A new play at the Broadway Theatre in Catford depicts a generation of children being damaged by stop and search laws. The play is an example of documentary research that informs the news and current affairs agenda through dramatized fiction and is resonating powerfully with south east London audiences.
“Stop Search” is written by Dominic J Taylor, who told East London Lines: “Stop and search in its current practice is a form of collective insanity”. Taylor was a policy worker at the Ministry of Justice and has also worked in the prison service.
While at the MoJ he analysed the use of stop and search around the country. He was invited to sit on a Metropolitan Police steering committee on performance improvement. After leaving last year he wrote his first play which was then followed by his second “Stop Search.”
He said he got the idea for writing “Stop Search” after talking to his friends. While his child has never been stopped by the police, he says all his black friends’ children have.
Music is provided by Goldsmiths student Daniel Adeyemi and Mister Manga. The production features the voice talents of Siân Phillips and Bill Nighy, and depicts a family devastated by events beginning with a stop and search.
He is told he fits the description of a burglar. The play then follows the disappearance of the couple’s son Callie, played by the young star Jerome Holder, 17. In the course of the missing person’s inquiry his family find out Callie has been stopped and searched at least fifty times. Callie’s mother is upset and starts to believe he really is “a bad boy”, but his sister says, “he ain’t in trouble with the police, the police bother him”.
Dr Michael Shiner, a statistician at the London School of Economics, is executive producer of the play and a founder of the stop and search action group Stopwatch. This is an organisation that works with communities and senior police officers. He told East London Lines: “Stop and search is a disgrace as solving crime through this method is microscopic.”
According to Stopwatch, black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people and
Asian people twice as likely. The arrest rate following stop and search is 12 per cent and has stayed between 10-13 pec cent for the last ten years. The overall feeling for most of the young men is hopelessness, shame and powerlessness. It can end in an arrest if the person who has been stopped gets angry, yet even after this experience some say they have nothing against the police, as shown in this film made by Stopwatch.
It is not just young men who may be wearing what is described as ‘stop and search attire’ (hoodies and baggy pants) and are affected by stop and search, as shown by this film made by a Birmingham City University student. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has been stopped at least eight times.
“Get up, get washed, go to college, get stopped”
In addition to watching the play’s première, East London Lines spoke to a member of the audience who contributed to the play’s research. “Diana”, does not want to be identified. She said that her son first started getting stopped aged 13. He was stopped at least three or four times a week and in the end would stop and wait when a police car went past, knowing the officers inside would do a U-turn and come back. After first not telling her, he finally explained that for him his day would be “get up, get washed, go to college, get stopped”. He is now 18 years old, does not go out and has developed Alopecia through stress.
Near the end of “Stop Search”, Callie the missing boy’s mother describes him in a missing person’s report. She says Callie has “huge eyes that make him look cute”. Throughout the history of stop and search there has been a controversial debate about the impact of official police descriptions of suspects. “Black, brown eyes, short hair” fits all; even Archbishop Sentamu.
East London Lines spoke to two young men in New Cross about their experiences of stop and search.
The play has its first run in Catford until May 26 and has already attracted positive reviews in the national and local media. The Times described it as an “atmospheric and effective show.”
The influential journalist and social critic Henry Bonsu of Colourful Radio and Vox Africa’s Shoot The Messenger says the play is: “Very, very strong, very very timely… people should see ‘Stop Search'”