The Continuing Trauma of Stop and Search
Author Anne-Marie Senior
How many times have you been stopped by the Police? In your car? On the street?
I have been stopped 7 or 8 times, mostly in my car. More if I include other stops.
A female friend of mine was once stopped in her car 17 times in 6 months, she was a successful professional in a nice-ish car. In the end she drove to the local police station and practically asked to be arrested for whatever it was she kept being stopped for. Obviously there was nothing to arrest her for.
Just this week, another friend, a fellow Anti Racist Cumbria colleague shared a recent experience. She was stopped by Cumbria Constabulary supposedly about the compliance of the licence plates on the car. An incident which is normally deemed extremely minor and rarely a reason to stop someone. The officer had seen she was driving before stopping her. Interestingly even telling you this detail is irking, as so often Black people have to prove that racism was part of the issue rather than being believed. It’s all part of the trauma.
Before she had even spoken she was asked if she was local. In her own words.
“ I answered loudly and clearly the first time. And then on his second ask, he added “as in you live here?” Why the addendum to the original question? Then followed by “well where do you live?”
Now you might think that might be a reasonable question but as a Black woman it took on a very different meaning and feel. The attitude of these officers only changed when her White husband became involved, at which point the officers became much more conciliatory, amenable and helpful.
The incident left her disturbed and second guessing herself.
My friend’s story brought up many emotions for me, anger on her behalf, bad memories for me where I’ve had similar experiences with the Metropolitan Police in London and a genuine fear for myself and for any male family members who come to visit me in Cumbria.
Recent data showed that during Lockdown if you were Black you were more than twice as likely to be stopped or given a fine in Cumbria.
So I need to unpack these feelings and process them…
Anger for my friend – the questions about her ‘being local’ hark back to the ‘but where are you really from?’ question I and numerous others have been asked countless times, the inference being that as a Black, Brown or Minoritised person ‘you don’t belong here’ and the fact that in their eyes we are only validated by a white person.
My bad memories relate to two particularly ridiculous stops where I was asked inane questions as if I was some sort of imbecile – one stop was late at night and made me feel very unsafe apart from anything else and although I was able to challenge some of their nonsense, I’m not sure I’d feel quite so bold now, particularly with the imminent implementation of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.
Black people were seven times more likely to be searched than white people in the year ending March 2021. – IOC
My fear is something that has been growing steadily over time both for myself as a Cumbria resident, and for my family members who come to visit me, particularly my male family members. My nephew who is in his late 20’s comes to visit me regularly, he loves it here and regularly likes to go for walks, something I used to worry about in London. Here he stands out even more and that worries me too. I feel extremely sad that I feel like this but there are too many examples where Black men do not come off best in their encounters with the Police. I’m also mindful of the potential of a negative encounter with the Police for myself, again given my past experiences, the increased powers the Police are about to take on through legislation and the plain reality of my skin colour!
I titled this article, ‘the continuing trauma…’ because these experiences are traumatic. They stay with you and can be triggered by the things that happen to others. It is also important to recognise that, particularly with racism, there is often a rush to say ‘oh but was it really, are you sure, I’m sure they didn’t mean it like that’, as a Black woman I am so tired of having to justify how something made me feel. The Equality Act 2010 talks about impact versus intention so I describe it like this; if I dropped a box on your foot and said I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to do that, it might be perfectly true, but what’s the result? Your foot still hurts. So if a Black, Brown or Minoritised person tells you they experience racism, first and foremost – believe them. Don’t deny their experience, or immediately start to explain them away. it’s how it made them feel and you cannot tell them the impact was something different.