“My 15-year-old brother and his friend were on their way to play football,” said Kingston University student Diana Siasi, 24. “They were stopped and searched for no reason. They felt discriminated and humiliated.”
There was a huge range of events celebrating this year’s Black History Month at Kingston University. But amongst the festivities commemorating its rich culture, debates were held across campus discussing the social issues affecting black students daily. One of these workshops was run by charity Release, the world’s oldest independent drugs charity. Release primarily campaigns on issues surrounding drug use and its laws, however, the charity collaborated with several other organisations to create the Y-Stop project.
The workshop was designed to help promote their national youth-led project, Y-Stop which raises awareness on police stop-and-searches in the UK.
Official figures recently reported in The Guardian show people classed as black British are still eight times more likely to be stopped than white people. Similarly, groups from ethnic minorities are four times more likely to be stopped than people in white communities. Although statistics show stop-and-searches to be at the lowest since 2002, the fight is far from over. During the seminar led by Amal Ali, the Youth Co-ordinator at Release and Human Rights post graduate student at UCL. Ali discussed the negative effects they have in communities, individual’s rights against the police, and how the charity was working towards eliminating wrongful stop-and-searches permanently.
Following the workshop, I sat down with Ali. She gave Persist the inside knowledge of Y-Stop, as well as valuable advice to students in the Kingston community.
C: Hi Amal! How long have you been a part of the Y-Stop project?
Amal: I’ve been involved for three years. My undergraduate degree was in Public Health, and my lecturer would discuss institutionalised racism and drug policies. She invited Y-Stop to deliver the project, and I found it interesting. Having witnessed stop-and-searches happen to my brothers, I wanted to do something to help both them and the community.
C: Can you tell me about the people behind Y-Stop?
A: Y-Stop is a national youth -led project led by Release, which is the national centre of expertise in drugs and drug law. It’s also run in partnership with Stopwatch, which is a coalition of academics, youth groups and community groups that work for fair and effective policing.
C: What was the process of you becoming involved?
A: After volunteering, I was selected as a delegate to represent the project at an international conference, alongside other young activists from across Europe. In my third year of University, I was offered the job of coordinating the project. It’s important to get involved with projects and volunteer within your interests as early as possible. Not just for future prospects, but to also follow your passion. Release is an amazing charity.
C: How have you seen the charity change people’s lives first-hand?
A: We are on the Home Office’s scrutiny panel, which means when police inspections take place, we also attend not only to feed into the discussion, but to also influence better ways to conduct stop-and-searches using our scheme. Helping assist young people and the public to exercise their rights is a great concept of the charity. The charity also helps issues surrounding drugs and sex workers, and we have connections with the HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary) so we can help everyone.
C: How would you advise students to cope with a stop-and-search experience?
A: It’s essentially knowing your rights. Even if you don’t see yourself as high risk to be stopped and searched, it can happen to anyone. Young people are predominantly searched at a higher rate than other age groups, and crimes aren’t committed exclusively by any age range. Know your rights, research our project and learn the six steps of our S.E.A.R.C.H. acronym.
C: What does it the acronym stand for?
A: Stay calm. Eye contact. Ask Questions. Receipt and Record. Confidence and Hold to account. Knowing these behavioural tools and projecting your confidence in a different way will help you a lot. It’s important that young people know how to interact with the police, because essentially, they are there to protect us.
C: How could students at Kingston University get involved with the project?
A: There’s always opportunities on our Twitter and other social media. You can also visit our website, where there will be more details including my email. We also have our app, which makes reporting any complaints of stop-and-searches and knowing your rights easily accessible!
To learn more about Y-Stop visit their official site here