A Breach of Trust and an Abuse of Power: How this Country’s Institutions Let Down Child Q

Nicole Quy reports on the abhorrent treatment of Child Q and institutionalised racism.

The abusive treatment of ‘Child Q’ in a London School serves as a painful & infuriating reminder that, to our police force and judicial institutions, black lives still don’t matter. 

Whilst we may associate racist tendencies and cultural bias with the police forces in the US, the targeting of a young black girl in Hackney reveals that the UK is no more innocent in its discriminative treatment of people of colour. As a white woman in the UK, I will never be subject to the same injustices and subjugation that so many of my black peers will face, but this does not mean that I, or any of us, can continue to pretend that the UK, and indeed our police force, does not have a serious issue with deeply ingrained propensities to racism.

In December 2020, ‘Child Q’, aged just 15, was subject to a seemingly baseless strip search, in which officers forced her to remove her sanitary products, spread her buttocks and cough, after teachers had called police over speculations that she was carrying weed, supposedly due to the distinct scent. To ‘speculate’ that race was a factor in this inquisition would be a vast understatement. Not only have the teachers and police involved explicitly demonstrated their deep-rooted racist attitudes via their baseless assumptions of cannabis usage by a person of colour, but the invasive nature of the student’s treatment, which was undertaken without parental consent, reflects an adultification bias, whereby young black people are held to adult standards, revealing emphatic discrimination. 

Indeed, the welfare of black children has been demonstrated to be of little regard to the Met: if there were ever genuine concerns that the child was storing drugs internally, would the first priority not be to take her to a medical facility to ensure her safety? Or how about an inquiry into her security at home? If, in theory, drugs were to be found, a 15-year-old girl is far more likely to be a victim of coercion than a willing operative. It is tragic and yet unsurprising to see that, yet again, young black women are more likely to be perceived as perpetrators and aggressors, whilst their white peers are more likely to be interpreted as victims and subsequently treated with more compassion. The repeated nature of such targeted searches stands to evince this; 25 children were strip searched in 2020-2021, and just two of these children were white. How, given data like this, can anyone possibly argue that the Met’s approach is not racially motivated? 

But what Child Q’s incident also shows is just how such discriminatory attitudes are continuing to disseminate through institutions. In loco parentis, Child Q’s teachers are expected to protect her. When she arrived at school that day, she should have been offered support and a safe space, and instead, she was met with prejudice, alienation and hostility. When young black children cannot go to school and feel safe, we have failed. The systematic nature of entrenched racist ideology is highlighted through the actions of these teachers, who jeopardised the mental and physical wellbeing of an innocent student on account of their own bias. There is no place for people with these attitudes in our schools, as it also stands that there is no place in the police force for the same attitudes. We need change on a judicial level to ensure that such ideologies do not continue to grow within our communities, and those who breach the trust and compromise the safety of such communities must be held accountable. 

It was also found that Child Q had earlier received a warning that cannabis use would not be tolerated, given that another student who was known to her had been excluded for drug usage months before. But what does that have to do with Child Q? Were her white classmates also threatened with insinuations of joint enterprise because they ‘knew’ a student who had used drugs in the past? This alienation is not only degrading but dangerous, mirroring the type of discrimination we have seen time and time again, whereby black people face persecution for crimes they have no liability for.  These recurring patterns cannot continue to be ignored. Those involved must face real consequences: Child Q deserves real justice. At the time of writing, the teacher who called the police has been fired. But this has taken nearly two years, and how is it that anyone with the readiness to exploit and betray children has been put in a position of supervision over them? There can be no more tolerance for biases, as these are the foundations upon which the constant injustices and sufferings of black women are built. 

Artwork by Amelia Elson.

The aftermath of this incident for Child Q illustrates the abhorrent and harrowing effects of such discrimination. Family members described Child Q as changing from a ‘happy-go-lucky girl, to a timid recluse that hardly speaks’, who is now receiving therapy after turning to self-harm. Her desire for anonymity speaks volumes about the feelings of humiliation and invasion she was subject to, as well as the risks that she will continue to face as a young black girl speaking out about her experience. Is it too much to ask that black children nationwide should expect to return from school emotionally and spiritually intact? 

It’s time that we adopt a zero-tolerance policy for bias within our institutions; racist tendencies from those in positions of power are all too often brushed off, with those at fault going without consequences.  And such dismissal only serves to continue to push the message that this is okay, or that such aggressions are not, in fact, racist. We must call it what it is. This is real and our young people are suffering as a result. White people cannot continue to be ignorant of these issues, and reform must be seen in all organisations. The use of stop and search has been consistently disproportionate for decades, with black people being nine and a half times more likely to be searched for drug possession than white people. It must be inherently understood by those in any position of authority that racially motivated inquisitions cannot be tolerated. 

For too long have those in power continuously reinforced the discriminatory attitudes that are ingrained within this country’s culture: the Equality and Human Rights Commission must undertake work to determine a framework against which individual institutions including police forces, schools and businesses can be rigorously assessed. The abuse of Child Q needs to serve as a turning point for the treatment of people of colour: black girls must be protected.

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