I thought that this racist system could no longer surprise me. But reading that a Black fifteen-year-old girl, Child Q, was stripped searched, whilst on her period, by the police in her school was a reminder of the depravity of dutty, stinkin’ Babylon. Words do not exist to express the disgust that any young person would be put through such an ordeal. Forget the school-to-prison pipeline. It seems that schools have become prisons.
Everyone involved should not only be fired but face criminal prosecution. Malcolm X famously stopped condemning all White people as devils, but stories like this make that kind of benevolence increasingly difficult. We should have shut down the nation on hearing about this outrage. Instead, we found out almost two years later from a “local child safeguarding practice review.” I don’t doubt that the people involved in the review had good intentions. There were clearly those involved who had proper knowledge and perspectives on racism in the criminal injustice system. But that is beside the point because the very processes supposed to protect us are actually tools to further our oppression.
We need to seriously question when we delegated our response to racist outrages to safeguarding reviews. Safeguarding has a problem with race as Auma covered for MIP in a fire two-part series on complex safeguarding’s problems with race as a Black woman working in a safeguarding team. The lengthy, bureaucratic process is no way to respond to such violence against our young people. An effort was made to tie the case into the wider picture of state abuse, where more than 4,500 children between the ages of 10 and 16 were strip-searched between 2008 and 2013 by the Met. But the process is individualized by its very nature. The review can paint the bigger picture but can’t do anything about it.
Something produced by the racist system inevitably ends up being framed by it. The extent to which the review accepted the racist premises that led to the event is astounding. Smelling of weed should not be cause for calling the police, who should only ever be called into schools in an emergency. Possession of weed should never be the cause for a strip search. It’s frankly irrelevant whether or not an appropriate adult was present or her parents were informed. It is not a coincidence that the school was in Hackney or that the victim was Black. Policing in Britain, like everywhere for the Black population, is hallmarked by harassing Black communities for offenses that elsewhere would not raise an eyebrow. If the police strip-searched every university student who smelt like weed on campus, the force wouldn’t have the resources to do anything else.
The review does highlight the gendered racism that was on full display where a child was “adultified” and spared none of the harshest abuses. This is an all too common issue facing Black boys and girls. The fact she was menstruating probably just reinforced the pigs (please, what else can you call them) that this was a dangerous Negro wench who needed to be tamed. Smelling weed on a young girl should have made the teachers concerned for her welfare. Instead, they feared for the safety of themselves and the other pupils. Just think of the damage she could have done with a bit of weed. The behind closed doors nature of the abuse that she suffered also indicates the private violence that Black women experience. There is no strip search video that can go viral on social media. We have been neglectful in addressing the oppression of Black women and girls because we tend to rally to the spectacle. We must do better at being outraged by the private and structural issues of racism that are not easily captured on smartphones.
We must also stop outsourcing our response to racism to the new managerial procedures that only worsen the problem. Rather than reject the racist premise, the review supports it by arguing that “whilst some may argue that the strip-searching of children should never be done at all, the review acknowledges its place in practice, with the caveat that this needs to be firmly embedded in a culture that addresses the safeguarding needs of children.” It should be obvious there is no culture that safeguards children whilst allowing them to be strip-searched, especially not one defined by White supremacy.
As with all of these paper exercises, the best we can hope for is some tame recommendations that cannot meet the moment. This time we get calls for a strip and search procedure review, recommendations for anti-racism training, and an impassioned plea for a strongly worded anti-racism statement. Free at last, free and last, thank God almighty we have a powerful anti-racism statement!!! If my eyes rolled any further, they would be stuck forever staring into my skull.
Complaining to the Met about the officers’ conduct is like chastising pigs for eating untidily from a trough. Abusing Black bodies is part of their basic operating system. I’m instinctively against book burnings, but surely printing out the report and setting it alight would be exempt from the general rule. This debacle is a reminder that in 2022 we have not made the progress some of the people (see: House Negro and Uncle Tom) that look like us make good money telling White people we have. But also that the mechanisms that are supposed to protect us violate us even further. If you still are not convinced that we should have no faith in the system, that we need to overhaul and start again, then in the words of Malcolm, “I feel sorry for you.”