Did you know that around 40% of the Black male population are on the National DNA database? Or that around 60% of innocent DNA samples taken in London are taken from the Black population? On 21 July, at the House of Commons, 100 Black Men of London joined forces with GeneWatch and the organisers Black Mental Health UK at a public meeting hosted by Sarah Teather MP to raise awareness of these statistics and related issues, and demand changes to the National DNA database.
Despite it being the last working day before the parliamentary summer recess, the Committee Room was packed full of concerned citizens, particularly from the Black community, who were duly informed of such facts. The panel, chaired by Bishop Wayne Malcolm of Christian Life City, consisted of Sarah Teather MP, Dr Helen Wallace of GeneWatch, Melvyn Davis of National Male Development Service (Boyz2Men), Matilda MacAttram of Black Mental Health UK and Olu Alake, President of 100 Black Men of London. Sarah Teather MP called for all defenders of human rights in the country to lobby their local MPs to support the Early Day Motion and Private Members Bill being tabled in the house on this issue. She revealed that the government-commissioned Ethics Group concluded that the DNA of innocent people should not be kept on the database, and questioned the disproportionate representation of ethnic minorities within it.
Helen Wallace highlighted the problems of keeping this information, for example the lack of security surrounding sample keeping, as well as the questionable usage of these samples. She also shared a way of having your DNA removed from the database if yours has been taken. Melvyn Davis highlighted the adverse impact on the self- identity of our youth and stated that this will lead to a legacy of further disaffection and intensification of hostility towards institutions and law- enforcing structures and systems. Matilda MacAttram discussed the Database’s impact of criminalisation by stealth on mental health patients and our community.
Our President, Olu Alake, further expanded on why this matters to the Black community and strategies for community-based action. He highlighted this as a particular threat to community cohesion, as this was generating a tremendous lack of goodwill, undermining confidence of the Black community in the institutions of power and therefore limiting the ability of the Police to effectively work in communities where they need co-operation. Moreover, he said, this is a violation of human rights, and limits the life chances of our youngsters, therefore feeding the cycle of violence in the community.
“There is an urgent need to educate ourselves on this issue, share it in as many different forums as possible, and actively advocate for the removal of the DNA of all innocent people currently held on the database,” he said. “We should be ready to make our political voices heard on this issue, which will be very important in the run up to the 2010 election.”
100 Black Men will be working with Black Mental Health UK to further raise awareness of this matter in the coming months. For more info see www.blackmentalheath.org.uk.
Find out what I thought of the guided walking tour about street art, on and around, Brick Lane.