Awate Suleiman challenged how London’s Metropolitan Police gathers information about potential gang members. His campaign with Liberty and Unjust has been nominated for a Sheila McKechnie Foundation National Campaigner Award.
After the London Riots in 2011, and despite evidence that showed gangs did not play a significant role, the Metropolitan Police set up a database that identified individuals who could be part of a gang and scored them based on their perceived risk.
Anything from someone’s social media posts to the people they spent time with could lead to them being listed on the gangs violence matrix.
There was no way for individuals to know whether police were holding information about them, because the police had no obligation to inform them.
After the existence of the database was revealed by a leak in 2016, Awate Suleiman became convinced that he was on the gangs matrix. He is a Black Londoner who works in music and events. With the help of advocacy group Liberty he asked the Metropolitan Police what information it held about him.
It took almost a year – and lots of back and forth – before the police confirmed that he wasn’t on the matrix. But he continued his legal action and challenged the Met through a judicial review.
Working with Liberty and Unjust, a nonprofit organisation that addresses racism within policing, they reached a settlement.
The police agreed to remove over 1,000 names from the list – that’s about 65% of the entire database. Those people were also able to ask what data was held on them and who it was shared with.
In reaction to the settlement, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, said databases like the gangs matrix are essential to protect the public “from perpetrators of violence”, but also acknowledged that young black men are still overrepresented in the data.
He added: “Sadly, there is a reality that levels of violent crime do disproportionally affect young black men – both in terms of victimisation and offending and our tactics do need to be targeted so we can protect those most at risk. However, it is not appropriate that the Matrix further amplifies this disproportionality.”
Awate Suleiman, along with Liberty and Unjust, are nominated for in the “best use of law” category at the Sheila McKechnie Foundation’s National Campaigner Awards.
Tortoise is delighted to be the media partner for the Sheila McKechnie Foundation’s National Campaigner Awards.
Photograph courtesy Unjust & Liberty