Officers point guns at young Black men as Merseyside Police accused of racism
MP slams force for "profiling and scapegoating" as senior officers claim armed stop was "justified"
Merseyside Police have been accused of being 'institutionally racist' after footage emerged of armed officers aiming guns at two innocent young Black men on the streets of Toxteth.
The videos, which have been widely shared, captured an incident on Mulgrave Street at around 9.30pm last night (Monday). The footage shows the two young men being stopped in the street, with officers aiming assault rifles directly at them.
The force said its officers were responding to reports that a man had been seen carrying a gun in the nearby area and that one of the men in the video matched a description they had been given. Nothing was found on either of the men who were stopped and no further action was taken. The force has today insisted that the armed stop search was "justified and appropriate".
In the video, the shaken young men can be seen holding both hands up as the police guns remain pointed at them from close range. More armed officers can be seen arriving on the scene in vehicles. In a subsequent clip one of the men can be seen being held in handcuffs as he is searched by armed officers.
The videos and the actions of the police have caused great anger and upset in the Liverpool 8 community and further afield. Kim Johnson is the Member of Parliament for the area and Liverpool's first Black MP.
She said: "Seeing the video of last night's stop on Mulgrave Street, I thought I was witnessing an incident on the streets of America, not Liverpool. The firearms teams, the handcuffing of two young black men who were innocent of any offence.
"Yet another time when "you matched the description" was used by the police to intimidate and harass Black men for being Black; yet another time Merseyside police have left young Black people scared and traumatised. This is why I say they are institutionally racist and it is this profiling and scapegoating that needs to change, and change now. I have written to the Chief Constable to ask her what action she is taking."
A number of groups from the Liverpool 8 community have also spoken out about the footage. Liverpool-based Kaalmo Youth Development group, which promotes the development of young Somali people, tweeted: "An incident has happened where two young individuals were harassed by the police on Mulgrave Street. Where reports stated that they were armed and later claimed it was mistaken identity. No apologies where given. When would this end?"
The Granby Somali Women's Group added that "no one was harmed due to the two youngsters remaining calm, same cannot be said for the police on the video."
Princes Park Councillor Tom Logan said: "Aware of an incident on Mulgrave Street. It seems no-one was physically harmed - which is lucky. We should not be seeing armed police on our streets." He added that he and his ward colleague Lucille Harvey have asked for an urgent meeting with police leaders.
Merseyside Police has issued a lengthy statement in response to the complaints made about the actions of the officers. Superintendent Diane Pownall the force was aware of the video and wanted to clarify the circumstances surrounding the incident.
She said: "Shortly after 9.15pm last night members of the public called us to report they had seen a man carrying a handgun at the junction of Princes Road and North Hill Street and he then tucked it in to his waist band. As with any reports of somebody being armed with a firearm, armed response officers were authorised and deployed to the area. They saw two men on nearby Mulgrave Street, one of whom matched the physical description of the person and was wearing clothing that matched the clothing described.
“Again, in line with training and procedures the officers carried out an armed stop. Due to the report that a man had been seen with a firearm, handcuffs were used during the search. Having viewed body worn footage of the incident we can say that officers explained to both men why they had been stopped and the reason for the search and both men were co-operative. Nothing was found on either of the men and no further action was taken.
"At the end of the search officers double checked that the men understood why the search had taken place and were advised on how to make a complaint if they felt the need to do so, but neither of the men indicated that they wished to make a complaint."
The force said that having viewed the body worn footage and given the information received from the public it believes the stop search was "justified and appropriate".
Superintendent Pownall added: “We understand the footage of armed officers stopping men on the street can look quite intimidating, but where we have reports of people armed with guns the safety of the public is our paramount concern. I have been in touch with our local Councillors and Kim Johnson, MP, who have raised concerns about the armed stop and have invited them to a meeting with myself and area Inspector Dave Uren, so that we can explain what the officers were responding to and why the approach they took was required, whilst at the same time listen to their concerns."
"The force is committed to ensuring that officers are professional and ethical when carrying out stop searches and take the time to explain to those they are searching why it is being done and what their rights are. The force abides by national guidelines and procedures in relation to stop and search and has an established force legitimacy team which has been pivotal in creating the independent public scrutiny panels (made up of members from our communities) for stop and search and use of force.
"These panels have been vital in helping us understand the impact of police use of powers on members of the public. The team uses the feedback to inform and develop organisational learning and to improve the quality of policing in our communities. They have also developed stop search cards, which allow members of the community to understand the law and know their rights in relation to stop and search. The force is committed to being open and transparent and has published its stop and search data on the Merseyside Police website to ensure transparency and to increase trust and confidence."