Black Community leaders reject retention of innocent DNA on criminal database

A 10 Downing Street Petition set up calling for removal of innocent people from criminal database  11th February 2010: Community, church and civil liberties agencies have given their support to a new campaign against the Government’s plans to keep the DNA of innocent people on the criminal DNA database for up to eight years.

The new 10 Downing Street petition launched by the human rights group, Black Mental Health UK, comes on the back of the documentary aired on the BBC’s ‘The One Show’ last week, which showed that the discriminatory way the DNA database has been used has effectively criminalised Britain’s black communities.

Organisers of this campaign say that plans set out in the new Crime and Security Bill to allow the police to retain innocent people’s DNA for up to eight years does not comply with human rights law. In 2008 the European Court ruled that the retention of innocent people’s DNA on the criminal database violates Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. 

crime_and_security_bill.jpgThe large numbers of innocent black people profiled on the database has led to the criminalisation of this group, equality experts say, adding that addressing this problem is critical to ensuring good community relations.

Community leaders have observed that this is fast becoming an election issue for Britain’s black communities.

In London alone 57% of innocent samples taken by the police are from people from African Caribbean communities. Disturbingly 42% of the entire black male population living in the UK, and 77% of all young black men, are profiled on the database even though the Home Office’s own research shows that people from this group are less likely to commit a crime than their white counterparts.

“This is an issue that touches the lives of every black family living in the UK and has turned into an election issue for this group. People don’t want to vote for a government that criminalises them when they haven’t done anything wrong. Our online petition gives people the opportunity to speak out about the plans set out in the Crime and Security Bill,” said Matilda MacAttram, Director of Black Mental Health UK.

“It is still the case in law that a person is innocent until proven guilty, but proposal set out by government on the retention of innocent DNA fundamentally blurs this. We have over 20,000 church members who are implicated in this so they have a personal interest in supporting this petition,” Bishop Llewellyn Grayham of Church of God of prophesy said.

Plans to allow the police to retain innocent people’s DNA for up to eight years have also been criticized by Pastor Ade Omooba of Christian Concern for Our Nation. He said: “There is a need to speak out now, because in a few months’ time it may be too late. The decision to continue to keep innocent DNA on the criminal database will damage community cohesion and undo the good work that church has done to ensure good relations with the police. It would be unrealistic to expect any community to continue to put their trust in a government whose policies have criminalised them.”

Community activist and health campaigner Jack Maclean said that the “Stephen Laurence inquiry flagged up the corruption in the system and so those who know what is going on need to stand up and speak out.”

“The disproportionate representation of the Black community, especially young Black males, on the database is a gross injustice that we expect the government to redress, and not compound,” Olu Alake, President of 100 Black Men of London said.

matilda_macattram_bmh_uk_director.jpgSimilar views have been expressed by Frederick Clarke, Director of Mighty Men of Valour, who said it “has serious implications for our future civil liberties. Retaining an innocent person’s DNA on a system used to monitor criminals for six years is unacceptable.” He told the government that this measure will damage community relations.

“Many say you have nothing to fear if you have done nothing wrong. But when parts of the justice system disproportionately targets your racial group you are no longer an innocent bystander but a potential victim," Winsome-Grace Cornish, Communications Director, Operation Black Vote said.

“I am particularly concerned the database has impacted on vulnerable mental health service users, who are not in a position to speak out about this. We need to register our concerns in the strongest possible way because this is unjust,” Alicia Spence, Services Director at the African Caribbean Community Initiative (ACCI) said.

“It’s time for people to stand up for their rights, the black community is particularly affected by government intrusion on their rights – the DNA proposals now in parliament are just not good enough, people should sign the petition and also contact their MPs,” Dr. Helen Wallace, Director of Gene Watch UK said.

Click here to go to BMH UK’s 10 Downing Street Petition 

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