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Conference will explore issues of race, police and incarceration

If you’re a person of colour you are four times more likely than a white resident to be stopped by police without probable cause, and searched.

So claims Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda, which lays the blame on a 2005 amendment to the Island’s Criminal Code.

According to CURB, the amendment hasn’t fulfilled its intent of bringing crime down, and should be repealed. It’s one of many topics that will be discussed at CURB’s racial justice conference later this month.

“The theme for this year’s conference is Bermuda’s Criminal Justice System: Intent & Impact,” said CURB president, Cordell Riley. “The conference goals are to raise awareness as to the intent and impact of our existing criminal justice system, evaluate and discuss what is already being done, look for Bermuda-based ideas and solutions to help improve inter-agency collaboration, encourage community involvement, understand the root causes and, most importantly, offer solutions to the increasing violence in our community.”

US civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander will serve as the keynote speaker. Dr Alexander is author of ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’. She has been featured on ‘The Tavis Smiley Show’, ‘Bill Moyers Journal’, ‘Democracy Now’ and C-Span’s ‘Washington Journal’.

CURB decided to hold the workshop and conference after hearing Dr Alexander speak at a conference in the US. “The information she had was extremely powerful. We took that opportunity, and decided we had to bring her here to speak. Then we thought, ‘Why don’t we bring this issue up and have it as a workshop?’ So it is not just someone coming to speak, but a learning experience also.”

Added CURB member Lynne Winfield: “What is powerful about the way she speaks is that a lot of what she says has a mirror image in Bermuda.

“We were astounded that as she spoke about the criminal justice system in the United States we kept thinking about similarities in Bermuda. Her message is basically that the criminal justice system perpetuates constant feeding of young black youth into the system. At that time we had been doing quite a bit of research into stop and search. We are concerned about the thousands of stop and searches increasingly going on over the past few years.

“We felt it was a match, because she was saying the kind of things we were worrying about, such as why are the statistics showing far more blacks then whites are being searched.

“The argument that more people of colour are searched because the majority of the population are people of colour, doesn’t hold water when you include white expatriates. That makes black Bermudians 55 percent of the population rather than 70 percent. You don’t like to call it racial profiling because people get upset, but basically that is what is happening.”

She said CURB’s specific concern was that Section 315F of the Criminal Code provides unlimited powers to the police to stop and search without probable cause. “This is unlike the 2006 PACE Act which provides probable cause for any member of the public being stopped and searched, ie the police must have a reason or reasons that they suspect an individual is committing an arrestable offence,” said Ms Winfield. “We believe that the 2006 PACE Act is sufficient for Bermuda’s needs and that the more stringent Section 315F of the Criminal Code should be repealed, as it is resulting in an alienation and over focus on our young black males.

“One cannot blame the police for working within the framework of legislation provided to them by legislators, and it is heartening to note that the police are now exercising some restraint in the number of stop and searches they have carried out over the last six months.”

Mr Riley talked with a police officer and then googled the correlation between stop and search and crime. “The first document that comes up is the document that was done by the Home Office in England after the death of black British teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993,” he said. “Mr Lawrence’s death was racially motivated. They came to the conclusion that stop and search is of little value to solving or preventing crimes. I decided to go and get data about Bermuda.

“The result shows that crime has remained the same for the last three years. Stop and search has no impact.

“When stop and search was down crime was at the same level as it was when stop and search was up. That report from the Home Office confirmed it was of no use. “We put it to the police brass when we met with them. We said, ‘We are of the view that section 315F of the Criminal Code Act that allows police to stop and search without probable cause should be repealed’.

“I said if we were to push for that what would be your response? The response was ‘Bermuda would be less safe’. It is the same thing that the police officers in the UK said and it is absolutely not true.”

Ms Winfield said the goal of the conference is to get people to see that before any law is put into place there should be an equality assessment done, similar to environmental assessments done for other laws.

“Otherwise, there is a real danger that the laws will play out in a negative way on a certain group of people, because of our history,” she said. “At the conference, we hope that by having a variety of resources in the room, we will provide an overview of what is going on in Bermuda right now.”

Pre-conference workshops will be held on March 30 at the Fairmont Southampton. They will focus on structural racism in the criminal justice system and the need for change, examining historic and present policies and legislation. The second workshop will focus on social justice mediation, looking at how power imbalances affect the development and resolution of conflict.

The actual conference begins at 8.30am on March 31. Registration is $195 for the two-day conference or $125 for one day.

There are reduced rates for charities, students and seniors. For more information e-mail curb[AT]northrock.bm or call 542-2872.




Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda president –Cordell Riley

Issues to be covered in the conference presentations and workshops will be:

n Public perception of crime/punishment and the community’s response for more punitive measures.

n Rise in violence and legislative response (PACE/Section 315F)

n Criminalisation of black men: Is this happening and what is the solution?

n US Stop List: What can we do?

n Social Justice … what does this mean in a criminal justice context?

n Are we protecting our civil liberties?

n War on drugs: Is the war working?

n Structural racism and the criminal justice system: Is it present and what can we do?

n Change in crime patterns and how this has affected the psyche of the Bermudian population.

n Restorative justice: Solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships by those who are harmed, the perpetrators and their affected communities.

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Published March 22, 2012 at 2:00 am (Updated March 22, 2012 at 8:57 am)

Conference will explore issues of race, police and incarceration

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