The relationship between police and the young people of today is one with difficulties, this is particularly the case for those living in North London. Being a Tottenham resident my entire life, I have witnessed many tense circumstances between the police and youngsters. We have a history of tension with the police which still has an impact today.

It goes all the way back to the Broadwater Farm riots of October 6 1985, which is one of the most deprived estates in Tottenham. Cynthia Jarret died of a heart attack whilst the police were searching her house, her son had been arrested on suspicion of theft and assault (though he was later cleared of all charges). The daughter of Cynthia claimed seeing her mother being pushed by one of the officers searching the house, though this was never proven.

This triggered off a demonstration outside the local police station, and during the course of the day a violent outbreak occurred by the residents of Broadwater Farm in fury of Cynthia’s death. It got to the point where baton charges were being used by the police which the residents retaliated back with bricks and molotov cocktails. Sadly, a police officer was killed, three of the underage boys involved in this had their case immediately dismissed by the judge as they were questioned naked with only a blanket, and had no guardian with them. The three older men involved were convicted for life, they were later cleared by the Court of Appeal after finding out that the police notes were tampered with, which happened to be the only evidence. The local council Leader, Bernie Grant, condemned the search and the local police chiefs, stating that their behaviour had been “out of control”.

The Tottenham Riots of summer 2011 had a tremendous impact across the country. It all started off with the police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham Hale, Mark was also a resident of Browadwater Farm. Residents organised a small and peaceful protest outside the local police station, however the reaction of the police was not a pleasant one. A girl who approached the officers to question them about Mark was pushed and hurt by the police, which sparked off the riot.

Stop-and-search is a big problem in Tottenham. I, myself have seen it happen on countless occasions, young people constantly getting stopped and questioned who are just simply trying to go about with their day. It happens on the high road, near schools and colleges, parks and anywhere that youngsters hang out. This is what 17-year-old Darren had to say:  ‘I can’t even tell you how many times that I have been stopped and searched. It has become such a routine thing for me, police officers stop me on the road and I’m just thinking here we go again, I can’t even be bothered to question why they are searching me, I just let them do whatever and then get on with my day. A year ago I actually got stopped twice within the space of an hour’. One of the main issues appears to be the lack of respect on behalf of the police, young people feel ridiculed and spoken to as if they are inferior. Some have said that they were not even informed as to why they are being stopped and searched which relates to the fact that not many people know what their rights are. This is something the community needs to work on.

These negative perceptions towards the police are part of the bigger problem. It is an institutional problem with the Metropolitan Police and also the media. Tottenham being one of the most deprived areas in London, has a negative stigma attached to it by the media, particularly after the Mark Duggan incident and the riots, the youngsters are portrayed as up to no good gang members, this in turn has an effect on the police who are more likely to stop youngsters than in other better-off areas.

Tottenham has the fourth highest unemployment rate in the UK, and the highest in London, youth unemployment has gone up by 90% since January 2011. Youth clubs are being shut down and funding for youth-related activities in the borough is being cut. As a result of this many youngsters will simply hang out in their area, on the street and in parks. It is a naïve argument to say that the police simply pick on the youngsters as there are those who get involved in criminal activities, but we need to question why that is and how it can be solved.

This is what Ashley had to say: “I personally feel victimized by the police, I feel like a criminal when walking to the corner shop, or when I go out to the park with my friends. There is nothing to do in Tottenham. The youth clubs are closed. I tried getting a job but there is absolutely nothing. So what am I supposed to do? If they want us off the streets then the government needs to do something, invest more in the youth of your country, bring back EMA, put the tuition fees down so that we can get off the streets and stop being so-called criminals!”

Placing police and community support officers on every corner is not going to solve anything, in fact it further intensifies the situation. Crime is correlated with unemployment rates, therefore more needs to be done to create job and apprenticeship opportunities for young people. Youth clubs need to be reopened and more funding needs to be put into youth related activities within the borough. Invest in the youth instead of criminalizing them.

 Sources:

Statistics from the website of David Lammy. 15th November 2012.

http://www.davidlammy.co.uk/Long_term_youth_unemployment_up_by_90_in_Tottenham

Darren Okoye and Ashley Powell. Interviews conducted at Day-Mer Community Centre on 16th November 2013.