The Justice Secretary has told how his trust in the police was shaken after he was stopped and searched more than a dozen times, warning that there is still “structural racism” in Scottish society.
Humza Yousaf said the colour of his skin meant he had frequently been stopped by officers while he was growing up in Scotland, despite “never committing a crime”. READ MORE: Humza Yousaf warned of ‘dangerous’ message on allegations
Speaking at a fringe meeting during the SNP conference in Glasgow, he said he still believed stop and search was a legitimate police tactic as long as there were “checks and balances”.
In a discussion involving Calum Steele, the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, Mr Yousaf said his early experiences of dealing with officers had not been positive.
“I’ve been stopped and searched over a dozen times,” he said. Sometimes at the airport, but when I was younger in the street or in my car or a friend’s car, sometimes at railway stations as well.
“I was never committing a crime, I had never committed a crime. Sometimes I was the only brown face in a group of white people, 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.”
Mr Yousaf also spoke of his frustration at white friends telling him they were “colour blind”, rejecting the idea that racism was no longer a problem in modern Scottish society.
“I say: ‘Great, I’m pleased that you’re colour blind, but the world isn’t colour blind for me’,” he said. “There’s a reason why I’m three times less likely to get a job even though I’m more likely to be qualified than you are.
“There’s a reason why I’m more likely to be stop and searched even though I’ve committed no crime, just as you have committed no crime.
“There’s a reason that people of colour are more likely to get a harsher sentence than somebody who’s white, even though they’ve committed the same offence.
“The world isn’t colour blind, so don’t come to me and tell me ‘There’s no structural racism’. There is – I’ve faced it every week, every day, every part of my journey I’ve been on.”
Mr Yousaf acknowledged that Police Scotland was in a “much, much better place now” when it came to stop and search and said officers’ powers should not be taken away.
Mr Steele said he accepted that the stop and search had been “cheapened” by the way in which it was implemented, but warned that officers were now more “disinclined” to use the powers which could affect public safety.
“If you live in the real world and accept the fact that a large number of people are carrying weapons unchecked, then we’ve gone too far and we’ve tied the hands of the police service. That does not make our communities safer.”