‘Things have to change’ - What young people in Ipswich think about race relations with the police and in schools
PUBLISHED: 06:30 03 July 2020 | UPDATED: 06:24 09 July 2020
Young black people in Ipswich fear the police, feel they are treated unfairly, and want change, a report by the town’s youth council has said.
The Black Lives Matter – A Youth Discussion was an online forum for 15 young people aged 12 to 18 from Ipswich to give their experiences and views on educational institutions, police, local authorities and the government.
It was organised by Ipswich Youth Council (IYC), supported by the Pacitti Company arts charity, and promoted and chaired by IYC founding members Isaac Codjoe and Will Pope.
A report issued by IYC following the discussion called for a range of measures to be introduced, including training for police to avoid stop and searches targeting young black people and racial profiling in Ipswich.
The report, which can be found on the IYC Facebook page, says schools needed to teach more about black history and culture, and also have a clear recording and report system for incidents involving racism and discrimination in schools.
The report also called on Ipswich MP Tom Hunt to step in, including acknowledging institutionalised racism is an issue in Ipswich and encourage change in police attitudes to stop and search targeting black people.
Mr Hunt said he supported the work of the IYC and its report but disagreed institutional racism was an issue within Ipswich or Suffolk police.
Speaking to the Ipswich Star and East Anglian Daily Times, Mr Codjoe said: “As young people we believe more can be done from schools, police, and our MP Tom Hunt to tackle racism.
“Our report came up with several pledges of what we would like to see done from these decision makers and organisations.
“In general I think people should educate themselves. That’s the main thing, education. If we are able to understand people, where they are coming from, and their backgrounds, they are less likely to be ignorant.”
Mr Codjoe acknowledged that race relations in the UK had improved from the 1960s and 70s, but said there was still a long way to go.
“First of all we need to acknowledge the problem. If we acknowledge it we are able to tackle it,” he said.
“Yet even our Prime Minister has said some things which are very questionable in the past.
“When the people who are in power aren’t even backing you it’s quite a lonely place as a black person.
“We need to come together and support our black communities, rather than marginalising them.”
The report focused on three questions:
What is systemic racism?
What are Ipswich’s police and organisations interactions with black young people?
What can young people, organisations and decision makers do to make positive change?
Participants shared their experiences and views about how they have been treated by police in Ipswich and in schools.
One said: “I think every single type of racism needs to be tackled in the future so that everyone is truly equal.
“Obviously many things are now socially unacceptable such as racially targeted name-calling, but micro-aggressions are still prominent.
“My black friends have been targeted with micro-aggressions, whether it’s about their hair or their names, so every single aspect of racism needs to go for there to be true equality.”
What did the report say about systemic racism?
The report said young black people in Ipswich felt they experience racism at schools.
Participants felt young black people were not being heard and are denied the opportunity to feel safe in their own school.
One young person said children in their class say they have “African hair diseases”, while another said fellow pupils say to them “your hair is like cotton wool, other kids would wipe white boards with it”.
Another said: “Society doesn’t want you to win. Black people are inferior to white people. Black people are below white people.”
One young person recalled how two students were in trouble at their school, but the non-white student was the one who got their bag searched.
They said: “The only reason I can see they were different is because they were black and the other person wasn’t.
“Teachers say ‘it’s not in schools’, but it is and it needs to be addressed.”
Mary Evans, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for Children’s Services, Education and Skills, said: “I would like to thank the Ipswich Youth Council for producing this very important report into the issues facing black children and young people in Ipswich.
“I recognise the enormous impact that incidents of racism, racial hatred and discrimination have on people’s lives and I sincerely apologise to those who have experienced this within the education system in the county.”
You may also want to watch:
Mrs Evans said she and her colleagues would be happy to work with the IYC and would be looking at the recommendations for schools raised within the report and how they could be shared across the whole education system.
She added: “I know there is still a long way to go but I am committed to making positive changes in regards to racial equalities and inclusion in schools and educational settings across the county.”
What did the report say about Ipswich’s police and organisations interactions with black young people?
The report said there was a clear message from young black people in the space that there is fear associated with the police.
Government figures published last year recorded that in 2016/17, nationally black people were more than three times as likely to be arrested as white people – there were 35 arrests for every 1,000 black people, and 10 arrests for every 1,000 white people.
In Suffolk there were 20 arrests for every 1,000 black people, compared to four for every 1,000 white people.
One young person in the IYC report, when asked how they felt when they see a police officer, said: “As a black person I feel worried, I feel I might get stopped and searched.”
But another participant said: “As a white person I feel safe.”
One young person spoke about research they had conducted at school: “I’m in Year 13 and did my EPQ on youth gang crime, where I focused on stop and searches as a topic within it.
“It very much appears that in recent years, stop and search was politicised as a weapon to target and marginalise young black (and other ethnic minority) people, specifically boys.
“There is a constant encouragement by high police chiefs and also MPs to use stop and search powers to target young black men because of a stereotype of ‘what a gang member looks like’.”
Another young person described how their father’s experience with the police in Ipswich when he was stopped on his bike while on the way home from work because he fit the description of someone they were looking for.
The young person then said: “We are being attacked for our skin rather than the content of our character.”
Phanuel Mutumburi of Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE), spoke to the group about the work he does with the Suffolk stop and search group, and how their data also black people are stopped more often than their white counterparts.
What did the police say?
Inspector Andy Martin of Suffolk police is heavily involved with the Stop and Search and Youth Justice programmes which work closely with ISCRE.
“We know that BAME people are three to four times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in Suffolk,” he said.
“This is below the national average and has improved in recent years. It it perfect? No, and we have work we need to do to bring that down.
“Our stop and search training is now focused on the unconscious bias that we all have and that has shaped the way we train our officers.”
Insp Martin said the force has seen more positive outcomes from stop and searches in recent years, going from one in every 10 stops being successful – where the purpose of the stop has been achieved – to one in four.
He reminded people that ISCRE can make complaints to the police on their behalf if they do not feel comfortable coming to the police and that the independent committee is there to hold them to account.
He added: “We need to know when we have got it wrong, and we need to know when we get it right.
“I would 100% recommend getting in touch with ISCRE if you have any problems at all such as being stopped repeatedly.”
Next steps - what can young people, organisations and decision makers do to make positive change?
The IYC encouraged young people to get in touch to share their experiences and to join for the follow up meeting.
It outlined the actions it wanted Ipswich MP Tom Hunt to take, calling for him to publicly acknowledge institutionalised racism is an issue within Ipswich, and to outline the ways in which he aims to tackle it.
He has also been asked to encourage change in police services for stop and searches targeted at black people in Ipswich and to bring up discussion of teaching about colonialism, black history and black culture into to the curriculum so that young people can further understand each other.
The MP said in response: “It is very good we have had a youth council set up and this clearly does concern a number of young constituents who feel they have been the victim of racism at school.
“I cannot agree that institutionalised racism is an issue in Ipswich and I am not prepared to say Suffolk police are institutionally racist.
“I have dealt with a number of police officers and no one has been racist, so I do not think it would be appropriate to say that is accurate.
“I think stop and search is an important tool to be used and it is vital in tackling knife crime.”
Mr Hunt said while he thinks the whole history of the British Empire should be taught in school “warts and all”, he does not think it is correct to lambast the country for its past.
The report also outlines steps it wants schools to follow, including a clear recording and report system for incidents involving racism and discrimination.
They are also being asked to teach more about black history and culture and not just focus on slavery.
Suffolk police is also asked to examine creating and distributing outlining stop and search rights, and to train police not to racially profile.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Ipswich Star. Click the link in the orange box above for details.