UK gov't wants to legalize racial profiling

In the UK, the police can stop and search you without cause or a warrant, as part of the special "anti-terrorism" rules. Justice is far from blind (or fair), though: black people in the UK are 26 times more likely to be stopped, frisked, have their bags turned out and be made to explain themselves than white people. This is clearly a violation of the stop-and-search rules, which forbid racial profiling.

So the new UK Tory-LibDem government is going to fix it: they're going to make racial profiling legal.

The Home Office says it intends to press ahead and introduce the guidance allowing race to be taken into account when a police officer stops someone if it is judged to be relevant. It says race cannot be the sole reason for deciding to conduct a search, and the government insists the new measures will "protect civil liberties"...

The issue of the police stop-and-search powers is particularly controversial because officers are more likely to target a minority ethnic person than someone who is white. African-Caribbean people are already at least six times more likely to be stopped than white people under powers where an officer has reasonable suspicion to carry out a search.

The Home Office proposals cover stops where officers do not require reasonable suspicion, a power they have under section 60 of the Public Order Act, meaning police have maximum discretion. For these stops black people are 26 times more likely than white people to be targeted. Critics say this is blatant discrimination.

Stop and search plans are 'discriminatory', watchdog warns


  1. I was just about to say that. At least the book also shows how to deal with them. Get Portman on the phone.

  2. I’d be the first person to back you up on the fact that the government and the police in the UK are gradually destroying liberty and privacy in this country in many, many ways and there is no doubt whatsoever that, for instance, young black males are stopped and searched in disproportionate numbers.

    And believe me I’m not supporting this law one bit but there does seem to be a lot of BoingBoing comment which suggests that ALL anti-terrorism procedures are ridiculous and unnecessary. Of course, many (or most) of them are!

    However, we do have a real and serious jihadist threat in this country which isn’t always as loveable and amusing as Four Lions might suggest. And the huge majority of those people (who would happily blow up my children and Cory’s) are of a specific ethnicity.

    This has very unfortunate ramifications for the peace-loving, non-extremist muslims in our communities but I think if there are genuine suspicions of terrorist involvement then implying that the police would be ‘picking on’ the Asian community simply flies in the face of reality.

    The real danger as always is the use of these unfair laws by racist policeman simply to make life difficult for racial minorities who are going about their daily business. Once again, it looks like a government is using legitimate public fear to further curtail civil liberties, but let’s not pretend we all live in Woodstock.

    1. Sorry mate but I’m calling bullshit.

      The UK has the problems it has for it’s close, inseperable, association with the US invasion of Iraq. I sympathise with the soldiers that were sent to fight, but the UK shouldn’t have been involved, and I don’t think I am alone in believing the war was not only morally bankrupt but illegal.

      To put things into perspective the IRA were responsible several atrocities the 70s and 80s without the ensuing reversal of civil rights into civil privileges to be removed for non compliance with the authorities.

      The real terrorism is perpetrated by those who use the fear of Islamic jihad to further their own political agendas on the streets and the “mainstream” politicians who play lip service to the electorial process but would prefer that times went back to “everyone knowing their place”.

      1. Well, “a_user,” I may be talking ‘bullshit’ but I don’t actually disagree with you on any of your points! I’m in full agreement on the reasons why jihad has escalated over here and like you I totally opposed the illegal war on Iraq.

        But I wasn’t discussing WHY we have that problem, I was saying that now that we DO have that problem it would be illogical not to target the key demographic involved in jihad!

        I don’t mind being accused of bullshitting but I do mind my arguments being distorted into something they clearly were not.

      2. No, I have to disagree with you there. I think the terrorists are the ones killing civilians using public transportation in London. You can vote out those responsible for the invasion (in fact, I think you did) but you don’t get to kill someone going to work as a protest. Gandhi freed hundreds of millions without making a fist, much less blowing the limbs off children. The overthrow of the Soviet bloc was overwhelmingly peaceful (IIRC, the only country to execute their oppressors was Romania).

        Don’t care what your motivation is or how difficult it can be, if you attack civilians to make a political point, you’re scum. Government buildings are all clearly marked and military bases are also marked. I’m sure the Royal Marines will help you in your quest for martyrdom.

    2. I think you’re wrong about the “serious” Jihadi problem — Jihadi deaths are a tiny fraction of road deaths, but we’re not running around chasing our tails about drivers.

      But stipulating some sort of “Jihadi problem” – what ethinicity do you think Jihadis belong to? Africans? Caribbeans? Californians? Indonesians? Filippinos? Middle-Easterners?

      @the_headless_rabbit: Except Leary is wrong. Go to Boston or San Francisco on St Paddy’s and the revellers are from every corner of the globe. I’ve seen Samoans guzzling green beer in the Mission on St Paddy’s; go to Boston and you’ll find people of every nation getting completely faced and unruly.

      1. I agree.

        If the newspaper didn’t write about it I wouldn’t even know what a Jihad terrorist was.

        Let’s not start beleiving the media in that (this kind of) terrorism is a serious problem anywhere other than the middle east.

        Proportionally we probably have more home-grown terrorism in the form of the IRA … so when are we going to occupy Northern Ireland and take out some civilians there?

      2. Cory, I think your being pretty disingenuous there. How many people need to die in subway trains and buses before you would deem it ‘serious?’

        And what have road traffic ACCIDENTS got to do with planned murder?

        And… “what ethinicity do you think Jihadis belong to?”

        Don’t you know?

        1. Cory’s point is that it would make more sense (in terms of lives saved) to spend money improving road safety than implementing draconian anti-terrorism policies.

    3. If the UK government were to institute profiling based on terrorist activities, they’d be harassing anyone with an Irish accent. But that doesn’t fit in with your narrative, does it?

      1. My ‘narrative?’
        What is my narrative exactly? And please forgive me for having an opinion. I thought BoingBoing was an arena of open discussion. Forgive me for not toeing the party line.

        And please don’t tell me about Irish Republican terrorism.
        I was in Warrington in the 70s and saw the result of an IRA bomb placed in a rubbish bin in a shopping precinct. A 10 year old boy whose face had been blown off. I apologise if it was foolish and emotive of me to expect increased surveillance of republican activity after that.

        But when exactly did I say I expected ANYONE to be harasssed?

  3. People aren’t “stopped and searched” because they’re suspected terrorists, they’re stopped because they’re suspected of other crimes: drugs, knives, guns. (See here.)

    But, young black men are more likely to be carrying drugs (and maybe knives too). At least, when I walk around over 90% of the people who mutter “weed, skunk, e, mate?” to me are black and under 30. The police aren’t stupid — it looks better if they make successful stops, so why waste your time stopping people who won’t be carrying anything?

    The real problem that needs solving is improving the prospects of the average male black child, so they’re less likely to resort to crime.

    (Feel free to prove me wrong about this, I haven’t provided any statistics.)

  4. I’m reminded of a short lived Dennis Leary show called the Job.

    After he is accused of racial profiling, he responds with:

    It’s St. Paddies Day and we get reports of a bunch of drunken idiots running around causing trouble.
    Who are we going to go after?
    Here’s a clue: Not the Russians.

    We don’t get too wound up about police avoiding white-collar workers while investigating blue-collar crime.

    I wouldn’t expect police in Vancouver to investigate areas of Glasgow to avoid accusations of geographic profiling while looking for a Vancouver-based criminal.

    I’m not saying racial profiling is right, I don’t like it at all.
    But, hypothetically speaking, if the vast majority of terrorists were all of a similar ethnicity, it could be argued that focusing on that particular group is a more efficient use of resources.

  5. You know what could be a possible solution to this problem: World Unification.

    Imagine the Earth being a single nation:
    1) Same currency for everyone to use, reducing all those economic issues and currency exchange rates

    2) Same set of laws, eliminating refugees and immigrants who seek a better life in one country because their governments are corrupt/tyrannical/totalitarian which end up causing conflict and animosity between locals and immigrants. Everyone would also be bound by the same set of laws, preventing people like Polanski or other criminals from avoiding justice.

    3) No need for nationalist prejudice, because everyone would be a citizen of the same country

    4) No more rivalries or conflicts between nations, no more arms race

    5) All that time, effort, money, energy governments/nations waste in stockpiling weapons, arguing with one another, competing against each other, all of those can instead be used on more productive things like improving the world, improving education, improving living conditions, improving technology, etc.

    There’s more to be gained by uniting our planet into one nation than splintering/fracturing it up into many.

    Can anyone think of any reason why the world shouldn’t be united?

    1. Look at America, aka the melting pot of the world…

      There is still plenty of social/racial tensions no matter who says what, or the fact we are all Americans who spend dollars.

      Just saying we are all in this together, all working for a common cause isn’t going to make people suck it up and get along.

      This is why a clear, immediate, and typically a deadly threat is a great unifier. It forces people to work together, and in the long run can help strengthen racial/social bonds much faster than just normal social programs and time.

      (but of course all the downsides of things like war, serious wars like WWI and WWII, don’t really out weigh any positives.)

      I always like to point out that to others it’s not profiling/stereotyping if what you are pointing out is true. Like others have shown, if black males are say 5 times more likely to be carrying something then they are probably five times more likely to be stopped.

      1. “Like others have shown, if black males are say 5 times more likely to be carrying something then they are probably five times more likely to be stopped.”

        Yeah, but *26 times*? I don’t think that’s right…

        I remember reading an article around last year about something similar in NYC. Not only did most of the results yield nothing, the percentage difference between contraband found on blacks and whites was nowhere near the percentage difference of the blacks and whites searched respectively. (Hispanics were also included, searched less than blacks but more than whites). Maybe if it was actually 5 times, that argument would be reasonable.

      2. Nice points you make.

        Of course I agree that it’s not a perfect solution, there will still be problems. But I think some of the biggest problems may disappear. Such as the ones I described in my previous post. And with those problems gone, more focus can be placed on solving other problems.

        Ok, Aliens fron space, come threaten Earth fast!!!! So that humanity can unite. But then of course, with our current level of technology, we would have absolutely ZERO chance against any extraterrestrial race which has the science and technology to travel interstellar distances.

    2. No good reasons, but many powerful bad ones.

      People of ambition labour to dominate whatever scene fate places them in: a single world government would reduce the number of “stages” or “platforms” upon which such capable people could play out the full scope of their ambition.

      For many people whose ruling star in fact is their ambition, they’d much rather be the biggest, flashiest, best, and the most prominently capable “fish” within a “small pond”, rather than to be just another one, lost amongst the many “fish” in the “sea”.

      People of ambition need the corresponding platforms or venues in which to exercise it: and the various and sundry forms of national government do serve to multiply the number of such platforms or venues – amongst other things, indeed.

      In other words, the natural operation and course of human ambition itself works against the adoption of such a system of governance: and thus, indirectly against any benefits to the public at large which may accrue under such a system.

      But this is not surprising, if one remembers whom ambition always serves: individuals, not masses.

      And the most difficult fact of all is that ambition itself is also the driver and spring of very much that is good in society.
      We simply cannot do as well without ambitious people.
      Ambition, in other words, is no bad thing, in itself: it becomes so, only if its desires are allowed to outrun the humanity of those who happen to possess it.

      Just as is the case with avarice.

      1. I always use too many words.

        The reason that we have not “one world government” is human desire.

        And that is reason enough.

        1. I agree.. (not the too many words, for the content.) :)

          As long as there are at least 3 human beings on the earth, at least one of them is going to be envious or jealous of at least 1 or the other 2. Also 1 of them is going to be ambitious enough to proclaim that he’s the leader.

          You’ll never get away from it..

    3. Dear A.Lwin,

      What happens if your unified world government is a dictatorship, or an oppressive theocracy, or a democracy which has decided that your ethnic group needs to be searched more than all others. Imagine that China that covered the world, and violently enforced adherence to the party line.

      Do you still like your idea so much?

      1. “What happens if your unified world government is a dictatorship, or an oppressive theocracy, or a democracy which has decided that your ethnic group needs to be searched more than all others. Imagine that China that covered the world, and violently enforced adherence to the party line.

        Do you still like your idea so much?”

        Governments do not form on their own. Dictatorships, tyrants, despots are made up of the few who come to power using force, terror and violence against the masses. Democracies, Socialism, Republics come into power because the masses allow them to. If a government (whether it is a democracy or a dictatorship) becomes corrupt it is because people have allowed it to. When good people fail to act evil prevails. That’s why back in the 20th century JFK said his famous line “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

        So yes I still like my idea of world unification, but if that world government becomes corrupt, it is not the fault of the government. It is the fault of us, the citizens, the people, because we allowed it to become corrupt instead of preventing it. The failure lies with the people.

        And anyway, if we were to form a world government, are we really stupid enough to make it corrupt from the beginning?

        Currently we have the United Nations, though not a world government, which was founded on good principles and ideas because we the people of our respective governments live our lives thinking that “oh it’s someone elses problem”, “someone will solve it in the future”, “let other people handle it”, etc. the UN has become so full of corruption and inefficient bureaucracy.

        Throughout power has always belonged to the masses, but if those masses are either lazy or afraid then they can never accomplish anything allowing the few in power to dominate them.

        Here are two of my favorite quotes:
        “Do not get angry… Few have the strength to risk death for the pride and respect that humans deserve. Because you do not need pride or respect just to stay alive…”

        “Humans are weak against terrorism and violence, and under such control their only desire is to survive no matter what. They lose all pride and respect.”

        I found something nice today while surfing the web:

        extract: “We pollute our own environment.

        We procreate even when there are not enough resources to provide for our young resulting in disease and death.

        We live in nations with billions and trillions of dollars of debt. Our great grand children have no hope of ever paying off the debt that we have accumulated.

        We have the knowledge to improve the quality and quantity of our lives and still we engage in behaviours that are detriments to our health — drugs, alcohol, poor diet, fast food, no exercise, etc.

        Those who have the opportunity for education often forsake it.

        We have children of 16 or 17 who think that will be suitable parents to children with no way of providing for those children.

        We are a foolish society that believes that love conquers all. Love does not end starvation. Love does not end disease. Love does not end poverty. Love does not end HIV.”

  6. PS: Remember that episode of Family Guy where Stewie invents a device and along with Brian travels to alternate versions of Earth, and in one of those alternate versions the Earth is scientifically advanced (flying cars, teleporters, etc) and Stewie explains that because the ‘dark ages of scientific oppression by the christian church didn’t happen in this alternate timeline that all this is possible’.

    Well, I’m sure that there is an alternate Earth in another Universe where humans realized the stupidity of fighting each other and united to combine all their effort and energy to making a highly advanced civilized society.

    I’m a strong believer of Einstein’s quote “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

  7. FREEDOM AND LIBERTY BEING TAKEN AWAY FROM THE PEOPLE OF THE UK!!! Oh I must go and check to see that all the major media outlets in the country are covering this extremely important news. Oh no, of course, two people who none of us know personally, one of whom happens to have been born into the right family, are getting married so we have to focus on that for the foreseeable future. I don’t remember Bob and Pat next door’s engagement getting this much attention…

  8. Maybe racial stereotypes exist because they reflect some aspect of reality.

    Such as white folks being fearful and suspicious of colored folks. Maybe it’s in our genes and we can’t help ourselves.

  9. To paraphrase Darth Vader, tottering like Bambi in his new evil body:


    I reflect the sentiment of 2003 when I say Not In My Name.

  10. One thing that few people have commented on is that the government is also abolishing the the RECORDING of stops and searches, which is how we became aware that the police were stopping black people under section 60 so much more often.

    How are the police going to assure the public that race was not the sole determinant for a stop when no information is recorded about the stop?

    I don’t just ask this as an opponent of racial profiling, but as someone who has friends in police forces. If police interactions are not recorded, then both parties are vulnerable. The citizen is vulnerable to the police officer, and the police officer is vulnerable to fraudulent accusations.

    Finally, the news article makes it clear that these stops are under Section 60, where officers are not required to have reasonable suspicion. As the article notes, African-Caribbean people are SIX times more likely to be stopped when reasonable suspicion is required, yet black people are TWENTY-SIX times more likely to be stopped when reasonable suspicion is not required.

    It ALREADY seems that these types of searches appear highly racially biased, as I have trouble thinking of a reason why a police officer would select a certain racial group more often for searches when he has no reasonable reason to suspect them, other than racial bias, or for the purpose of harassment of people of a particular race.

    (However, I also don’t know exactly what the breakdown between “African-Caribbean” and “black” is either. One is a grouping of people native to a continent and a region, and the other is a simplistic description of skin color.)

  11. I am of mixed ethnicity, and most people guessing never get it right. Depending on where I am in the world, I am guessed to be Indian, Pakistani, Greek, Mexican, Italian, French… I am none of these things.

    There are a lot of people out there like me in the world, and more coming. Now, say again why racial profiling works?

    And the answer to what does a Jihadist look like? They come in ALL colors, last I checked.

  12. The point isn’t that they come in all colors… the point is that they come in one religion.

    Don’t profile based on race. Profile based on religion.

    Religious people of ALL faiths are psychologically unstable. Some faiths — extremist muslims, evangelical xtians, etc — are particularly unstable and MUST be profiled.

  13. Cory has the more correct view of the terrorist threat. It really is small and really has killed very few people. It just happens to have done so in very flashy ways. Put it another way, when was the last time a person died in the UK from a terrorist action? Contrast, when was the last time someone in the UK was killed by a mugger? I’m betting the latter is much more common.

    1. “Cory has the more correct view of the terrorist threat. It really is small and really has killed very few people…when was the last time a person died in the UK from a terrorist action? Contrast, when was the last time someone in the UK was killed by a mugger?”

      I’m so sorry; I didn’t realise it was all about numbers! I keep making that mistake. I was forgetting that 52 dead civilians and 4 dead muslim extremists is an inconsequential number of dead humans. (I will leave aside the argument that one possible reason fewer UK citizens have died from terrorism might be because potential terrorist acts have been intercepted.)

      Does the number of dead (3,000) after 9/11 make draconian home security in the US more acceptable? No. It’s not about NUMBERS, it’s about reducing real risk by REASONABLY monitoring the likelihood of those individuals likely to become involved in terrorist activity, ie causing the least amount of disruption to the majority, preserving their privacy and liberty as far as is possible, but trying to ensure that some lunatic doesn’t blow up men, women and children to make a religious or political point.

      My original point was that this new law is one further infringement of civil liberties in the UK but that does not mean that the dangers are not genuine or that the principal threat does not reside predominantly in one section of the community. To pretend otherwise is good for hippy credentials but flies in the face of reality.

  14. Plus, as Cory said, there is no “ethnicity” of Muslim. Sure, much of the middle east is Muslim, but so is a large portion of India, and a LOT of southeast Asia, and Africa.

    Not to mention that those are only some terrorists. I mean, in the 90’s as a kid most of the terrorists I heard about were creepy white men.

    Profiling race/ethnicity doesn’t work–it just perpetuates and enables further institutionalized racism, and vindicates racism apologists. It can make “walking while black” a suspicious activity.

  15. The magic words are “Are you detaining me constable/officer?”

    If they say “yes”, they have to arrest you.
    If they say “no”, they have no legal right to stop you walking away and going about your business.
    They cannot decline to answer this question.

    S&S works only so long as people don’t realise they can legally withhold consent.

  16. You know, here in the US, the second largest act of terrorism ever committed was committed by two angry white Christians. And yet, when I hear angry white Christians in this country call for racial profiling, I never hear them volunteer for ‘enhanced’ search procedures on themselves.

    That’s what makes these arguments clearly racist in my eyes.

  17. “…stopped, frisked, have their bags turned out and be made to explain themselves than white people.”

    So it’s not OK to generalise that all jihadis are Middle Eastern, but it’s OK to generalise that all authority figures are white. Strong argument, Cory.

  18. Brings to mind the sketch in “Not the 9 O’clock News” where the constable was being told off by his Superintendent (Rowan Atkinson) for hounding and harrassing someone. Can’t remember the statistics (about 90 trumped up charges) but they included priceless stuff like “being in possession of an offensive wife” and “walking on the cracks in the pavement”.

    Nothing’s changed since then except that it’s all being made legal…

  19. It’s worth pointing out that Section 60 stop and search is not a general power, but a power authorised for a specific time and a specific place (e.g. a football match, or protest).

    I wonder where the 26x figure comes from.

  20. “The issue of the police stop-and-search powers is particularly controversial because officers are more likely to target a minority ethnic person than someone who is white.”

    Yes, but just as important is why this happens. IMO, not just because there may be a racist element (i.e. cop thinks that a minority is more likely to be a perp and therefore worth a further look), but because, I think, a tendency to rush to judgment when the most convenient feature (skin color) is available to base one’s judgment during a visual ID (in lieu of identifying other facial or general appearance features).

    Are people generaly more or less skilled to tell subtle differences between individuals outside of their own race? Less I bet! Nobody talks about this factor, relating to the plasticity of human memory.

  21. Wish the comments had an edit button.

    Correction: Throughout HISTORY power has always belonged to the masses, but if those masses are either lazy or afraid then they can never accomplish anything allowing the few in power to dominate them.

  22. You know, I’m going to stick my neck out and admit that I agree (reluctantly) with this change.
    I’m UK born, and lived more than a decade in London, including 3 years in Tower Hamlets, and 2.5 years around Brixton.

    Here’s my POV (for what it’s worth – y’all are gonna hate on me anyways):

    1. I admit there is (still) an issue of institutionalised racism in some UK forces.
    2. I admit this change might make things worse in the short term, in the real world.
    3. I do not, however, believe that these sort of guidelines are the place to work towards an ideal world. If you’re a cop policing a beat in a mixed area, and you know one group commits more crime than another group, you should be free to stop more people from that group. The fact that in reality some cops are racist is not a valid counterargument to this point.
    4. The medium-term goal is, surely, a world where there’s enough transparency and rights-based protection of all, so that suspicioin of those wielding state power (e.g. cops) is reduced, including among minority populations. I believe this goal is terribly compromised by forcing police walking the beat to pretend to ignore a factor (skin colour) which they cannnot help but to take notice of really; it means they’re lying to themselves and/or their superiors, and it means they have to come up with bullshit justifications, or add in some random stops of non-suspicious people of a different ethnicity so their figures add up.

    The coalition are still twunts tho.

  23. If you’re a cop policing a beat in a mixed area, and you know one group commits more crime than another group, you should be free to stop more people from that group.

    If you stop and search 26 black people for every white person, what are the chances that the statistics will show that black people are more likely to be criminals?

    Cause and effect – ur doin it rong.

  24. Yo, England… Arizona called and they want their redneck pride back.

    Fucking gits. This is not a good way of preventing another 7/7. Good luck with it, hey?

  25. Let’s all look the way while everyone profiles unofficially.

    Let’s completely ignore that profiling, of any sort, WORKS to some degree. It’s not great, but, between a poor person and a rich person, guess who’s more likely to commit a crime, psychological issues notwithstanding. It doesn’t make me feel great to say profiling works, but a young Muslim man is a lot more likely to blow-up a plane than a middle-aged, grumpy businessman or a mother with a babe.

    @Bcsizemo: To be honest, WWII came out in the US’s favor big-time. We got to smash up the rest of the industrial world’s infrastructure, thus enabling us to increase our economic dominance. It also gave us an excellent reason to produce nuclear bombs, which firmly established the US as THE military superpower of the time. In any case, war always generates profiteers; I don’t mean PMC’s or mercenaries in particular. Iraq and Afghanistan are big business for government contractors of all sorts.

  26. Well the comments here are way of track, mostly thanks to some fairly sensationalist reporting. The specific stop and search power is this one

    “Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, gives police the right to search people in a defined area at a specific time when they believe, with good reason, that: there is the possibility of serious violence; or that a person is carrying a dangerous object or offensive weapon; or that an incident involving serious violence has taken place and a dangerous instrument or offensive weapon used in the incident is being carried in the locality. This law has to be authorised by a senior officer and is used mainly to tackle football hooliganism and gang fights.

    Nothing to do with terrorism at all. In fact those powers have come into question by the government and a review will be published shortly, which is why we had stories like this one

    So given the range of powers here, a defined area and incident it is pretty clear that racial profiling could be quite important. Imagine you had an EDL (a racist/anti muslim group) protesting a mosque. The police see a group of 20 young Asian men moving purposefully towards the demonstration. Is it unreasonable to assume that given the situation and their ethnic origin they might want to cause trouble for the EDL. The situation could just as easily be turned around with a Muslim demonstration and a group of white skinheads.

    Also Cory said 26 times more likely, the article said 6 times more likely, but that is referring to general stop and search (the type being reviewed), not this type of stop and search.

Comments are closed.