BLACK PEOPLE, RACISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS INQUIRY
Written evidence submitted by the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC), a group comprising the families and friends of those who have died in police, prison and psychiatric custody. We are submitting this evidence because of our belief that the anger generated by the police killing of George Floyd, and the tragic resonance this killing had for many British families, can only be addressed when the basic lack of accountability within the British police force is ended.
- Institutional racism is manifest in the disproportionate deaths in custody amongst Global Majority (“BME”) communities
- Police violence against, and neglect of, Black people is justified through the use of racial stereotypes
- This is perpetuated by the continued impunity for police officers who kill
- Merely increasing the recruitment of Global Majority (“BME”) officers does not address this central problem
To whom it may concern,
- We will be closely following your Committee’s inquiry into racial inequality within Britain today.
- Twenty-one years ago, the MacPherson report coined the term ‘institutional racism’ to describe the Metropolitan police’s systemic failing of Black people. The report defined institutional racism as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people”. Clearly, such prejudice violates ECHR Article 14, the right to freedom from discrimination.
- Today, Black people continue to be overpoliced as suspects and underpoliced as victims - and continue to constitute a disproportionate number of deaths in police custody. Indeed, we believe it was often the same prejudiced attitudes outlined in MacPherson’s definition of institution racism which led to the deaths of our loved ones at the hands of the police. Here, racism can be clearly seen as leading to violations of ECHR Article 2, the right to life, the most fundamental human right of all.
- Black men are systematically labelled as dangerous, hostile and threatening, leading to the legitimation of violence against them - violence which, for our loved ones, was lethal. Again and again, we have seen officers justify brutal unprovoked attacks on Black and Asian men with comments about how ‘threatened’ they feel, most recently in the Sheku Bayoh case. For the police, it seems, the mere claim that they ‘felt threatened’ is an instant get-out clause. It means they are allowed to kill us.
- In the case of Kingsley Burrell, a 6’4 policeman claimed his “knees were knocking together” in fear of dealing with Kingsley, who was, he said, “the strongest, most aggressive person I have ever met in my career”. This is despite the fact that Burrell was face down and motionless on a hospital bed, with a blanket wrapped round his face, during his beating by the police. For Sheku Bayoh, one of the four police who beat him to death claimed he was “massive...the biggest male I have ever seen” by way of justifying their attack. Bayoh had been walking down the street unarmed when the police set upon him without warning.
- Even when the victim is unresponsive, motionless and struggling to breathe, the racial stereotyping continues. Clear warning signs that a man is dying are ignored, with officers’ claiming to have thought their victim was ‘faking’ the symptoms. Police seem to assume Black men are more likely to be deceitful than distressed. This ‘faking it’ excuse has been used by police to justify leaving their victims to die time and again, in the cases of Christopher Alder, Sean Rigg, Habib Ullah and Kingsley Burrell, to name but four.
- Even when the victim is dead, the stereotyping does not end: all too often, it is then extended to the grieving families themselves. Too often, we have been treated and portrayed as troublemakers simply for seeking answers and justice - whilst the police attempt to smear our dead loved ones to the press.
- Added together, the collection of CCTV showing the deaths of our loved ones would shock the public, and ought to shame the state about the treatment of Black men at the hands of the police in this country. Yet those in positions of power still seem to turn a blind eye.
- What allows this to continue is the impunity which continues to reign in the police force. The Police Federation have institutionalised a culture of complicity in which “snitching” on one’s colleagues is rendered deeply taboo; and on top of that there appears to be an unwritten rule in this country that police officers will not be prosecuted. On the face of it, all the institutions of justice appear to be in place - a separate body to investigate deaths in custody, jury-led inquests, the Crown Prosecution Service. Yet, again and again damning evidence, IPCC recommendations to prosecute, inquest verdicts of unlawful killing, are all dismissed by the CPS. Police officers are left completely unaccountable for their crimes.
- The same year as the Macpherson Report, the Butler report into 15 deaths in custody seriously criticised the CPS’s failure to prosecute the officers involved. Little appears to have changed since then, with the CPS still refusing to prosecute even the most flagrant abuses. On those precious few occasions when prosecutions are mounted, our killers invariably walk free. We feel as though our loved ones have effectively been subjected to extrajudicial execution, innocent victims killed without ever having been found guilty of any crime.
- The solution to both these issues - police racism and impunity - is one and the same. Police officers who kill, police who lie, police who cover up for their colleagues’ crimes, need to be prosecuted with the full force of the law. Unless and until the current impunity is ended, there will be no incentive for police to either improve their behaviour or examine their attitudes.
- In this regard, we are concerned that previous inquiries have all too often sought the solution to police racism in the recruitment of Global Majority (“BME”) officers into various roles within the police force. We believe this is sidestepping the issue. Simply having more Black and Asian officers will be no use if they continue to be initiated into a police culture of impunity and cover-up.
- We are also concerned that the use of liaison officers from minority backgrounds has too often been used simply as a buffer between the police and the families of those they have abused or killed. In our experience, they have been used to shield the police from our anger, whilst denying us access to those in a position to answer our questions. In one case, a liaison officer with no training in the role - and with no knowledge of the case - was appointed simply because she was of the same background as the family affected. Painting the police with a token Black face is no solution to the racism and impunity at the heart of the problem.
- When police officers kill our loved ones on the basis of a racist hunch, they need to be prosecuted, for murder, with the full force of the law. If that does not happen, no amount of Black faces in the police will help to ingratiate them into our communities.
- The issue is impunity. One report after another has identified this problem, from the 1999 Butler Review to the 2017 Hillsborough Panel’s aptly titled report, The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power. We don’t need another report. We need prosecutions - of police who kill, of police who lie, and of police who collude with their colleagues’ criminality. Until we get them, the culture of impunity - and the racism that so often underpins it - will continue.
Signed by the families of:
Christopher Alder, died 2/4/1998
Winston Augustine, died 30/8/2018
Sheku Bayoh, died 3/5/2015
Kingsley Burrell, died 31/3/2011
Rashan Charles, died 22/7/2017
Marc Anthony Cole, died 23/5/2017
Jordon Nathaniel Cooke, died 26/1/2015
Joy Gardner, died 29/7/1993
Michael Lloyd Powell, died 7/9/2003
Olaseni Lewis, died 3/9/2010
Adrian McDonald, died 22/12/2014
Darren Neville, died 5/5/2013
Leon Patterson, died 27/11/1992
Sarah Reed, died 11/1/2016
Sean Nicholas Rigg, died 21/5/2008
Roger Sylvester, 11/1/1999
Habib Ullah, died 3/7/2008
Cameron Whelan, died 29/5/2015
Darren Cumberbatch died 19/07/17
Jordan Nathaniel Cooke, died 26/1/2015
Jack Susianta, died 29/7/2015
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