How would you feel if your name was being circulated by the police as being a ‘gang member’ simply because of the music you listened to and your cultural preferences?
Sadly, this is the reality for thousands of young people growing up in London – where Scotland Yard has compiled a ‘Gangs Matrix’ containing the names of thousands of youngsters, including children as young as 12.
The database was set up in 2012 – a year after the rioting that hit London and other parts of the UK – and holds information on persons of interest which has been gathered by the police in a bid to identify gang members. It includes history of violent crime, social media entries and information from local councils.
But according to a recent report by Amnesty International, being on this database could affect access to housing or education services and the job centre because the data it contains is shared by the Met with local councils and other agencies.
As an experienced advisor who campaigns on behalf of people who’ve had their civil liberties breached, I am deeply concerned by this and the potential impact it could have on the Human Rights of the individuals on this list.
I am currently representing a young man who has seen his reputation tarnished through no fault of his own because his personal details were leaked as being on this ‘Gangs Matrix’ via social media.
It is not yet known how or why this data breach occurred, but the Information Commissioner’s Office is now investigating. Potentially, this mean that there could be many more people who have seen their Human Rights affected in the same way.
Is the ‘Gangs Matrix’ racially discriminatory?
Unfortunately, and perhaps most shockingly, Amnesty International believe this ‘Gangs Matrix’ is “racially discriminatory” because it contains a disproportionate number of black men.
Figures taken from July 2016 show that 87% of the people listed were black, Asian and minority ethnic – with 78% of them being black.
In London as a whole, only 13% of the population is black and police figures show 27% of those prosecuted for youth violence are black.
Of the 3,806 people who are on the ‘Gangs Matrix’ in London, only 5% of those were assessed as having the highest risk of committing violence. A staggering 64% of people on the database (1,500) were seen as being in the lowest category and were assessed as posing no risk of violence.
Which begs the question whether they should be on the list anyway?
According to Amnesty, the Metropolitan Police are putting people on the matrix because they mistake cultural preferences – such as the music they listen to – for criminality. Amnesty also claim Met officers are using social media networks to gather intelligence from those under suspicion without a warrant.
If this is happening, it’s not just illegal – it is also another serious Human Rights infringement.
Matrix must be ditched or Met police could face barrage of legal action
There is clearly a huge problem with knife crime violence in London at the moment, but unfortunately the ‘Gangs Matrix’ doesn’t actually tackle the problem. It only further marginalises a group of young adults and reaffirms the ‘institutionalised’ way of policing as it is perceived by the community it’s meant to protect.
Under no circumstances should any police force be stigmatising young men or young black men for their social media behaviour or their cultural choices – especially if they have not done anything wrong or illegal.
Being in a gang, a group or a gang video is not in itself a crime. For this reason, it’s important that the signifiers the Met use to identify ‘gang members’ are not taken from urban youth culture because that in itself is a reflection of society and not a crime.
If the life of an individual is blighted by having their personal details entered on this matrix, the ‘victim’ could be entitled to legal redress and compensation.
Unless the Matrix can be brought it in line with international Human Rights laws, it must be dismantled as soon as possible otherwise the Metropolitan Police could find themselves open to all sorts of legal action in the future.