By Robert Kazandjian / @RKazandjian
I mentor excluded, marginalised, vulnerable teenagers in North London. I work for an organisation that enables them to achieve educational qualifications and provides pastoral care and support.
These teenagers encounter obstacle after obstacle in their development; abuse, neglect, poverty and systems that appear destined to fail them. I’ve worked as a mentor for three years and I have no doubt that in relation to young black males, the police are an equally obstructive obstacle.
My father was a victim of racist treatment by the police when he arrived in England from Lebanon in the 1970s. I will never forget the raw anger and emotion in his voice as he described his experiences. My parents lived through the Broadwater Farm riots in the 1980s and educated me on the wider context of police racism.
I grew up in Edmonton and a significant number of my friendship group were black. We were subjected to dehumanising and disrespectful stop and search exercises on a regular basis. These were not intelligence-led exercises, nor were they random stops. They were deliberately targeting young black males because of their race. It was no coincidence that when I went out without my black friends, I had significantly less contact with the police.
A significant proportion of the teenagers that I mentor are young black males. During our lunch breaks we regularly go out in my car to get some food. This is when I find the teenagers at their most open and relaxed, therefore the ideal time for any important discussions that need to be had.
This vital time of our day together is regularly interrupted by police stop and search. I explain to the police that I am the teenager’s mentor. The police look at my shaved head, my tattoos and doubt me. They ask me to provide evidence. They call my line manager and ask her to confirm my identity. Despite confirmation they search me. They search the teenager. They are and heavy-handed and provocative.
I’ve never been stopped when out with any of the young white males that I mentor.
Conflict between teenagers is inevitable. Our body of staff is trained to identify and diffuse any potential issues before they escalate. If all institutions functioned as they should do, then we should be able to contact the police if a situation becomes unmanageable and they can assist us with the conflict resolution.
The reality is we do not have a working relationship with the police, largely a consequence of one particularly disgusting incident of police brutality towards a young black male.
I pulled in to the car park of our site on a mundane, grey morning. A group of my colleagues were outside. Amongst them was Boy A, I’m his key worker. He had removed his shirt. His mouth and nose was bleeding heavily. He spat blood and threw wild punches at my colleagues who were trying to contain him without making physical contact. He is prone to extreme rage and physical contact makes him anxious, often inflaming his anger.
My line manager explained that Boy A and Boy B had a fight. Boy B had got the better of Boy A before my colleagues intervened and separated them. She pointed out that Boy A had put his foot through a glass door and ripped a window from its hinges in an attempt to get to Boy B who was inside the building.
Her voice filled with defeat, she told me that the police had already been called.
I have an excellent relationship with Boy A. He is a brilliant artist and chess player. He is brave, honest and loyal. He lives in abject poverty, his parents are battling drug addictions and consequently he has a wide range of psychological issues. We use time together at the boxing gym to address these issues. He respects and trusts me.
I approached Boy A. I mirrored his movements. I paced when he paced. I stopped when he stopped. His eyes were glazed and unfocussed. I asked him to explain exactly what had happened. He told me that he didn’t start the fight, that he thought Boy B and him were friends. He was adamant that retribution was needed. By engaging with him I was able to de-escalate him. He now mirrored my less animated movements. I explained that the police had already been called. I told him that everything would be o.k.
A lone policeman arrived. He was a big, red-faced, fair-haired man who carried an air of impatience about him. I asked the policeman if I could tell him what had happened. I wanted to inform him that Boy A was now clam and the atmosphere less explosive. It was important that he was made aware of the type of teenager Boy A is in order for him to adapt his behaviour accordingly.
‘Fuck off and let me do my job’, the policeman told me as he shoved me out of his way.
He approached Boy A aggressively and demanded he give him his hands. Boy A said calmly that he didn’t want to give him his hands because he didn’t want them to be cuffed.
‘I will ask you one more time, give me your fucking hands’
Boy A refused. The policeman grabbed him in a bear hug and slammed him down on to the ground, landing heavily on top of him. The bare flesh of his back tore into the concrete. He cried out in pain. The policeman placed a large forearm across his throat.
‘How do I fucking know you’re not concealing a weapon? That’s why I need your fucking hands.’
Boy A was clearly not concealing anything. He had already removed his shirt. The policeman could see his hands. The policeman rolled Boy A on to his front, pushed his face in to the concrete and was victorious in handcuffing him.
As a body of staff we were appalled. I was furious. I lost control and tried to intervene. My colleagues restrained me. More officers arrived in a van and Boy A was removed from the scene, the respect and trust he had developed for me undoubtedly damaged and in need of repair.
Boy B, a young white male was treated very well by the police.
Originally posted on his blog – makemymark
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