Black Woman Tells of Being Arrested at Gunpoint in Acton
Youth commissioner describes her experiences with police growing up in the area
A young Black woman has described being stopped and searched at 13 years old and being handcuffed to the ground with “six guns pointing at her head” at 15, as her major experiences of the police growing up in South Acton.
Ami Kourouma, a youth commissioner on Ealing’s Race Equality Commission shared her ordeals as part of the inquiry’s public meeting looking at crime and justice in the borough on 22 April.
The commission led by independent chair Lord Simon Woolley, is investigating racial equality in Ealing through themes such as education, employment, health and housing, and is expected to reveal its findings and recommendations in May 2021.
Ami, now a safeguarding apprentice, recalled in conversation with senior youth worker Colin Brent, who works in South Acton, that her first interaction with the police was being stopped and searched as a 13-year-old girl on her way home from school.
The former Acton High School student remembered walking down an alleyway in her black and red school uniform before walking past a police car where male officers asked her where she was going, playing a “good cop, bad cop” routine “just like you see on TV”.
Describing the experience of being patted down, the 19-year-old said, “Intrusive, of course, I’m a teenage girl going through puberty and I’m being fondled by two grown men.
“I can’t describe the feeling it’s like that’s as close to a person as you can get and they’ve done that without my permission.”
And reflecting on the stop and search, Ami added, “At the time it just made me feel like – ‘I’m a kid – I’m thinking what did I do wrong? Are they coming back? Are they looking for me? Am I a person of interest?’, That was my initial thought immediately after that.
“But then it sat with me for a bit and I stewed over it and I thought, ‘I’ve seen police my whole life, this is normal, this is my first interaction, whatever, get over it, one for the books.’”
However Ami said her experiences with the police now means if she sees the police she will “go the other way”, try and look as discreet as possible, and sometimes take off her jacket to show she has nothing to hide.
Asked how many times she’s been stopped and searched she said, “too many times to count.”
Growing up, Ami said she was always told by her mum she would have to work ten times harder due to the colour of her skin. She said, “For a long time I was, but it’s tiring being on full energy all the time…it’s not like you want to be bad, or misbehave or be devious, you just want to sit out.
“But whenever you do you lose your lead in the race and then you fall behind and then people automatically start labelling you.
“I felt as though I could never just take a break.”
A second experience Ami also shared in the two-hour public meeting, was being arrested at gunpoint at the age of 15.
“I did have another interaction with police, I had six guns to my head and being threatened as I’m handcuffed to the ground thinking that I’m going to be shot,” she said.
Ami told colleagues that this was on Acton High Street, hanging out with some friends after school, after having taken part in a special day focusing on ‘CSI’ and detective content such as making footprints, fingerprints, and making fake, wooden guns in the design and technology rooms at school.
She said, “We were in DT making fake guns, there’s a grip, trigger, aim sight, it looked real. Everyone’s making their guns, the difference with me is I didn’t colour mine black, I didn’t want it to look real, I wanted it to be a piece of art I made.”
After school, she put it in her bag with the rest of her school belongings, and remembered later showing her friends what she made.
Minutes later she remembered crossing the road texting on her phone and seeing all her clothes were blue.
“Next thing you know I’ve got six guns to my head I’m not even thinking this is real, I look up…they say ‘get on the f***ing floor’ they’re just yelling at us,” she said.
“I’m not registering what’s happening.
“I get kicked to the ground, tackled to the ground, I get handcuffed and as I’m on the ground I can feel the barrel of the gun on my head and they’re telling me we’re going to shoot you if you move.
“I was confused, thinking: ‘what have I done so bad?’”
Ami was told she was arrested on suspicion of having a firearm, and that the police had received reports of a young person “waving the gun around threatening people”.
“I’m agitated, I’m hurt, I’m annoyed, I’m upset, I’m embarrassed, all the other emotions. They [police] find the gun they see that it’s wooden, they proceed to talk among themselves,” she said.
Ami was taken to Acton police station to be processed and held in a cell for nine hours.
During questioning, she said she never waved the wooden gun around or put it in anyone’s face, and was not given any evidence to show that she did.
Ami also told the meeting she does not have a criminal record.
Youth worker Colin shared his views having worked in the South Acton area for years, how he has seen “over and over again” the way that public justice and public space is experienced in a “completely different way” by young people of ethnic minority backgrounds, and the impact that has for example on their education and employment.
He also said there’s often a feeling that policing “happens” to young people, and that youths being stopped and searched are often afraid of violence against them already.
“We’ve had people walk from Acton Town to Bollo [youth centre] which is a 10-minute walk and being stopped and searched four times on their way to the place they feel safe, in order to apparently make them feel safe,” he said.
“Policing is not understanding young people as victims of crime, it’s about seeing young people as potential perpetrators and not understanding the power dynamic, especially for young people, of how intimidating it can be, as we heard from Ami, of feeling having no power.”
Responding to Ami’s experience of stop and search, Ealing borough commander Peter Gardner apologised to her in the meeting and said what she described had happened to her was “unacceptable”.
He said, “You should have been searched by a female officer, you should have had it fully explained why you were stopped, I can only apologise [for] what was clearly unjust.
“I know we have an awful long way to go and we are far from perfect, there’s a lot of work we have to do, but I recognise it’s bravery of people like yourself coming forward and willing to have these discussions with us that starts to bridge those gaps and thank you for that.”
The meeting also discussed work being done by community police officers to try and build relationships with local young people, but concerns were raised that one bad incident of aggressive policing, often done by officers not based in the community, erases months of hard work to build trust.
In Ealing, the borough commander revealed a Black person is six-and-a-half times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person, and are more likely to be a victim of violent crime.
However he also said stop and search is an effective tool and a “necessary evil” to tackle violent crime. He also revealed South Acton and Northolt are the biggest areas for violence retention in the borough.
But on the disproportionate stop and searches, Mr Gardner added, “I absolutely acknowledge that it’s our determination to make that proportionate and make that right.”
Residents from Ealing are being encouraged to share their experiences with the commission. To find out the different ways to do this click here.
To watch the full meeting on crime and justice click here.
Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter
April 27, 2021