It’s time to scrap the racist gangs matrix

Black Lives Matter march, London 2020
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On 1 February, human rights organisation Liberty launched a judicial review claim challenging the lawfulness of the Metropolitan police’s gangs matrix. Acting on behalf of two clients, Liberty intends to take the Met to court on the grounds that the gangs matrix is racist, and breaches human rights law. Liberty is urging people to support the case by raising awareness and donating to their fundraiser.

The gangs matrix

The gangs matrix is a database of people that the Met police thinks could be gang affiliated. The watchlist’s unclear criteria includes who people are friends with, or what music videos they share on social media. According to the criteria, sharing drill or grime music videos can help the Met place someone on the watchlist. Both of these genres are firmly rooted in Black British youth culture.

In 2019, Wired found that the watchlist includes children as young as 13. And a 2020 report by Amnesty found that in 2017, 78% of people on the gangs matrix were Black, even though only 27% of individuals convicted of serious youth violence offences were Black. 

The Met shares gang matrix data with other bodies, including immigration authorities, schools, workplaces and NHS service providers. This increases people’s risk of deportation and unfair treatment. 

According to Liberty, police consider most people on the matrix to be “low risk”. But the watchlist’s “enforcement actions” are extremely damaging. They include exclusion from school, benefits and housing, as well as eviction. Police are also likely to target those on the matrix with more stops and searches and police surveillance.

Police don’t tell people if they are on the watchlist. And there is no way for individuals to appeal their inclusion, or seek a review of the data.

Liberty lawyer Lana Adamou said:

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We all want to feel safe in our communities, but the gangs matrix isn’t about keeping us safe – it’s about keeping tabs on and controlling people, with communities of colour and Black people worst affected.

Arguing that the gangs matrix “is fuelled heavily by racist stereotypes”, she added:

Secret databases that risk young Black men being excluded from society based on racist assumptions are not a solution to serious violence, they are part of the problem.

Challenging the discriminatory database

Liberty has launched a judicial review claim challenging the lawfulness of the Met’s gangs matrix on the grounds “that it discriminates against people of colour, particularly Black men and boys, and breaches human rights, data protection requirements and public law principles”. 

Liberty is acting on behalf of Awate Suleiman, who has experienced and witnessed harassment by Met police since childhood. Suleiman tried to find out whether he is on the gangs matrix in 2019. The Met only told Suleiman that he isn’t on the database in December 2021 after he threatened legal action.

Suleiman told Liberty:

The fact that I had to threaten the police with judicial review before they would confirm whether I was on the GVM [gangs violence matrix] is not good enough and another indication of the Met’s intention to covertly surveil young, black people.

Liberty’s legal team is also acting on behalf of Unjust UK, an organisation that works to challenge discriminatory policing.

Unjust UK’s founder Katrina Ffrench told Liberty:

The clandestine nature of the Gangs Matrix must be challenged. Everyone has a right to be policed fairly and treated equally before the law. It is hoped that the decade-long wrongs of the Matrix can be remedied in bringing this case.

Featured image via Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona/Unsplash 

Get involved

  • Suleiman and Unjust UK need help to ensure that they can take the Met to court. Liberty is calling on supporters to raise awareness about their case, and to donate to their fundraiser.

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