'The system needs to change': Dawn Butler on being stopped by police

Dawn Butler
·3 min read

I was going through Hackney with my friend, who was driving. He’s male and he’s black. There were two police cars and the sirens went off, and we were wondering where they were going to. I thought something big must have happened. Then my friend stopped, and I asked him why. He said: “They’re stopping us.” That’s when I got my phone out and started to record.

Two police officers jumped out. One went to my friend and the other one came to me. They asked my friend his name and where the car was registered. He told them, and they told him that on the system the car was registered to North Yorkshire. He said: “Well, I can’t help you with that. It’s my car, registered in my name, at my address.”

This officer was very polite. He took the keys from the ignition, and went to his car to check. In the meantime, another male officer asked me if I lived in London, and where I was going. I said: “It’s none of your business.” He said: “There’s people who have been coming into the area.” I said: “Are you saying that if you don’t live in Hackney you’re not allowed to drive in Hackney?” He mumbled some stuff.

By this time the first officer came back and said the registration was all OK after all, and he apologised. I asked what happened, and he said: “The system made a mistake.”

That’s really interesting, because I’m doing a lot of work with the police at the moment. It’s really important that we focus on whether the system is institutionally racist. It needs to change – it’s a bogus reason for stopping someone.

We were having a pleasant enough chat, tone was good. But then a third officer came round, a female officer, and she told us: “Your windows are tinted at the back – I can’t see what’s in the back of the car.” I told her: “You don’t need to see what’s in the back of the car, it’s none of your business. There’s no tint at the front. It’s not illegal to have tinted windows in the back.” She just inflamed the situation.

I only told them what I [do] at the end [a member of parliament]. One of the officers said: “Great, you’re in a really good position to do something about the system.” I was thinking: stop patronising me.

I’ve been stopped while driving twice as an MP. My friend has experienced it a number of times. That’s why his attitude was just like: “Here, have my driving licence. Here we go again.” We were just going out to have a nice lunch. My plans were basically ruined. It’s a sunny Sunday, and you don’t get many of those.

I’ve done so much work on the issue this week. I told [the Metropolitan police commissioner] Cressida Dick on Thursday that the Met police are still institutionally racist after 20 years, and, if she refuses to acknowledge and deal with this, then she needs to resign. To be stopped three days later, it was almost as though the world was saying: I’m just going to make sure the police stop you, so you can prove your point. But I’d much rather it didn’t happen, and I’d much rather I didn’t have to talk about it.

I had no intention of speaking about this until the officers became very obnoxious. I just felt that if I don’t use my platform to talk about this, I’m doing a disservice to everyone who gets wrongly stopped and searched – and all the black people who are constantly unjustly profiled.

As told to Peter Walker