Not only an issue across the pond: police violence and discrimination in the UK

Over the weekend, thousands of people marched in cities across the UK in solidarity with protesters in the United States, following the death of George Floyd. Floyd, an African American man, was killed after being arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

There have also been peaceful protests here in the UK. It is arguable that these marches are not just shows of solidarity, but recognition of similar types of mistreatment of black and other minorities, at the hands of the police in the UK.

The haunting video of George Floyd’s killing and the outcry and response that it provoked, provides an opportune moment to reflect on the situation in the UK. Often it is said that the situations in the UK and the US are incomparable, when the reality is that they share commonalities. It is true that unlike in the US, the UK police generally (with the exception of armed response units) are not authorised to carry guns, but they are authorised to use force. This use of force has on many occasions turned fatal.

According to Government data, a black person in London is four times more likely to have force used against them by a Metropolitan police officer than their white counterpart. In addition, stop and search powers are disproportionately used against black people: black people are 4 times more likely to be stopped by the police. The campaign organisation, Liberty, revealed on 24 May 2020 that Black, Asian and minority ethnic people (“BAME”) in England are 54% more likely to be fined under coronavirus rules than white people. During the period of lockdown, there have been several disturbing examples of police violence and discrimination against black and minority communities (see hereherehere, and here). Research carried out between 2010-2019 by INQUEST, a charity providing expertise on state related deaths and their investigation, reveals that the proportion of BAME deaths in custody where use of force or restraint is a feature, is over two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody.

The UK has a history of deaths caused by excessive force used in police restraint. The deaths of Darren Cumberbatch, Edson Da Costa and Rashan Charles are just a few examples. Sean Rigg, a 40-year old black man, experiencing a mental health crisis, died in 21 August 2008 at the entrance of Brixton police station in London. Evidence suggested that Sean was held face down lying on the floor for an excessive period, with one or more officers placing weight on his upper body. Rather than being driven to the hospital, Sean was taken to the Brixton police station in a police van where he was abandoned in caged area and left unresponsive. An inquest into Sean’s death in 2012 found his restraint “unnecessary” and “unsuitable”, but all subsequent gross misconduct charges against the officers involved were dropped.

Nuno Cardoso (whose family were represented by Saunders Law) was only 25 years old, and was studying law at Ruskin College, when he died in the custody of the police in November 2017. The inquest into his death took place in July 2019. It explored the question of why officers decided to prioritise taking Nuno to the police station, which was a 20 minute drive away, rather than to the A&E department that was only 5 – 6 minutes away. The jury’s conclusion, and the officers’ evidence, is difficult to reconcile with the footage of his arrest. His family’s statement about Nuno’s treatment and the inquest conclusion can be found here.

A public inquiry which investigated the death of Azelle Rodney, a man who was shot dead by a Specialist Firearms Officer of the Metropolitan Police on 30 April 2005, found in 2013 that the officer  who fired the shots which killed Rodney had "no lawful justification" for doing so. The case was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, and the decision was made to charge the officer with murder. The officer was however acquitted on 3 July 2015.

At the time of writing, there have been 1,741 deaths in police custody or otherwise following contact with the police in England and Wales since 1990 and BAME people have been shown to die disproportionately as a result of the use of force or restraint by the police. There have however been no criminal convictions in connection with any of these deaths. In January 2019, it was revealed that only five police officers in England and Wales were dismissed in the last three years following misconduct cases ordered by the IOPC, the police watchdog.

Over 20 years have elapsed since the Macpherson report, which found that the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist. Despite claims in July 2019 by Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, that her force is no longer institutionally racist, the evidence suggests otherwise. Action is urgently needed to eradicate the violence and discrimination committed by our police forces against black and other minority communities across the UK. Nobody should be subjected to excessive force (especially because of the colour of their skin) at the hands of the police, the very institution that is there to protect and serve.  The solicitors at Saunders Law want to see an end to negative racial profiling and stereotyping and the use of excessive disproportionate force by the police.

Saunders Law represents the family of Kevin Clarke, a 35-year-old black man, who was experiencing a mental health crisis, and died in 2018 after being restrained by nine Metropolitan Police officers in Lewisham, South East London. The conduct of the officers involved in Kevin’s restraint was investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). An inquest into the death of Kevin Clarke was scheduled to take place in September 2020 but will likely take place in the new year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


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