Humza Yousaf: I’ve been stopped and searched
Holyrood held a fringe event at SNP conference with the new justice secretary and the Scottish Police Federation
Humza Yousaf, Calum Steele and Mandy Rhodes at Holyrood's policing fringe - credit Cllr Elena Whitman
Although he was at pains to pay tribute to achievements of his predecessor as Justice Secretary, it was clear from Holyrood’s fringe event with the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) at SNP conference in Glasgow that Humza Yousaf brings a new set of perspectives to the role.
“I’ve been stopped and searched over a dozen times,” he told delegates. “Sometimes in an airport, but when I was younger it was in the street, in my car or a friend’s car. Sometimes railway stations, which is by British Transport Police, as well. And I was never committing a crime.
“And sometimes I was the only brown face in a group of white, and I’d be the one – especially at airports – who was told to stand to the side and be questioned.
"It just wasn’t great for my trust in the police.”
But Yousaf praised police attempts to build better links with communities, despite the fact they got “pelters” in the mosques where he grew up.
“Structural racism” is something he knows all too well, and argues with his white friends and family about. “They tell me they are colour blind, and I say ‘great, I’m glad you’re colour blind but the world is not colour blind for me,” he said.
People of colour, he pointed out, are more likely to be overlooked for jobs, stopped and searched or get a harsher sentence than a white person.
The new justice secretary is looking again at definitions of hate crime, including a consultation on whether misogyny fits within that spectrum. SPF general secretary Calum Steele said all kinds of labels – even such as whether a person wears glasses or has ginger hair – can be precursors for abuse, but that there must remain a presumption of innocence
But Yousaf’s relationship with the police service doesn’t end there, as he also revealed he has a family member who has recently joined the force.
The recent 6.5 per cent pay rise for police officers was a popular move, but Steele said police needed the resources to make early interventions.
“One of the great things about any community I’ve ever worked in is that kids love the police. They love attention of seeing a police officer. They love trying to be your friend , they love trying to get one over on you, they love having a joke and seeing how far they can push.
“All of these things foster relationships, and that’s giving the opportunity to try and identify those who maybe need some help, need some assistance.
“But because we are tied up with so many involved incidents now, that kind of social discourse is lost.”
However, Steele said later, this cannot be done by diverting funds from elsewhere. Whilst a focus on prevention is good, he said, "you can't just turn off the tap of delivery now"
Yousaf said he wanted to "reset the narrative" around justice.
“I do want to be talking about policing. But for the right reasons, not the wrong reasons,” he said.
He argued there was a consensus in the Scottish Parliament around some of the bigger issues, with the exception perhaps of the Scottish Conservatives.
“There’s an agreement that we have to strengthen the rights of victims,” he said.
“The other part of that is we can’t ever lose our belief in hope, belief that people can be rehabilitated, no matter what the crime. That is the difficult part of the conversation. No matter what the crime, we have to believe that rehabilitation remains an option.”
And for Yousaf, it’s personal.
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