A young Black youth worker says he felt “degraded” and “criminalised” after he was stopped and searched by police officers for no apparent reason.
Ironically David Smith, 20, works with a group that monitors police harassment of young people in Hackney, east London, where the incident took place.
Smith was walking near his home in Haggerston on Wednesday afternoon when he and his friend saw a police van nearby.
“I made a joke to my friend saying: ‘Imagine if the police stop us,’” he told HuffPost UK following the incident. “Then four or five officers came out and stopped us there.”
In a video filmed by Smith, he and his friend are shown being stopped by police officers, who can be heard asking a series of questions about where the pair are walking.
Smith is heard replying that they are going to pick something up for his house. Asked to justify why they were being stopped and searched, the officer can be heard telling Smith: “Your hands keep going towards your pockets.”
“It’s cold,” Smith replies. “It’s not illegal to put your hands in your pockets.”
Under stop and search rules, police have the power to stop an individual if they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect they are carrying illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property or an item that could be used to carry out a crime, such as a crowbar.
The officer also questions Smith’s account, accusing him of telling “two different stories”, firstly that he has just left his house and secondly that he is picking up something from his house. The clip shows Smith telling the officer multiple times that he has just left home to pick up something for his house, meaning there is no contradiction, but the officers proceed with the search.
The Met police said the incident has been reviewed by the Directorate of Professional Standards, who identified “no concerns” around the officers conduct.
“They said they were checking on us because there had been three stabbings recently and there had been a lot of youth-on-youth tension because of that – but [the stabbings] weren’t even in the area,” Smith added.
Smith says the incident had left him feeling “degraded”. “I felt really embarrassed because I was in the area where young people that I work with see me often. I felt criminalised because I was being treated as a criminal. I felt like I had my rights were taken advantage of because I was Black, even though I was doing everything I was meant to do in that situation.
“There were people across the road shaking their heads. I don’t know what they were shaking their heads at, but at the time I thought they were shaking at me because they thought I was a gang member getting stopped. That really triggered my anxiety.”
Smith is a member of Hackney Account, an independent group of young people set up to monitor and scrutinise policing within the borough, and focuses on issues such as the use of force, racial disproportionality and the use of Section 60 powers.
As a result, he was prepared for how to respond to the police. “I wasn’t scared because I knew what was going to happen and I knew my laws and rights. I was the best person this could have happened to, because of the work I’ve been doing for the past year and a half.”
″[This incident] shows how this happens to a normal tax-paying, law-abiding citizen in the community.”
In response to HuffPost UK’s request for comment, the Met Police said: “Police are aware of a video showing part of the incident circulating on social media in relation to a stop and search carried out in Hackney.
“Officers stopped two men at around 16.30 on Wednesday March 3 in Haggerston Street, Hackney following increased patrols due to two stabbings in the area the previous day.
“Both men were informed they were being detained for the purposes of a search.
“Nothing was found and the men then continued on their way.
“The officers involved in the stop were from the Met’s Territorial Support Group (TSG).
“The TSG senior leadership team would like the opportunity to talk to the man about his experience. The Met is taking steps to contact the man through social media and other forums to make this offer and facilitate contact.
“It has been reviewed by the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards who have identified no concerns around the officers’ conduct.”