During a number of recent speeches the presidential nominee for the Republican Party in the United States, ex-real estate mogul Donald Trump, praised the use of “stop-and-frisk” tactics by police forces across the US, notably the decades old policy pursued by the New York Police Department (NYPD). Of course the authoritarian plutocrat omitted any mention of research which has proven that such law enforcement techniques fall disproportionately upon minority communities in the States, particularly African-Americans and to a lesser extent Latino-Americans. Indeed some would argue that such methods are a form of targeted ethnic or communal policing permitting the phrase “stop-and-frisk” to become a racial code word in right-wing political discourse for keeping minorities in their place. Note this report from the New York Times in June:
“In 2011, at the height of the program, the police stopped people on the streets an astonishing 685,000 times — up from just 97,000 a decade earlier. In practical terms, this meant that individuals in heavily policed neighborhoods could be stopped on the street without cause multiple times within a given year.
Plaintiffs in the case of Floyd v. City of New York, filed in 2008, alleged that the New York City police were stopping people on the basis of race, without justification. A statistical study of nearly 4.5 million stops produced at trial showed that only 6 percent of stops resulted in arrests and 6 percent resulted in summonses — which meant that 88 percent of the people stopped had been doing nothing wrong.
Moreover, in about 83 percent of the cases, the person stopped was black or Hispanic, even though the two groups accounted for just over half the population.”
The British describe similar law enforcement tactics as “stop and search” though the intended purpose is much the same. This is especially true in the UK-administrated north-east of Ireland where the northern Irish nationalist community has been subject to the onerous strategy for decades. Despite the obvious improvements in the political and socio-economic conditions of the region, stemming from the Irish-British peace process of the 1990s and early 2000s (in particular the multi-party Belfast Agreement of 1998), nationalists in the Six Counties are many times more likely to be stopped, questioned and searched as their British unionist counterparts.
Indeed the level of legalised harassment imposed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland or PSNI, the supposedly reformed – if still armed – police force in the north-east of the country following the disbandment of the discredited Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), is quite astonishing. Take this article from the news website, Belfast Live, describing the daily routine of people living in greater Ardoyne, a nationalist enclave in north Belfast a few kilometres square with a population of less than 31,000 men, women and children.
“The PSNI has used stop and search powers against people more than 4,500 times in six years, new figures show.
And the number of operations has been confined to one corner of North Belfast, according to a Freedom of Information request.
The figures, obtained by the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective group, found that the 4,597 searches were carried out in the Ardoyne and Oldpark areas between January 2009 and January 2015 – which would equate to around two a day.”
That’s an average of 766 searches a year, a shocking figure for an area the equivalent of a small urban village. An examination for the same period of another predominantly nationalist region reveals equally high levels of discriminatory law enforcement against Irish citizens in their own country. From January 1st 2009 to January 31st 2015 there were some 3957 stop and search incidences in South Down, a largely rural area with a population of 70,000 people. This equates to 659 confrontations a year or two a day.
For some northern nationalists the repeated claims by politicians and governments that the peace process has brought genuine change and betterment ring very hollow indeed. What they see is a heavily armed paramilitary police force, one that was moving towards true cross-community representation but which has been subverted from within. The accusation that the PSNI is the “RUC 2.0” may be unfair but the oppressive tactics used by the organisation in recent years is certainly giving such allegations more credence. This increasingly dire situation has not been helped by the British government’s decision to permit dismissed or former members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to join the new law enforcement service. Allowing those who functioned as “…policemen by day and gunmen by night“ during the 1966-2005 conflict to find a place in the PSNI, whether as front-line officers or civilian staff, has clearly had a destabilising and corrosive effect.
As with the counter-insurgency RUC before it, the PSNI’s stop and search policy has been transformed into a tool of indiscriminate harassment and intimidation that reaches far beyond a small body of suspected militant Irish republicans and instead encompasses the northern nationalist community as a whole. It is a form of collective punishment for those districts thought to harbour would-be insurgents or where political activists unaligned to parties like Sinn Féin or the SDLP have been given some local recognition. While one can absolutely criticise the likes of Saoradh, the new republican party launched a few weeks ago, for its lack of progressive vision one must equally condemn the orchestrated and persistent persecution of its members and their families.
“A WEST Belfast man has complained to the Police Ombudsman after the PSNI searched his 15-year-old daughter’s bag as she made her way to school.
Former republican prisoner Risteard Ó Murchú hit out after his teenage daughter and 12-year-old son were involved in a stop and search operation as he left them to school last week.
Mr Ó Murchú, who sits on the national executive of the anti-agreement party Saoradh, said he has been stopped and searched up to ten times in the past month.
During one incident last week a PSNI officer was filmed searching the girl’s schoolbag at a west Belfast roadside after her father was stopped as he drove her to St Dominic’s Grammar School where she is studying for her GCSE’s.
Mr Ó Murchú also claims that during a recent stop and search near Coláiste Feirste, where his son is a pupil, a teacher had to escort the child into the school grounds after he was held by police .
People before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll described stop and search operations involving children as “a harmful and unnecessary impingement on the rights of young people”.”
One answer to the important question of recent times, “Why are northern nationalist voters abandoning the ballot box?“, can be found in the simmering anger and resentment created by the profligate use of stop and search operations by the PSNI across the Six Counties. If the intention is to drive young Irish men and women into the arms of the so-called “Dissidents“, to revive an armed resistance to the continued British occupation of the north-east of this island nation, then the UK authorities are going the right way about it.