A black actor performing in a play about racial discrimination was questioned by police outside the theatre where he was about to perform.
Oraine Johnson is currently appearing in Sorry! No Coloureds, No Irish, No Dogs from Gazebo Theatre. The play explores racism in the UK through significant figures in history, such as Mary Seacole and Walter Tull.
While he was on the phone to his brother outside Bridport Arts Centre a police car pulled up onto the kerb, two officers approached Johnson and asked him to put his phone down.
When Johnson asked for an explanation, the officers said that there had been drug dealing in the area. According to Johnson, although he explained that he was talking to his brother, the officers did not believe him.
He then pointed to a poster on the arts centre wall and informed the officers that he was appearing in the play, encouraging them to come and see it.
Johnson told The Stage: “It’s nothing special that happened to me. It’s something that happens, it’s happened before, it’s happened to my grandfather and my father. Growing up as a black male I know stuff like this happens. It was just ironic it happened before a show about racism.”
Johnson says that the officers were unfriendly, but not aggressive towards him. “I felt threatened, but they weren’t pulling out truncheons and stuff like that.”
He continued: “I’ve seen comments saying ‘he acted this way’ or ‘he was dressed this way’ and it’s absolutely insane. I’ve seen it happen to other actors. A friend of mine, Cherrelle Skeete, is in the Harry Potter play and got a lot of racial abuse for playing Hermione’s daughter. As an artist I believe we’ve got a long way to go in terms of representation, how we perceive other ethnic minorities in our media.”
The play’s director, Pamela Cole-Hudson, said: “Incidents such as this are exactly what we aim to highlight through this play. For our actor to be racially profiled while preparing for a performance of a show exploring racism and discrimination is both sadly ironic and telling.”
She continued: “Unfortunately, in 2017, racism is still alive and well, and hate crimes are on the increase across the country.”
Bridport Neighbourhood Inspector Neil Wood, said: “Police officers spoke to a man outside Bridport Arts Centre as part of a routine stop and account enquiry.
“After he explained his presence at the location, officers fully described the reason for their enquiry and thanked him for his time. At no point were officers aggressive toward the man.
“Our local neighbourhood policing team was carrying out intelligence-led patrols in relation to specific issues of drug-related crime and antisocial behaviour in that area. Our officers conducted two other stop and account enquiries and one stop and search – these were with three white men.
Wood added: “We have not received a direct complaint about this incident from the individual concerned. However, I will be making every effort to contact him in order to look into this matter further. I would also like to invite him to join us on patrols as part of our lay observer scheme to show him how Bridport police operate.”
Johnson said he has not yet heard from the police.