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Police Are Not Hunting Black Boys

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Whenever debates on knife crime arise, it’s only a matter of time before the discussion shifts to the practice of stop and search. Subsequently, talks about stop and search predictably lead to debates around whether the practice is racist.

Statistics do show that police stop and search young Black men in disproportionate numbers. Some view this as an indisputable indictment of structural racism. They condemn the practice as discriminatory and even call for its abolition. However, others argue that stop and search remains a vital tool that law enforcement can use to protect vulnerable communities suffering from surging knife crime.

Disparities in statistics don’t necessarily mean discrimination. Sometimes they function as indications or warning signs that something else is wrong. Labelling crime prevention measures as racist misidentifies the core issue: young Black men face disproportionately high rates of victimisation in knife-related incidents. Therefore, these street inspections logically stand to benefit this demographic the most.

For example, despite constituting only 13% of London’s population, Black Londoners alone account for approximately 40% of knife homicide victims and over 60% of perpetrators. Even if the practice of stop and search were to cease tomorrow, it would not tackle or resolve the underlying issues that compromise the safety and future potential of Black youths.

So why don’t we hear about these harrowing statistics as often as we do about stop and search figures? For instance, a recent headline from the Mirror declared, “Black kids are being targeted by stop-and-search.” The reality is that disproportionate stops likely mirror disproportionate offences rather than racist targeting. 

In a recent episode of Question Time, an audience member posed a question concerning knife crime and possession. The question stemmed from the recent sentencing of Valdo Calocane. Calochane was an engineering graduate who killed three people and attempted to kill three more during a violent spree through Nottingham in the summer of 2023. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and given a hospital order with restrictions, which drew strong public criticism.

While some members of the panel debated mandatory sentences and whether zombie knives or machetes should be banned, panellist Konstantin Kisin took a different approach. The Triggernometry host emphasised that there was a larger issue to address, namely that the people frequently involved in knife crime incidents were young men from poor backgrounds who lacked positive male role models in their lives. Put another way, family disintegration and a lack of structure in the home were the root causes of the problem, rather than issues involving the police.

When he described this phenomenon, he wasn’t talking specifically about Black boys, of course. It’s not just Black individuals who come from broken homes or have absent fathers. Young people of all ethnicities can be affected by this negative social trend. However, the fact that a disproportionate number of Black people come from single-parent households is telling.

According to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ 2020 report, 63% of Black Caribbean children and 62% of Black Other ethnic children were raised by single parents. Single parenthood is less common among Black Africans, but at 43%, it is still significantly higher than average, according to the report.

Of course, single-parent households are not to blame for the knife crime epidemic, but one should not underestimate the privilege of having two parents at home, especially for young boys. It is unfortunate that this is not discussed in mainstream conversations as often and as passionately as one would like to discuss racism.

In such a polarised society, we have forgotten that many things can be true at the same time. Discrimination and negative racial disparities still exist in the criminal justice system, and these must be eradicated. Nevertheless, we cannot remove power and personal agency from individuals by asserting that they have zero control over the choices they make but are only a product of the environment they are in.

Rather than engaging in political point-scoring, our focus should shift towards meaningful conversations and the implementation of practical policies. The idea that police hunt young Black boys is a myth. Police officers hunt criminals irrespective of their skin colour. And the stark statistics presented above indicate that, in fact, young Black boys are the ones hunting themselves.

We have to nip this issue in the bud once and for all.

Ada Akpala is the senior content officer of The Equiano Project.


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