People are angry. George Floyd was killed after policeman Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police department put his knee on George’s neck for nine minutes. As he did so, George cried out that he could not breathe, which echoed the last words of Eric Garner who was murdered by police in 2014. The video of George’s death justifiably led to widespread and worldwide protest, both violent and non-violent. Far from the first time that an innocent black man has been murdered, it also won’t be the last, unless we implement some drastic changes to the policing system and wider reform is brought about amongst the whole of society.
Whilst it may be easy to comment on the disgusting treatment black people face in America, we should be incredibly wary of ignoring the situation closer to home. The UK has its own stories of black people being let down by the justice system. In many cases their deaths were avoidable, and their families have been left without answers, or justice. Their important stories are regularly ignored by mainstream media, but we need to remember them.
Incredibly, despite claims from some that the British police are so much better than their American counterparts, since 1990 there have been over 1500 deaths in police custody in England and Wales. And we have to go back to 1969 to find the last time a police officer was convicted for the death of a detainee.
The names of some of the victims of police violence in America are now well-known by many: Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd. In the UK, the assumption that racism is neither systemic or widespread has meant that the murders of innocent black people have often got swept under the rug. Yet there are hundreds of horrifying incidents of the avoidable killings of BAME people, and miscarriages of justice that have occurred in recent years. Here are just a few of the names and stories that people should know. This is by no means an exhaustive list:
In 1993, Lawrence was stabbed to death in an unprovoked, racist attack by a group of white youths as he waited at a bus stop with his friend. Originally, “five suspects were arrested but not convicted”, although two of the five were eventually convicted in 2012. Four years on from the initial trial, there was a public inquiry led by Sir William MacPherson which concluded that the Metropolitan Police was “institutionally racist”. This should have been a landmark moment which led to severe changes in the running of the police and justice system. Sadly, despite this, there have still been many similar occurrences since Lawrence’s murder.
Sean was a British musician and producer with mental health problems. He died in 2008 from cardiac arrest at Brixton police station in south London. After being arrested for public disorder, assaulting a police officer and theft of a passport (which was his own), he was leant on for eight minutes when arrested, in a horrifically similar manner to George Floyd. He was placed face down with his legs bent behind him in the van to the police station, by which point he was “not fully conscious”. He was then left handcuffed for 10 minutes in the “rear stack” position, and found dead 35 minutes later. In 2016, the CPS announced that there was not enough evidence to charge the officers, let alone convict.
Marcia Rigg, his sister, said: “My family is surprised and bitterly disappointed by today’s announcement. We categorically do not accept this decision, which only serves as further upset and anguish. We regard the evidence as compelling and strongly believe that a jury should have been given the opportunity to make a decision on the evidence. The public’s confidence in the British criminal justice system is tarnished by decisions like this.”
In 2010, whilst on a BA deportation flight, Mubenga, already being handcuffed to his seat, was restrained by three G4S guards. One guard, “had his knee pressed against the deportee for about ten minutes”. The flight’s captain joked that Mubenga was “faking it” and might have attended drama school. He died after “fellow passengers said they heard Mubenga cry out: “I can’t breathe” as he was pinned down in his seat”. The three guards were cleared of manslaughter.
In 2011, Mark was shot and killed by police as they attempted to arrest him. He was found to be in possession of a pistol and the killing was deemed lawful. However, the inquest determined that he did possess the weapon when he turned to face police, meaning he was not reaching for the gun when he was shot. The pistol was found in bushes, 5m away from Duggan’s body and none of the witness reports mentioned anyone seeing Duggan discard the weapon at any point during the shooting.
Police in the UK are permitted to shoot if the person in question is deemed a real and imminent threat. Given Duggan was not reaching for a gun, and he was ‘assumed’ to be a real threat by the acting police officers, this undoubtedly brings into question the unconscious racial bias of the officers. Would the outcome have been the same if the man in question was white?
There was also some disgusting press coverage of Duggan following the shooting, with the media cropping images of him to make him look more “thuggish”, as well as ignoring repeated calls by his family for an independent inquiry.
Sarah was attacked and assaulted in 2012 in police custody. CCTV showed police grabbing her by the hair and punching her, resulting in two broken ribs. PC James Kiddie, the officer who assaulted her, was given a community service order and sacked from the force. The police were aware she suffered from mental health issues brought on by the death of her baby daughter in 2003. Sarah sadly committed suicide in 2016 whilst in Holloway women’s prison.
A jury found castigated the prison staff and mental health professionals for some serious and horrifying failures – including not following MoJ procedure – which contributed to her death. “Sarah’s death was entirely avoidable. She would be alive now if the governor, prison staff, psychiatrists and mental health in-house team had simply done their jobs in a timely and professional manner.”
In 2013, Julian was tackled outside of a nightclub by police officers after a scuffle with the doormen. They broke his neck and gave him severe brain damage. He is now paralysed and still suffers with the damage to his brain that they caused. In 2018, three of the six police officers that were involved were sacked for lying in relation to his arrest. They lied in statements about his condition during the arrest and were found guilty of gross misconduct.
Their names are PCs Nicholas Oates, Sanjeev Kalyan and Hannah Ross. Julian’s mother, Claudia Cole, spoke after the tribunal: “This tribunal decision makes it clear that not only did the officers lie about the event involving Julian, they showed an inhuman indifference to his welfare.”
Edson da Costa:
Police in London stopped Edson and two friends in a ‘random’ traffic stop in 2015. After the situation escalated, the police used “distraction blows”, a technique used to subdue a person with extreme and sudden force to get them to submit to arrest. During this time, Da Costa attempted to swallow some bags of heroin and crack, before losing consciousness whilst handcuffed. Edson later died in hospital due to a lack of oxygen in the brain, as a result of a blocked airway. There was no evidence of excessive force being used against him, however it was found afterwards the ambulance was given the wrong address. Although the inquest heard that this didn’t make a difference, the police were accused of being slow to react to Edson choking on the bags. Edson’s father accused the police of acting incompetently, stating: “We cannot help but wonder whether Edir would still be here had the police identified the risk of Edir choking earlier and taken steps to help him.”
Sheku Bayoh died in police custody in East Fife, Scotland after being restrained by officers in 2015. He was 31 years old at the time, and had taken MDMA and a drug called flakka, and his body was found to have 23 separate injuries. Despite this, and the Prosecution team having CCTV footage of Bayoh being restrained, no charges were filed against the officers involved. His family called it a “betrayal of justice.
The officers involved have denied any wrongdoing and it was only announced last month that there will be an inquiry into what happened.
In 2017, Rashan was followed into a shop where police claimed he was trying to swallow a packet, later found to be containing paracetamol and caffeine. Whilst being chased and restrained by a police officer, Charles tragically died shortly. The footage of his arrest and restraint went viral on social media, leading to multiple protests. A 2018 inquest found that he died as a result of the package obstructing his airway, and that the use of force by police officers was justified. It was also concluded however that the officers failed to follow correct protocol as they did not call for an ambulance soon enough. The officers involved were given the right to anonymity.
In 2017, Annabella, 45, a diabetic, refused to take her medication and was restrained by four police officers. She was then left on the concrete floor of her prison cell, lying in her own urine for 21 hours with only one member of staff checking on her by throwing a cup of water on her and receiving no reaction. They didn’t give her any medicine and she wasn’t seen to eat or drink any of the food and water that was left for her, and the staff reported that Landsberg was “seeking attention and faking medical issues”. She was then rushed to hospital where she died three days later.
She was recorded as dying from natural causes, despite the prison and probation ombudsman (PPO) calling the events leading to it “truly shocking”. The PPO said staff took far too long to carry out clinical observations that “might have been able to prevent her death”.
Her sister, Sandra Landsberg, said: “They failed their job as professionals. The treatment she got was awful. No one deserves treatment like that. In the end, my sister had to lose a life. Her kids don’t have a mother now. That’s very traumatising.”
25-year-old Nuno Cardoso was an Oxford law student who was arrested on suspicion of possession of a knife. He was apprehended before being struck by a police baton during his arrest. He died in custody.
Cardoso had mental health problems including anxiety and PTSD and during the hearing over his death his Mother said he had told her he would “become the best lawyer in the country”
The inquest heard that the police used “reasonable and proportionate force” when making the arrest, with the post-mortem blaming alcohol, cocaine and morphine for his death as opposed to him being aggressively restrained and hit with a baton.
PC Charles Smith stated in his defence that “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been up to hospital with people who’ve feigned illness as a precaution,” whilst PC Kate Young, who was also meant to help Cardoso, claimed she initially thought he was “playing [up] based on my previous experience of other detained people”.
Nuno was the fifth black man to die after being restrained by police officers in 2017.
In 2019, 12 year old Shukri was pushed into a river in Bury as a group of five children watched on and laughed. The girl drowned after struggling for several minutes. She was also found to have had injuries that suggested she had been abused before her death.
The Guardian wrote: “A child who tried to save the life of a drowning 12-year-old Somali refugee has told an inquest that another child who took her to the river laughed for two minutes while she died”. One of the children apparently told Shukri: ‘If you don’t get into the water, I’m going to kill you.’
The children involved have faced no punishment for Abdi’s murder.
Belly worked at Victoria Train Station, where she was spat at by a member of the public who claimed to be infected with COVID-19. She later died from the disease on April 5th, 2020 . Police concluded that her death was not linked to the attack, and in May announced that no further action would be taken.
All these deaths of BAME people in the UK were avoidable and all of them should have, at the very least, resulted in justice being provided to the perpetrators. We can’t ignore the cases of these people in our own country, we can’t let them go unnoticed. If we assume that the problem is distant, that they don’t affect us, then things will never change. The problem is right here and it’s going to take all of us fighting together to prevent further innocent lives being taken.
After the murder of George Floyd, there is an opportunity that his death will not be for nothing. The incredible coverage of the murder, protests and police violence has given many some hope that there can be some progress that arises out of tragedy. This will only occur if people take the time to educate themselves about the experiences of black people in the UK, call out racism directly and give both their time and money to political and social causes which aim to root out racism from society.
By Glyn Sheldon.
Many thanks to James Allen who compiled a vast amount of research for this article.
There is a list below of some useful links for campaigns/films/articles/petitions/donation pages:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPFLqk1Nhdw (Guardian film about Julian Cole)
https://www.change.org/p/mayor-jacob-frey-justice-for-george-floyd (Petition for George Floyd)
https://www.justiceforbigfloyd.com/ (Petition for George Floyd)
https://minnesotafreedomfund.org/donate (Donate to Minnesota Freedom Fund)
https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019 (Donate to Black Lives Matter)
https://secure.givelively.org/donate/the-bail-project (Donate to The Bail Project)
https://www.joincampaignzero.org/#vision (Campaign Zero to end Police Violence in the USA)
https://www.nlg.org/donate/ (Donate to National Lawyers’ Guild)
https://blacklivesmatter.com/defundthepolice/ (BLM Defund the Police)
https://www.stephenlawrence.org.uk/support-us/donate/ (Donate to Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust)
https://unicornriot.ninja/donate/ (Union Riot)
https://www.blackvisionsmn.org/ (Black Vision Collective)
https://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/Race%20and%20Policing%20v5.pdf (Runneymede Trust Report on Racist Policing in the UK)
https://www.justgiving.com/theredcard (Donate to Show Racism the Red Card)