Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Stop and search saga

Stop and search diary entry #1: 22 September 2008

Despite a lack of ticket sales and being stopped and searched on my way to deliver the show, it went well considering.

I found the irony of being stopped and searched at Euston station while waiting for a train to take me up to Birmingham to deliver a show about feelings of Britishness, citizenship and isolation post-7/7 bombings ironical, and not in the Alanis Morrisette way.

I was stopped by an Iranian policeman who said that he was conducting random bag searches under anti-terror laws. I smiled and noted that I was wearing tweed and sporting a guitar, hardly terrorist regalia. I also asked him how many brown guys he was stopping in the station. He noted the irony that he was essentially given this job to soft-peddle the racial profiling as I flipped open my bag. He became concerned by all the Union Jack props, flags and hats in the bag because it meant one of two things:

1) I was a nationalist ready to kick in the head of the foreign (in his case Iranian) scum.


2) I was a terrorist try-hard thinking that dressing up like a Brit abroad might be the ultimate disguise... 'I love UK.'

He wrote me out a receipt for the stop and I went on my way, feeling almost seduced by him. Normally I would have been on the aggy train but he was... dare I said it... cuddly... My song 'If Only All Policemen were Cuddly' (available now etc...) was actually spawning real life cuddlawmen.

At the Drum, I was given a backstage to prepare and a set to dress and spent the afternoon watching episodes of the Wire and trying not to hyperventilate. The show itself went excellently, if a little empty. Everything was smooth and any fluffs were only noticed by me. I managed to stave off the cough fits of previous rehearsals during my recent flu-carceration. One group of Marxists politicos came along but left at the interval due to the last of socialist debate and anti-establishment rhetoric. They didn't appreciate the comedic frivilousness of debating Britishness in an accessible way that might inspire debate with people who don't usually choose to have any opinions on it. The copper watching the show appreciated it too and all's well that ended well. Now, the mission begins... booking it up elsewhere shall prove to be the next challenge.

New Kesh New Danger Danger Enter the Graveyard Chamber...

Stop and search diary entry #2: 23 September 2008

So I got stopped and searched again yesterday.


I'm putting out a vibe, obviously. A vibe that says, 'I may be nefarious - look in my bags.' This time I felt more violated not only because of the officer's wilful need to argue political discourse with me but because instead of usual procedure where you pull things out of your bag in case there's anything sharp, he pawed through my stuff like he owned, sullying my possessions with his dirty po-po-paws. He flicked through my notebook grimacing at choice phrases and thoughts here and there. He was quick to assert his jurisdiction over my every move.

The conversation we had after he stopped me went something like this (I am paraphrasing but most of it is how I remember):

ME: So, what law am I being stopped under this week?

PO: Excuse me?

ME: Last week I was stopped under anti-terror laws. So is this under anti-terror laws too?

PO: I can't speak for the other officer I'm afraid.

ME: No, he told me he was stopping me under anti-terror laws, what with me being brown and unshaven...

PO: Are you saying I'm racially profiling you?

ME: No... I'm telling you about my previous experience...

PO: No, you've made the comment now. If you want a discussion about 'racial profiling' let's do it... let's talk now...

ME: I was making banter so this was as pleasant an experience as possible... No danger of that now.

PO: No, let's talk about it now. You've said it.

ME: All I asked was why you were stopping me. You're supposed to give me a reason aren't you?

PO: It wasn't racial profiling.

ME: I'm not saying it was. I was making banter because this is the second time in a week I've been stopped so am wondering what it is about me that keeps making policemen want to stop and search me.

PO: Are you suggesting we're raciall profiling you?

ME: No, I just want to know why I've been stopped.

PO: Right, you've been stopped under section 60 of the Criminal Justice Act. I don't have to tell you why. It's a random search.

ME: It doesn't feel random anymore.

PO: If you're suggesting that we are racially profiling you then let's talk about it. Let's have a debate. Now. Come on...

ME: Here's my bag.

He then pawed his way through my bag like it was his and I was his bitch and there I stood intimidated by his fierce aggressive stance and prickly demeanour. When it was over I demanded my receipt and he wrote it out begrudgingly scrawling his comments illegibly. I walked away feeling slightly more violated and pissed off with the state than I was a week ago, two weeks ago, three years ago, four decades ago.

Stop and search. Detect and abuse.

Stop and search diary entry #3: 7 october 2008

This is getting ridiculous. Stopped and searched again under anti-terror laws. What is it about me?

This time, I let the policeman rifle through my bag. He made jokes to ease the awkward atmosphere, commenting on my Spider-man beanie hat and the half eaten packet of hula hoops contained in the bag. He pretended to scan the back of the book I was reading, all to show me how amiable he was, and this was in fact random. Once he had written me my receipt ('Thank you, come again!') I asked if I could have a private word.

I asked him why I had been stopped and searched randomly three times in three weeks. He said, jokingly, that I must have that kind of face. 'What? Brown?' I quipped. He smiled with embarrassment and changed the subject, stressing that it was in fact random. I said that 3 times in 3 weeks considering the amount of people in London was certainly not random for one person. What was it about me? He said that he had to stop people with bags? 'So, I'm brown with a rucksack?' He changed the subject. I asked if carrying a record bag would reduce my chances of being stopped and searched. He told me the policy one more time and after a few more circular arguments that came back to the legal bottom line, I went on my way, my cheeks burning, my eyes tearing and feeling violated, profiled and definitely like an enemy of the state.

This is racial profiling. End of.

I don't need to say anymore really.

When I mentioned the incident to a friend, he replied succintly, 'that is a joke. you should write a story on it. frigging ridiculous. this is exactly what's going to happen with 42 day without trial, ID cards, makes me so angry we're sleepwalking into a police state (for ethnics) and nobody gives a flying fuck. sorry. rant over.'

Last night, Panorama investigated the continued prevalence of racism in our police forces and came to a depressing conclusion.

Know your rights

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