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Express & Star comment: Lives more important than rights

By Star Comment | Opinions | Published:

Almost every day, it seems, we hear of another knife tragedy, and another young life lost.

From the outside, London looks a scary place in which young people are carrying knives as a fashion accessory and are more than willing to use them to deadly effect, leaving misery and heartbreak.

Gang wars and turf wars over drugs seem to be playing a significant part in this murderous crime wave. Knife crime is of course not peculiar to London, and there have been dreadful crimes in our area as well. But how to stop it?

The use of police stop and search powers is controversial, and if you look at the statistics for West Mercia you can appreciate why.

In the West Mercia police area, 14 per cent of suspects subject to stop and search powers were from the black and ethnic minority population. You might think that that is quite low. But when you consider that they constitute four per cent of the West Mercia population, the figure is disproportionately high.

Broadly speaking it’s the same picture in Staffordshire. If you are black or from an ethnic minority, proportionately speaking you are much more likely to be stopped and searched.

From this it is very easy for the charge to be made that these figures are evidence of institutional racism on the part of the police. But there is another side of the coin. In London, some people feel that the rise in knife crime is linked at least in part to an easing up in the use of stop and search.

For those caught carrying knives, the excuse is often that it is for their own protection. Given what appears to be a widespread practice of carrying knives among some elements in the capital, it might actually be true that some decent youngsters are now so frightened and intimidated that they feel they must themselves carry knives. In doing so they become part of the problem.

Stop and search has to be a useful tool, but to retain public confidence must be seen to be used judiciously, fairly, and without prejudice.

There is a nuclear alternative which would negate the accusations of racial discrimination, and that would be zero-tolerance sweeps in which everybody in the net was searched. So much for civil liberties if that were to happen. But here’s the dilemma – should civil liberties get in the way of saving lives?

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