I have been racially profiled by the police – what can I do?

Relations between the general public and the police, and between members of the general public itself, sadly appear to be at an all-time low, if you have been paying any attention to recent news events. The very public arrest of a black mother in front of her child for alleged fare evasion, or the restraining of a black female in a Peckham cosmetics shop this week, highlight recent community tensions that should be a cause for concern. Both situations have common elements, namely they involve altercations between black females and the police/other community members, and there exist in both questions of racial bias. While the merits of any individual case will depend on the facts, we consider below what possible actions you can take if you believe you have been racially profiled or mistreated by the police.

Two recent events

Footage has widely been shared on social media of two incidents involving the restraint and arrest of two black women in London recently.

In late July, a woman in Croydon was arrested by the Met Police in front of her child after being falsely accused of bus fare evasion. Video footage available on the internet (notably filmed by onlookers and on mobile phones) shows the woman in handcuffs, being physically restrained by police, while the woman is understandably distressed questioning police about why she is being arrested as she had not done anything wrong. A short distance away, a young child, later confirmed to be her son, is seen crying in distress. The police confirm on camera to a man filming the incident that she had been arrested for ‘fare evasion’.

It has now been confirmed that she had in fact paid her bus fare, leading to her subsequent ‘de-arrest’.

In another incident just this week, a young black woman in Peckham has been arrested by Met Police on suspicion of theft and assault. This followed an altercation between her and a cosmetics shop owner in Peckham who alleges that the woman tried to steal items after being denied a refund, and consequently assaulted him when he tried to detain her. The facts of this case are continuing to emerge.

Can I take legal action for being racially profiled?

In the case of the woman arrested in Croydon, she was released by the police after it was confirmed that she had in fact paid for her ticket. While the merits of any civil claim in her particular case will depend on all of the facts and evidence, there are a number of different types of civil claim which might apply in cases such as this where the police have used force to arrest someone unlawfully and where racial profiling appears to have been a significant factor, including:

  • False imprisonment:
    • A claim for false imprisonment can arise if police detain someone and there is no lawful authority permitting that detention. It is clear that physical restraint and use of handcuffs by the police will amount to detention. Therefore, in a case such as this, the burden will be on the police to establish that there was lawful authority for that detention.
  • Assault
    • A claim for assault can arise if an individual is put in fear that unlawful physical contact will be used against them, even if no actual contact is made.
  • Battery
    • A claim for battery will arise where there is any actual unlawful physical contact/force. In a case where the police arrest someone unlawfully, any physical contact used in effecting that arrest will be considered a battery.
  • Claims under the Human Rights Act 1998
    • Cases such as this may give rise to breaches of:
      • Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) if the unlawful use of force by the officers can be said to amount to inhuman and degrading treatment;
      • Article 5 (right to liberty and security) on the basis of false imprisonment (as set out above);
      • Article 8 (right to private and family life) which extends to bodily integrity; and
      • Article 14 (discrimination) on the basis of race discrimination.
  • Claims under the Equality Act 2010
    • The Equality Act 2010 protects individuals from being directly or indirectly discriminated against on the basis of a protected characteristic, such as race. In a case such as this, if it can be established that the actions of the police were motivated by race there may be a claim for discrimination.

Interestingly, the Metropolitan Police has referred itself to the Independent Office of Police Conduct (“IOPC”), the police watchdog, stating that “trust has taken a hit” and recognizing that the video footage caused “significant community concern”.

In the case of the woman restrained in the cosmetics shop in Peckham, the case is much less straightforward. It is important to note that facts of the case are developing as the event is so recent, having happened only two days ago.

However, based on the facts that are available so far, the shop keeper appeared to restrain the woman on two occasions – first when she attempted to leave the shop with the items, and second inside the shop when he placed his fingers around her neck.

A person other than an officer can make an arrest (‘a citizen’s arrest’) using reasonable (minimal) force where someone is in the act of committing an indictable (i.e. serious) offence, or where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that someone is committing an indictable offence, and that it is necessary to arrest the person in question because it will either prevent the person: causing harm to themselves or others; suffering physical injury; causing loss or damage to property; or making off before a police officer can assume responsibility for them.

A detention must be lawful throughout (i.e. from beginning to end) and therefore as soon as it becomes unlawful, a claim for false imprisonment can arise.

Dependent on the facts as they become more evident, the kind of questions that may be relevant include:

  • Did the shop keeper’s initial restraint of the woman meet the criteria of a citizen’s arrest?
  • For the second restraint, was this reasonable, or did it become excessive at some point?
  • Was the woman’s race a factor in the way the shopkeeper interacted with her in the shop?

You can read more about potential civil claims against the police here.

Restoring trust in and within the community

These events suggest an increasing level of mistrust between the community and public authorities, and within communities themselves. This is disturbing and should be a serious cause for concern. Public authorities such as the police exist and have an important role to play in keeping modern societies safe, and functioning well. Despite this, public authorities do not have an unfettered right to exercise power as they see fit, without restraint or sanction.

Incidents like these, the impacts of which are exacerbated through being shared on social media, will continue to inflame communities and will likely strengthen resentment towards public authorities like the police, as well as impact intra-community relations. This is potentially dangerous as public authorities may be prevented or impeded from carrying out their statutory duties, and marginalized communities will continue to be disproportionately targeted and profiled.

Our lawyers at Saunders law are experts in actions against the police and public authorities and we are passionate about assisting members of the public to protect their rights. For advice about making a claim against the state, or if you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned above, please contact us on 020 7632 4300 to discuss your concerns.


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