Amnesty International has said a police list of gang suspects, called the gangs violence matrix, the human rights group alleged the list violated the human rights of the predominantly black youngsters on it.
The gang violence matrix is used by the Metropolitan police to identify gang members, and the force says it helps to thwart violence. Police in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands are understood to use similar lists. But Amnesty claimed the tactic missed the underlying causes of the rising violence on Britain’s streets.
The findings showed that of those on the matrix, 78% were black and 9% from other ethnic minorities. This compared with Met figures stating that 27% of those behind violence in London were black.
“In reality, as the Met points out, being in a gang or gang video is not, in and of itself, a crime. In fact, many of the signifiers used to identify ‘gang members’ reflect elements of urban youth culture and identity that have nothing to do with serious offending. This conflation of certain elements of urban youth culture with violent offending is heavily racialised,” said the report
Amnesty claimed the Met was putting people on the matrix in some cases because it mistook cultural preferences, such as the music people listened to, for criminality. It also claimed officers were using social media networks without a warrant to gather intelligence from those under suspicion. The information commissioner is already investigating the gang matrix for any data law breaches.
Kate Allen, Amnesty International’s UK director, said: “The entire system is racially discriminatory, stigmatising young black men for the type of music they listen to or their social media behaviour, and perpetuating racial bias with potential impacts in all sorts of areas of their lives. Some police officers have been acting like they’re in the wild west, making the false assumptions that they can set up fake profiles and covertly befriend people online to monitor them without needing the appropriate search warrants. The mayor of London needs to dismantle the matrix unless he can bring it in line with international human rights standards.”
The Guardian first reported concerns the gangs matrix was overly targeting black youths in 2016, and on Monday reported that four out of 10 suspects were assessed as posing zero risk of committing violence, according to the police’s own assessments.
Being entered on the matrix can blight the lives of those on it, even if they are not convicted of a criminal offence. Amnesty said the Met shared information with others in the public sector: “Data sharing between the police and government agencies means that this stigmatising ‘red flag’ can follow people through their interaction with service providers, from housing to education, to job centres, raising important questions about how this may impact their rights. Our report flags particular areas of concern across immigration, housing, education and employment.”
It concluded: “This report in many ways provides a case study of how a politicised ‘war against the gang’ has filtered down and become the crucial lens through which the Metropolitan police and other government services view and attempt to address serious interpersonal youth violence, gun and knife crime in London.