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Debunking prosecution myths: “Gang” stereotypes, joint enterprise & racist driven stop & searches

Monday 28 September 2020

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The State’s approach to Black youth is often racist and has been heavily criticised by academics, campaign groups, lawyers and human rights organisations.  An example of this discrimination is how the police compile their so called 'Gangs Matrix' by reference to racist stereotypes. For example ‘grime music videos featuring gang names or signs [are] considered a key indicator of likely gang affiliation.’[1] People who have never been involved in violence are added to the Matrix and it's disproportionate. In October 2017 78% of the people on the Matrix were Black, an even more striking statistic in light of the fact that only 28% of those responsible for serious youth violence were Black. Amnesty International called out the Matrix over two years ago, followed by the Information Commissioner’s Office which stated that the database was in breach of data protection legislation. This year the police removed hundreds of names from the Gangs Matrix, but the question remains: why were they there in the first place?

Over 20 years ago Sir William Macpherson labelled the Met as being ‘institutionally racist’. In 2019, when Cressida Dick was asked about such a description she said "I simply don't see it as a helpful or accurate description. This is an utterly different Metropolitan Police". Yet stop and search powers are still used indiscriminately and Black people are 40 times more likely to be stopped and searched in the UK than  white people[2]. It’s unlawful, humiliating and a stark reminder of the powerful steer that these stereotypes provide. A vicious circle is created by this unlawful detention and public shaming. It reinforces and provides an ongoing example of the racist approach of the State. Meanwhile at the Met’s current recruitment rate, it will take about 100 years to have a properly representative police force. Does this reflect an “utterly different” police institution?

The police’s approach to the Black community provides part of the narrative, ‘justification’ and ‘evidence’ for the subsequent prosecutions. Arresting officer’s assertions that suspects are gang members, known gang members or are associated with gangs are often repeated in Court by officers who purport to be ‘experts’ but have no real knowledge of the topic they are talking about.  The use of the gang stereotype provides the State with the ability to employ the prosecutor’s best friend – the joint enterprise doctrine.

When Gang evidence is not opposed, scrutinised, called out, excluded and defence experts aren’t instructed, the adversarial system fails the Black defendants it has in it’s charge. When the directions to the jury omit the caution that should be employed when considering the prosecution’s assertions on gangs, so called gang signs and joint enterprise, there are miscarriages of justice. Often the State locks up, for life, numerous Black youths on the back of the actions of a single individual.  Black youths end up serving 100's of years inside for crimes they just didn’t commit.

The State’s approach to so called gangs, joint enterprise and its deliberate focus on Black youth is indefensible. These are racist prosecutions not ‘wrong turns’.  Amnesty International considered the Gangs Matrix in detail and they concluded ‘The Gangs Matrix is based on a vague, racialised concept: ‘the gang’. Police officers told Amnesty researchers they were concerned about the conflation of gang crime with serious youth violence, as there is less overlap than commonly presumed. This analysis is backed up by the Mayor of London’s Office for Policing and Crime, which found that more than 80% of knife-crime incidents resulting in injury to a victim under 25 in London were deemed to be non-gang-related. ‘Gangs are, for the most part, a complete red herring... fixation with the term is unhelpful at every level,’ said one officer."

Violent crime is complex, nuanced and requires careful investigation before it is prosecuted. It’s not all about gangs, far from it. In 2017 The London knife crime strategy stated ‘Recent data suggests that the majority of knife crime is not gang-related. Gang-flagged crime accounted for 5% of all knife crime with injury during 2016 – down from almost 9% in the preceding year… focusing exclusively on gangs is not going to solve or adequately impact on our knife crime challenges in London’

Garden Court’s series of webinars will provide an insight into the devastating stop and search statistics, the approach of the State to prosecuting Black youth and how to combat racism in Court. Sign up now.

[1]https://www.amnesty.org.uk/london-trident-gangs-matrix-metropolitan-police

[2]https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/may/04/stop-and-search-new-row-racial-bias

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