Since the beginning of this year alone, there have been numerous examples of young Black people being targeted by members of the police, criminal justice system and educational system. One thing is clear: Black children are under attack by British state institutions – and very little is being done to address it.
Today is the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder in the United States at the hands of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer. Yet it feels like, if anything, the movement for race equality has regressed.
Maybe we’re not taking backward steps at all; perhaps things are exactly the same as they’ve always been – and the only difference is that we’re simply learning more about the injustices perpetrated against Black people through the advent of social media and Black media platforms, plus the occasional attention of the left-leaning press and prevalence of protest. The elders that I’ve spoken with believe that’s the case.
Despite the promise of change surrounding waves of protests around the world, including the UK; the statements of anti-racist solidarity from various organisations across the public and private sector amid promises to “do better”, this country is no better off.
Many people, including myself, haven’t seen such a supposed reckoning in our lifetimes – and have drawn a sense of hope in the moblilisation seen as a result. I don’t mind sharing that I was somewhat optimistic about positive change, despite my awareness that lasting transformation will not come about overnight.
But what about now? I haven’t cried as much in my entire life as I’ve done in the past year, getting to grips with – and reporting on – the realities faced by Black people in the UK – where not even our children are off limits. Not even in sickness. Black children were found to be more likely to contract Covid-19 and while their communities were disproportionately hit by the pandemic, the government failed to implement any plan of aftercare for children grappling with the psychological trauma which came as a result. Figures show higher numbers of depression, anxiety, self harm and suicidal thoughts among ethnic minority young people compared to white peers during the pandemic.
Yet now the nation prepares to dust off the bunting and crack out the cakes for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations next week. All the while, we are living through a crisis. Lives are being ruined.
Just yesterday, the mother of a 15-year-old mixed-race girl said she was left suicidal following a strip search by police while she was menstruating in December 2020. The child, known as Olivia*, was handcuffed and had her underwear cut in front of male officers during the search, her mother told BBC’s File on 4 .
Olivia’s mother claims her daughter was arrested with friends in December 2020 after having a disagreement with two boys, who called the police stating they were victims of an attempted knife-point robbery. She said Olivia was searched at the scene and nothing was found, but she was still taken into custody and held for more than 20 hours. Her mother says she warned police her daughter had autism, learning difficulties and was self-harming – she had a sharpened stick and a small blade – but it was this discovery which allegedly prompted six officers to forcibly strip her and carry out an intimate search in the presence of male police officers.
The Home Office is permanently easing restrictions on the use of police stop-and-search tactics (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Archive)
It follows revelations about the strip search of a 15-year-old Black girl, known as Child Q, at her east London school, which sparked protests and a widespread backlash earlier this year. Child Q was strip searched by female officers in 2020 – who knew she was menstruating – after teachers called them because they wrongly suspected her of carrying cannabis.
Following this, the Commission on Young Lives in England report confirmed what many of us have known for some time: Black children are more likely to face tougher punishments at school because they are viewed as “less innocent” and more adult-like. This process of “adultification”, which sees children being perceived as older than they are, means Black children can feel unsafe and over-policed at school, the report argued.
And then we come to the most recent incident: last Friday, on 20 May, it emerged that a Black boy, 11, had to have his finger amputated by doctors after sustaining a serious injury allegedly while fleeing school bullies following racial abuse, such as use of the N word – and physical attacks.
Raheem Bailey was allegedly beaten by a group of children at school last Tuesday and broke his finger while climbing a fence to escape his tormentors, his mother Shantal Bailey told The Independent. Doctors decided that the finger had to be amputated.
Raheem Bailey and his mother Shantal (Media Wales)
Reflecting the key issues reflected in the aforementioned Young Lives report, Ms Bailey said her son called her in tears the day before he lost his finger, saying he was threatened with detention – despite being the victim.
Kids of Colour, a platform for young people of colour to explore race, recently reported an increase in incidents of frequent N-word use in schools and teaching staff using heavy handed or excessive punishment.
Police in Bristol recently announced that Antwon Forrest, a Black boy attacked by a woman with a paddle, was the victim of a racist attack. They had launched a review of the case in the wake of public pressure to do so. They heard that the 12-year-old was playing with white friends at Conham River Park in Bristol on 26 March when they were contronted by a white woman who told them off for throwing mud at people in the water.
The woman struck Antwon, the only Black child in the group, with the paddle and caused him a head injury that needed to be glued. Avon and Somerset Police said the woman was arrested – then de-arrested after claiming that she assaulted the child in self-defence. Officers decided no action should be taken and closed the case until public backlash online convinced more senior officers to reopen it.
Antwon Forrest ( Ty Forrest)
Then, on 6 May, an investigation revealed that an eight-year-old Black boy from Greenleaf After School Club in Walthamstow, east London, was made to clean his five-year-old sister after she soiled herself, despite toilets being nearby. A staff member reportedly said: “I am not cleaning her, she is your sister, you clean her”. The child’s mother described the “humiliating” incident as racist, adding that it was an example of “adultification”.
Not even in death are Black children respected. Dea-John Reid, 14, was stabbed to death in Kingstanding, Birmingham, in May 2021. Earlier this month, the white killer received just six years in prison for manslaughter, while three other non-Black co-conspirators who chased him to his death yelling racist slurs walked free after being found not guilty by an all-white jury.
Yet we regularly see the judiciary handing out “joint enterprise” charges to Black people who find themselves in close proximity to a crime being committed, based on what seems to be the accepted premise that they are bound to be in a gang.
This discrepency is problematic, to say the least – and unfair. So much so that the Ministry of Justice and the Crown Prosecution Service are currently being sued by Liberty, a human rights charity, on allegations that they disproportionately imprison young Black men.
Dea-John’s mother, Joan Morris, said the verdict of manslaughter for her son’s killer – and the other not-guilty verdicts, “just goes to prove to me that the life of Dea-John Reid, my son, a young Black man, doesn’t matter. I was told that justice will prevail, and I put my trust in the system, but I do sincerely believe that this system has let me down.”
A CCTV still from the day of Dea-John’s killing. (Family)
There are more instances like this: earlier this month, 10 Black children in Manchester were convicted under joint enterprise in relation to a grevious bodily harm offence, following accusations that they were in a gang – something they deny.
Latest figures from the Youth Justice Board reveal that the number of children entering the youth justice system overall is reducing, but the proportion from a Black background has increased by 7 per cent. Moreover, Black and mixed race children make up 42 per cent of children in custody – despite making up only 5 per cent of the total UK population.
These are the kind of statistics we are facing, while we continue to hear reports such as that of a Black Muslim school girl, 15, who was allegedly left with bruises on her arm following a stop and search by Metropolitan Police officers on a street in South London in April.
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The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has already urged police chiefs to overhaul the use of stop and search, after a report published in April by the watchdog revealed that a Black schoolboy was stopped and searched by police more than 60 times in just two years. The teenager was sometimes searched more than once a day between between the ages of 14 and 16.
In another case, a 12-year-old Black boy who was wearing a plaster cast on one arm was handcuffed by a Met police officer while running an errand for his mother.
What to make of this? When I visit the hairdressers, attend family events or other spaces where parents convene, stories about the racism their children encounter are shared with despair and exasperation. People exchange advice and tips about how best to navigate entrenched discrimination, for the sake of their families, and emerge relatively unscathed.
Something rotten clearly lies at the heart of this country when it comes to its treatment of Black children. Where do we go from here? I don’t have the answers. Do you?