YAB Blog – Child Q

Hearts Over Minds Series

Written by Nenah Hakim-Anderson

Recently, the horrific mistreatment of a young black girl by teachers and police officers was exposed. Despite a lack of tangible evidence, Child Q was suspected of being in possession of Class B drugs as her teachers reported the scent of cannabis from her direction. She was maliciously and unlawfully stripped naked, abused and even forced to remove her sanitary pad. Her story is absolutely heartbreaking, but it is evident that Child Q is not alone. Her story simply evidences the racist and discriminatory treatment young black children have faced for years from institutions supposedly designed to safeguard and protect them.

Child Q was the victim of an egregious failure of her school, who were duty bound to protect her. Rather than safeguard and support a potentially vulnerable young person, her teachers led her to the officers who disgracefully violated her. Child Q was denied fundamental civil rights and safeties, dehumanised and stripped without reasonable grounds, which will undoubtedly have devastating impacts on her mental health and wellbeing for the rest of her life.

The officers, who have unchecked access to children in schools, partook in a despicable act of injustice, which unfortunately is not an anomaly among police cases in London. Time and time again we see young black children subject to adultification bias, causing these children to be wrongfully targeted by authority in ways that would be unheard of to their white counterparts. We see this with the disproportionate targeting of black people, who are 9 times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person.

Young people at Voyage and within our community constantly notice the poor treatment of teaching staff towards children in Hackney schools, and the lack of safe and secure environments built on mutual trust and respect. There is something to be said about the fact that this incident occurred within the walls of a London school, where teachers who should have been questioning the grounds on which the search was based, ended up remaining silent and complicit in this clear act of racial bias and extreme misuse of power. No child should be strip searched, let alone a young secondary school student ‘suspected of smelling of cannabis’.

Such an atrocity was only possible due to the structural and institutional racism and sexism which permeates throughout the police force and education system alike. Who are we to put our trust in the very organisations designed to protect us if they are the ones harming our children and abusing their power?

At Voyage, we have a police accountability group, and pride ourselves on consistent and meaningful police interaction. We aim to liaise with senior police officers, who can be held accountable and offer firsthand insights into their organisation. Creating a forum for open discussion and critique, with the possibility of strengthening trust between the police and the communities they have been assigned to safeguard.

Voyage has been working with police and police associations for over 20 years, and evidently these discussions have not made appropriate changes to the treatment of black children in London. Instead of putting funding into an increased police presence, the police must correct their broken relationship with the black community. Unlimited police access to schools has warped the boundaries between safety and criminalisation, when really, funding and efforts should be directed towards education programmes, youth clubs and charities, in order to efficiently serve the needs of black communities.

Voyage has routinely been denied access to schools, where we are there to recruit young people to join an organisation based on empowerment, self confidence and knowledge, whilst police are given a free pass inside institutions, often where their presence actually contributes to feelings of unease rather than safety.

Ultimately, we understand that the role of the police (in principle) is to serve and protect communities, and prevent crime in areas, and the message here is not that we should not have a police force. However, what has been made clear over the years is that drastic structural changes are required. This starts with the inclusion of respected individuals who are likely to be well received by communities, and rigorous police training to encourage emphatic, skilled and well educated officers who can conduct themselves accordingly and fairly.

Whilst racial bias is unfortunately inherent within white communities, it is important to ensure that teachers, police officers and others employed to work with people in predominantly ethnic minority communities are sensitive towards the issues they face.

It is necessary to employ public servants who understand their environments and properly and positively engage in the communities that they work in. In many Hackney schools, the teachers working there are white British women, often who are first-time educators. When teachers in an institution do not reflect the demographic that they teach, or have extensive knowledge of their communities, we risk very severe consequences. Students are quickly written-off as ‘misbehaved’ and are cast aside by teachers, either through exclusion or mistreatment.

For many years Voyage and many others have witnessed, written about and developed projects on the mistreatment and abuse faced by black people from institutions designed to safeguard and protect.

We now believe it is essential that the public, in collaboration with charities, continues to scrutinise, engage and hold the police, schools, and the government accountable. We must continue to protest and scrutinize in order to eradicate the possibility of young children, such as Child Q, being treated so horrifically by racist institutions.

Next steps and ways forward

Our Young Leaders have developed a set of questions they wish to continue to explore with their peers, parents and with professionals, and we hope to share this with you as we learn more.

  1. Do we really want police in schools?
  • Does the proximity allows abuse to take place?
  • Does this proximity need to have consent from parents and young people?
  • What’s the style of the policing in the school and is it the same in every school?
  • Do schools with greater numbers of Black students have a more militaristic and punitive approach?
  • How do you make sure everyone is treated equally and fairly?
  • How do we ensure policing is fair and consistent and equal?

2. In what ways can teachers and schools be held to account for abusive systems and poor performance on punitive systems and exclusion?

  • Monitoring teachers. In this case, teachers allowed atrocities to take place and gave a mandate to the police officers.

3 What are the lessons for our community?

  • Do we need to encourage more parental governors?
  • Are parental governors the best way to maintain oversight on these issues?
  • How does Ofsted take account of punitive systems?
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