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A. D. A. France-Williams: Do black lives matter less in 2022?

26 August 2022


“EVERY child has the right to expect to be kept safe when interacting with the police” (Strip Search of Children by the Metropolitan Police Service: New analysis by the Children’s Commissioner for England, published 8 August).

Have you heard about Child Q? The Children’s Commissioner recently revealed a safeguarding crisis around black young people’s encounters with the police. Some bishops are quiet on this. Do black lives matter less in 2022? How are Church of England schools responding? Here is a fictional account based on fact, to offer an insider perspective. How might you respond?

“I’m running late for my high school. The bus broke down, and we all had to change service. I walk towards the gate, sharing a joke with my idiotic friends. Their parents are West African, too. We understand each other.

“We spot the squad car. The presence of the feds [urban slang for the police] kills the laughter dead. My heart rate elevates as I realise one of the feds is looking directly . . . at . . . me.

“I look down at my scuffed shoes, testament to the football hours logged. My throat starts to dry. I have an urge to run, although I haven’t done anything wrong. My friends disappear into their phones and make for the school gate. They are silent as they leave. I begin to feel little; so I decide to go big. I explode. Hot, percussive words rip through the cool air: ‘Yo pig! What are you looking at?!’

“Adrenaline floods my system. The watching officer is quietly assessing me, but doesn’t move. I step back into the bulk of another officer I hadn’t spotted. He doesn’t move either. I have a moment of relief as, out of my peripheral vision, I clock my form tutor. But they ain’t slowing down. They are deftly picking out a path to avoid the tangle of police, with me their prey. My tutor glances back. I form the word ‘help’, but my dry throat can’t produce volume. They pretend not to see me, opening their arms to herd my few friends who hung back through the gate.

“The officer holding my eye signals to me. Before long, I will be in the head teacher’s office, answering questions. There will be a pause. I will be told I match a description of some other black person, and told to take off all my clothes. I will protest, making it worse. There will be no adults I trust in the room. Peers will tease me, or avoid me for the rest of the term. Nightmares will ambush my sleep for months. The panic attacks will continue for years. My confidence will never fully return.”

The Revd A. D. A. (Azariah) France-Williams is Rector of the Ascension, Hulme, in Manchester. Canon Angela Tilby is away.

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