The founder of the Young Lawyers Association, Onyi Pipi, aims to equip young people with the confidence they need when dealing with the police. She explains.
The whole world has erupted in protests as it stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. As do I.
We are doing our part at Young Lawyers Association (YLA) to make sure that young black boys and girls are aware of their rights as citizens of this country, and to offer them opportunities that they may otherwise not have had.
I started YLA with a view to offer free legal advice and have been doing so every first Tuesday of the month since December 2018 for anyone who cannot afford legal representation.
As much as the black and minority ethnic (BAME) community faces discrimination, racism and under-representation, throughout this piece, I will be drawing on my experiences as a member of the black community. Nevertheless, I stand in solidarity with the members of the BAME community.
Whilst working as a paralegal, I decided to use YLA to go into schools and colleges across London, teaching young people their stop and search rights, while my younger brother an MA student, teaches politics.
The goal is to get stop and search and police powers taught in schools as part of the curriculum in PSHE/Citizenship lessons.
That way, we can equip our young people the confidence they need when dealing with the police. Teaching our young men and women their rights lets them know the police are not above the law. While this will not end institutional racism in the UK, it will help young people better navigate the criminal justice system. This can start with a young person challenging and questioning officers about the lawfulness of the stop search. The UK’s criminal justice system has been criminalising our young black people for far too long. This is seen in the often-perpetuated idea that black on black crime is the reason for the higher percentage of stop and searches in the black community. Black on black crime simply does not exist. It is a completely false narrative consistently thrown at us in order to justify the wrongful actions of the police, rather than dealing with the fact that institutionalised racism is alive and thriving. This is precisely why we never hear any discussions of “white on white” crime. Whilst the common denominator is the fact that the perpetrator and the victim are both white, whiteness is not the primary motivation for the crime in question – the same is true for black people.
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), between April 2018 and March 2019, there were 38 for every 1000 stop and searches of black people. This is compared with 4 for every 1000 stop and searches of white people. Not teaching our young people how to use the rights afforded to them is leaving them at an ongoing disadvantage.
Another way we believe the fight can be advanced is if we invest in our youth. As clichéd as that sounds, its importance cannot be overemphasised.
We need to offer young people who have been excluded from school providers a chance at employment. As helpful as it is, in order to advance the fight for black lives we have to be willing to go further than posting a black square on Twitter, or posting quotes followed by the Black Lives Matter hashtag. It is not right that a young person should feel disregarded or forgotten about by society.
This is why at YLA, we are working with a PRU in Barnet. We have started working on a programme called Reform, where we are seeking to connect employers with the students for 3-6 training period.
Following the training, the employers will then take the young person to work with them for a minimum of 6 months.
The Reform project would be funded so it would be of no cost to the employer. We are currently looking for employers to get involved so please, if you know anyone who would like to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org. My hope for YLA is that we will eventually be able to run our reform programme in prisons.
Programmes like this, even if not offered by us is desperately needed in prisons. The prison system in the UK is simply not fit for purpose. It’s supposed rehabilitative properties are entirely non-existent.
This is evidenced by the fact that prisons effectively operate as “universities of crime”. This is exacerbated by the fact that upon being released from prison, former inmates are ostracised by employers and wider society alike. For black ex-offenders, they thus suffer from “double discrimination” according to a 2019 report written by Unlock – the country’s leading charity for people with convictions.
They are discriminated against both because they are black and because they have a criminal record. This makes it near impossible for them to get jobs, in turn making it difficult to afford food or a place to live, and so unfortunately in some cases they are left with no other option than to commit crimes, thus continuing the cycle.
The 2019 Unlock report showed that 78% of people felt like their ethnicity made it harder for them to overcome the problems they faced as a result of having a criminal record. I hear all too often that Britain is a country which prides itself on being “multicultural” and “diverse” – but this is simply not reflected by the way black have been and continue to be treated.
YLA’s commitment to anti-racism influences everything that we do. Including and especially our reform programme, and teaching stop and search in schools. Right now, the fight is not black people versus white people, it is everyone versus racists.
This has been displayed through the fact that is not just black people protesting against police brutality, and other forms of injustice; it’s white people, Asian people, people standing and protesting in solidarity with us.
We aren’t asking for the world, we’re simply asking that we are not unlawfully killed in this one.
Justice George Floyd, justice for Shukri Abdi, justice for Belly Mujinga, justice for Breonna Taylor, justice for Ahmad Arbery. Justice for all those killed by the system. Black Lives Matter.