Thursday, March 23, 2006
Racial profiling à l'anglaise
Racial profiling is a particularly nasty "tool" of law enforcement since it offers to people predisposed to ignorance and prejudice—no small number of which may be found among the police—a license to exercise those traits to the fullest. In the end racial profiling comes to look and behave exactly like racial ignorance and prejudice with a badge, which can lead, among other unpleasantnesses, to death.
Happily for Vikesh Bhatt, an Indian living in London, that has not been the case. Aside from the annoyance, embarrassment and inconvenience of it all, it has led mostly to irony. You see, Vikesh Bhatt is working on the British Home Office's Stop and Search website, which will explain, when it goes live, that despite all appearances the citizen still has rights.
I got stopped and then searched last week at Euston Station.... It was my third since the 7 July bombings. All of this because I was traveling in a group of three guys carrying hand luggage. The group was my brother and our friend and me. They wore suits (they were going to work after all) and I was in jeans and on my way to Fibre.
After 7/7 the British Transport Police announced they were going to practice profiling with full support from the government....
.... [T]he lovely PC [police constable] pulled us over, emptied our pockets and bags (this in front of commuters we travel with every day) and then started to quiz me about my hair. After looking at my travel card – I had long hair when the picture was taken – he asked when I’d cut it. “Oh about a month ago,” I said.
“That’s interesting.” our amateur Frost said. “We’ve had a half a dozen Asian guys cut their hair over the past few months.” (He showed a surprising interest in hair trends. Though I doubt he could tell us if white guys were cutting their hair.) This PC though had nothing on the second cop who stopped me and told me not to wear my iPod. The wires were “suspicious.” It was just after the police wrongfully killed Jean Charles de Menenzes at Oval station. Needless to say my iPod stayed at home for a few weeks.
Next the PC took us through a long pink form.... It asks up top where I was born and then proceeds to ask about my ethnic background (a question usually only asked by local governments to ensure that they have diversity at the local level). But here, if the officer can’t get an answer to that question, the form demands he give an explanation as to why. That’s how important my racial background is to the transport police.
Of course an hour later I was at Fibre working on the Stop and Search site. Its title: “You can be stopped. You can be searched, but did you know you have rights?” And of course I had to ask the PC for a copy of the pink form, which is a guaranteed right. But then maybe he hadn’t had a chance to look at the site. It’s supposed to go live this week.
I'll be eager to see what rights Vikesh has—other than a copy of the form documenting the discrimination.