Being in possession of a black or brown skin has never been much of an advantage when it comes to dealing with the criminal justice system. But figures released by the Home Office have revealed just how many from Britain's minorities are being targeted.
A quarter of those whose DNA details have been stored on the national police database after being arrested, but not charged or convicted, were black, Asian, Chinese or Middle Eastern. As these groups form 9% of the overall population, it means that innocent members of ethnic-minority communities are almost three times more likely than innocent white people to have details of their DNA on the database - and up to eight times more likely in rural areas such as Avon and Somerset.
These figures will confirm what minorities have known for a long time: that we are far less likely than white people to be allowed to go about our everyday business undisturbed. They will also reinforce the feeling that police find it hard to view members of ethnic minorities as anything other than suspect - even when they are demonstrably the victims of crime. The database also includes DNA samples from victims and witnesses who have given their "consent". One can only wonder how many white, affluent suburban dwellers are asked for a DNA swab after calling the local bobby to a break-in.
Such intrusions look set to become more common if the government pushes ahead with identity cards, due to come into force next year. While carrying a card will not be compulsory for Britons, it will be for non-EU nationals - handily covering the majority of non-white migrants. How many times will police officers fail to differentiate between a British or European-born black or Asian person and somebody who has arrived from outside the EU?
Despite a range of safeguards - and a great deal of hand-wringing since the Stephen Lawrence case - the police still routinely misuse their discretionary powers. Black people are five times more likely than whites to be stopped and searched - 14 times more likely in predominantly white suburbs. Stops of black people are more likely to involve searches, including strip searches, and to end in arrest. When police action is challenged further down the line, for example when the Crown Prosecution Service decides if cases are worth pursuing, those involving black people are more likely to break down. And the Home Office itself admits that only 10% of stops result in arrests, with only 5% leading to cautions or convictions.
A Home Office race equality impact assessment into identity cards reported that the chief concern of ethnic minorities was that the police would disproportionately demand to see their cards. "Education and training" of police officers - and other public- and private-sector employees - would be necessary. Yet, bizarrely, it concluded that the scheme would be "non-discriminatory" and promote good community relations, by improving citizens' faith that immigration rules were not being flouted.
When Tony Blair came to power a decade ago there was a sense of optimism about how the fraught relationship between black communities and the police might be healed. Here was a government committed at last to holding a public inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the resulting report appeared to be a watershed.
It is heartbreaking, then, to see how little has changed as Blair resigns. Last year the Guardian revealed that the authorities currently hold the DNA profiles of nearly four in 10 black men in the UK - meaning that 40% of black husbands, sons and fathers have been tarnished as suspects for the rest of their lives. One wonders how long it will take for that proportion to reach 100%.
Source: The Guardian
Last Mod: 15 Mayıs 2007, 16:53