Urban life - Darcus Howe welcomes a convert

A standard-bearer for the old style of policing comes out against stop-and-search

I never believed I would live to see the day when the London Evening Standard would criticise the Metropolitan Police for abusing its powers to stop and search. Blacks, the Standard now accepts, are affected disproportionately.

It has taken the paper 25 years since the Brixton riots to accept our reality. Its editorial comment of 3 April was informed by the elegant Claudia Webbe, a race relations adviser to Ken Livingstone and a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. The Standard

reported that this young, middle-class, black woman has been stopped 39 times in 19 years by officers of the Met. She tells us that their suspicions were based on the fact that she was "driving while black".

This would-be local councillor says her experience is minor compared to that of black men in our capital. I wrote here only last week of my Brixton encounters in 1981. I am not as rigorous as Webbe in recording the number of times I have been stopped, or the number of times the Standard supported similar action against innocent black males. A few incidents do, however, come to mind. Once I was stopped in the West End and accused of attempting to steal from women's handbags. The police officers wanted to search me, and I told them to piss off. I was taken to the nearest station. I recorded the events in the Guardian shortly after.

Another time, I was on my way home when a young man I knew asked me for a fiver. I gave it to him and, as I walked on, I was rushed by two police officers, handcuffed and accused of selling drugs. A crowd gathered and I asked them to disperse. These incidents and more I shared with scores of black men as I campaigned for the abolition of stop-and-search.

On the opposite side stood the Standard, waving the flag for "good, old-style policing", and launching vicious attacks against the "politically correct".

So what has changed? The constituency which supported this abuse of power has dwindled, while the current commissioner of the Met, Sir Ian Blair, seems committed to change. We welcome the Standard's conversion to our cause.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 10 April 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Religion: who needs it?