wHAT DO THESE MEN HAVE IN COMMON?
They could hardly be more different. From Olympic medallists and an equalities campaigner to an award-winning musician and a prominent bishop, you’d be forgiven for thinking the only thing they have in common is the colour of their skin. But the other thing is that all have been stopped in their cars by the police.
When US President Barack Obama said police officers “acted stupidly” when they arrested a black professor who they thought was trying to break into a house, he was widely criticised and forced to correct his tone.
Here in the United Kingdom, the England and Tottenham Hotspur striker Jermain Defoe will seek damages from Essex Police for wrongful arrest and unlawful detention. The footballer was kept in a cell overnight last month on suspicion of driving while disqualified – despite the fact that his ban had been suspended pending an appeal.
The move follows complaints of harassment by the footballer last week, who had been pulled over in his £150,000 Ferrari just days after announcing his intention to take legal action against the force.
Obama said there is a long history of a disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos being stopped by police. “That is a sign, an example of how race remains a factor in the society, he said and added: “And yet, the fact of the matter is that this still haunts us. And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently, and often time for no cause, casts suspicion even when there is good cause.”
In the United States, Harvard University professor Henry Gates was forcing open the door to his Massachusetts home when police were called.
He showed them his identification but they arrested him, saying he was being loud and tumultuous.
Professor Gates said he was targeted because he was black.
“[I told the officer,] ‘this is my house. I’m a Harvard professor. I live here’,” Professor Gates told CNN.
He said the officer then asked for proof, which the professor provided by showing his Harvard University identification card and his driver’s licence.
But when Professor Gates stepped outside at the officer’s request, he was handcuffed – first with his hands behind his back despite being handicapped and requiring the use of a cane – arrested and spent four hours in police custody before being released.
Mr Obama was asked what the incident said about race relations.
“Now, I don’t know, not having been there, and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in this,” he said.
“But, I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry. Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.”
The UK Independent says: Defoe’s case has reignited a wider debate over the disproportionate use of stop and search tactics against black people. Last night the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) criticised the police for its “lack of progress” over stop and search – a decade on from the inquiry by Sir William Macpherson into the death of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence which accused the police of institutional racism. “Black people are still seven times more like likely to be stopped and searched than white people in England and Wales. These figures are a major impediment to good race relations and cannot be justified by crime detections, since only around one in six people in all racial groups are then arrested,” said an EHRC spokesman.
Rob Berkeley, director of the Runnymede Trust think tank, said: “[Defoe’s treatment] suggests there is still a view among many police that to be black is somehow suspicious.”
His concerns were echoed by the Tottenham Hotspur manager, Harry Redknapp, who said: “I don’t want to get involved in the race thing, but you do wonder why they are stopping the kid. Why shouldn’t he have a nice car, white or black lad? Good luck to them.”