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Police in London are targeting Black electric scooter-riders at a disproportionately higher rate than white people, official data obtained by VICE World News shows. Black people accounted for 30 percent of traffic offence reports (TORs) involving e-scooters issued by police between January and May this year, even though they make up 13 percent of the capital’s population. White people accounted for 50 percent of the tickets issued for e-scooters, while making up 60 percent of the population, according to data provided by the Metropolitan Police under Freedom of Information laws.
The figures revealed that Black people were much more likely than white people to be stopped by police regardless of whether road rules, such as not wearing a helmet, going through a red light or contravening a cycle lane, had been broken. Eight in ten Black electric scooter-users, compared to 67 percent of white electric scooter-riders, were ticketed for offences, such as having no insurance, that could only have become apparent after a stop.Black people were twice as likely to face prosecution after being handed a TOR than white people. Half of all the e-scooter riders aged 17 and under who were ticketed by police were Black, the figures showed. The most commonly ticketed age group was 18-29.While there is little available data on the ethnic breakdown of e-scooter riders in London, some campaigners view the disparities with trepidation. “These statistics are worrying,” said Katrina Ffrench, director of Unjust, an NGO which advocates for equitable policing and promotes public safety. “But they are not surprising. There were similar racial disparities with stop and searches and fixed penalty notices handed out during the pandemic. Across the board there is an over representation of Black people in engagements with police. There is a lot of stereotyping that young Black men are up to no good. It’s about them being seen as suspicious by police officers.”
Authorities across the UK have been struggling to deal with a rapid rise in e-scooters and people have been confused about whether they are legal or not and where you can ride them. Since the start of the year the Met’s traffic police have seized and impounded more than 2,300 e-scooters – which usually cost between £400-£600 – for being illegally ridden. Many of the machines, just over 1,100, were seized in June, the same month Transport for London introduced new regulations which banned privately owned e-scooters, making renting an e-scooter in one of the nine boroughs running the scheme the only legal way of using one of the battery powered machines on public roads.
Ffrench said many young people were bought e-scooters by their parents as a way of coping with COVID-19 restrictions. “Over lockdown people were worried about getting on buses and being in enclosed spaces. So it felt sensible for parents to buy an e-scooter for their teenage children, something that would get them out and about, after they had been cooped up in the house for months.”She said police should focus on safety over criminalising people. “Instead of punishing young people and seizing scooters we should be having an educational campaign aimed at parents about why they should not be buying their children these things, because there is a lack of understanding from parents about how dangerous they are.“E-scooter safety is not a Black issue, but what is clear is that other members of society aren't on the sharp end of the policing of e-scooters. I’m not saying Black people should not be stopped if they are doing something wrong, I’m just asking for parity. If you are stopping lots of Black people you should be stopping lots of other people as well.” The Met was unable to provide a definitive number of TORs issued for e-scooters (it admits its estimate of 612 tickets between January and May this year is likely an underestimate) because it said officers often do not yet routinely record e-scooter offences. Nor could the force give a data breakdown of the people from which it had seized e-scooters.
However, one youth worker from the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of the most unequal boroughs in the country, who asked to be anonymous because she is not permitted to speak to the media, told VICE World News she has seen many children having their e-scooters impounded. “I’ve had 16 cases of kids under 18 having their scooter impounded in the last few months. These kids’ parents do not have a lot of money. They paid £500 for them and they had no idea they were illegal, and now they have to pay £200 to get them released from the pound,” said the woman, who works mainly with vulnerable Black teenagers. But she said it’s not just Black kids who get hassled. “My friend, who is a mixed race woman, is a railway maintenance worker and she uses her e-scooter to get to and from work out of hours. She is constantly getting stopped by police, she’s sick of it. She wants to get rid of it. But not once have I ever seen a posh white person on one of those things getting stopped.”A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: “If an officer sees a rider on an e-scooter they will ask them to stop and engage with them, explain guidance, enforce traffic legislation around the use of e-scooters and seize e-scooters that are being used illegally on the roads.”