Hundreds of people gathered at Hackney town hall in east London on Sunday to express solidarity with the family of Child Q, the 15-year-old black girl who was subjected to a traumatic strip search by police at her school.
The protesters, many of whom were mothers accompanied by their daughters, carried placards with messages including “Stop violating black girls” and Black Lives Matter banners, and expressed anger at what they said was an “abuse of power” by the police as well as teachers at Child Q’s school.
In a powerful speech that catalogued many recent abuses of women by police, Diane Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said: “What we are seeing is a pattern of police abuse of power in relation to women, particularly black women.”
Abbott catalogued several incidents in London, including the racist and sexist language used by officers at Charing Cross station, the officers who took pictures of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman at the murder scene which they then passed around WhatsApp groups, and the strip search of a young woman, Dr Konstancja Duff, at Stoke Newington police station in 2013.
“It took her nine years to get compensation and she can’t be the only woman the police have treated that way,” Abbott told the 700-strong crowd. “And now we come to what happened to that poor child that we are showing solidarity with today. How could there be a more degrading way to treat a schoolchild?”
Sunday’s protest was one of several since news of the schoolgirl’s treatment was revealed and public anger over the report into Child Q has been fuelled by viral social media posts, especially on TikTok.
Bhatt Murphy, the solicitors acting on behalf of Child Q, pleaded with the public to help maintain her anonymity. They said reporting restrictions prohibit “publication of her identity, the identity of any member of her family, and the identity of the school where the search took place”.
Despite this, millions of people have viewed videos on TikTok – many of them made by fellow teenagers – naming one school as being responsible for the strip search and featuring footage of protests on the institution’s premises.
A spokesperson for TikTok said it was looking into the issue and whether any rules had been broken by the videos.
At Sunday’s protest, many of the speakers were cheered and clapped as they called for action and accountability on behalf of Child Q’s family.
At one point, the Hackney mayor, Philip Glanville, was drowned out by shouts of “Action, action speaks louder than words, they must go” when he spoke about delivering “real change”.
Activist Maria Larasi said: “I was a teacher. You can’t tell me that they smelled ganja on a child and there wasn’t procedure. This is sexual abuse. Let’s call it right.”
Althea Lewis, 41, a mother of three daughters, said she had come to show solidarity with Child Q’s family and to express her anger at what had happened. She said: “I grew up in Hackney and I have lived experience of how young black students have been treated. Nothing has changed. The fact that this happened is absolutely soul-destroying.”
Lewis, a therapist who works with young people, said: “This is a child who would come to me for treatment after this trauma. There should be action taken against the school. Staff cannot continue to be ignorant as to what their safeguarding duties are. The fact that staff at the school thought this was OK means they should not be around children.”
One of Lewis’s daughters, Tia, 20, said: “I’ve had to deal with things at school where there is a lack of respect for you when you are a black woman. They think you are older than you are. We are made to feel we can’t get help or reach out. What happened to this child – the same age as my sister – was disgusting and they got away with it for two years with no action.”
Yasmin Dawes, 23, an actor and teaching assistant from Tower Hamlets, said: “Young black girls are robbed of their innocence, their childhoods. Blackness is hyper-masculinised, hyper-sexualised. We are not afforded the luxury of innocence.”
“To me, this is unfathomable, that a teacher allowed this to happen. The teachers need to be gone, 100%, and the police, 100%.”
Sasha McBean, 35, a psychotherapeutic counsellor and mother from Brixton, said: “Not only was this an invasion of this young girl’s personal space and body, it altered the way she saw herself. We need to focus on what we can do to support these young girls who have been through this.
“It can never happen again.”