cent lower than the national average (75 per cent).

At present, black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people (down from 8.8 times in 2020).

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