Written evidence from Michelle De Sousa (RHR0021)



Young Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic men in police custody


By Michelle De Sousa

Organisations :

British Nigerian Law Forum

Affirm Human Rights 

Windrush Legal Angels

Bridging the Development Gaps


Response : Young Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic men in police custody



2020 has been marked by high profile incidents of racially targeted police brutality specifically towards BAME men.  Although the death of George Floyd took place in the US, the British police also have been associated with violent acts of discrimination. Statistics confirm that BAME people are more likely to die or suffer severe injuries during or following police contact, compared to those from non-ethnic backgrounds. It, is difficult to comprehend how a minority group 3% of the population can make up so much of the statistics till you factor in systemic discrimination within British society.


It is unfortunate that it took another death of an innocent black man in the US for racially targeted police brutality to be brought to the spotlight in the UK despite it being an issue for many years. There is no dispute that the British police chose to stay naive and ignorant to the fact that racism is still a major problem in 2020! Before Mr Floyd’s death, it was seen as an uncomfortable topic left to selective round table discussions and rarely spoken about in open forums possibly adding to reasons for lack of change and progress over the years.


As it was seen as a controversial topic BAME were discouraged from speaking further those from white backgrounds struggled to understand and relate to the concerns when raised. Not all forms of discrimination are direct, overt and violent. This has been difficult issue to explain in to many in the UK. Despite legislation Equality Act2010 , Human Rights Act 1998 and numerous Enquires it has never ceased to exist and is still never called out even when obvious.


Mr Floyds death sparked a global conversation of the mistreatment of Black Men. Even though police shootings do not occur in the UK often we cannot ignore allegations of disproportionate use of excessive/deadly force. Since 1969 only one police officer has been convicted for their role in the death of someone in their care and in that case, the officer received a suspended sentence. When you compare it to the fact that there were 164 deaths of BAME people in custody or following other police contact and as the result of police shootings in England and Wales since 1990 to date.[1]


In 1998, Christopher Alder was taken into custody and taken to Queens Gardens police station in Hull where CCTV footage showing him lying face down on the floor of the station, motionless, with his trousers around his ankles was discovered. The footage showed officers stood around him laughing while he laid there dying for 10 minutes[2]. In 2008, the story of a 40-year-old black man named Sean Rigg who was killed by police officers at the entrance of Brixton Police station. The circumstances of the case draw close similarities to the death of Mr Floyd in regards to mental state, capacity of the victim and the method of attack which lead to his murder. Mr Rigg was pinned to the ground whilst a number of officers piled on top of his defenceless body.  Complete disregard to the human being crushed-why? [3] Three years later in 2011 Mark Duggan aged 29, was shot and killed Tottenham. The officers claimed they were led to believe he was in possession of a firearm but no firearm was ever recovered from around his body. Consequently, it caused public outrage and to riots across London and other British cities. In 2014 the courts found the killing lawful which was seen by many as a complete injustice. These killings are just a few of many but an indication of the extent of the simmering problem buried and left undealt with up until now.


Also the use of the section 60 criminal justice and public Order Act 1994 (stop and search) has increasingly become an issue within the BAME community. Many BAME individuals feel targeted especially young black men. It was introduced to give the police the right to search people who they believe, with good reason , to be involved and or at risk of a serious incident of violence , or the individual is possibly in possession of a dangerous weapon. However, it is clear from statistics that the police have abused this right by targeting young black men through racial profiling. Statistics confirm black people were eight times more likely to be stopped and searched by police between 2018/2019. 370,474 people were stopped and searched by police. 185,092 were white and 65,790 of those were black. This meant, for every 10,000 white individuals, 37 were searched but yet for every 10,000 black individuals, 315 were searched a staggering difference.[4]


David Lammy MPs report noted that if you placed a white man and a BAME man in the same predicament with the same previous history, with the same or similar evidence, the BAME man was more likely to be stopped, arrested, charged, denied bail, convicted and sentenced to prison. Then, while in prison, he was less likely to be supported to rehabilitation, more likely to reoffend and more likely to die in custody – and his family were less likely to get justice following that death[5]. The government have enabled the removing BAME individuals from the streets and not provided for their return back into society to prevent them from re-offending again. British society has harnessed a vicious cycle as the necessary support is not available for the young black/ethnic men, which just leads to them and the community to lose faith in the justice system.

Although it is refreshing for a BAME MP to highlight the systematic racism within our justice system, the issue has not been halted. It will take more than one MP and complaints from the public to change the justice system and biased police conduct ie investigations, stops, detentions, searches. As of March 2019, there were 125,286 police officers employed by police forces in England and Wales police where their ethnicity is known. Of those, 93% were white and only 1.3% were black. This illustrates the lack of diversity within the police workforce which undoubtably has an influence on the views and perceptions on BAME individuals. If there were more BAME police officers and those in senior positions, the perception of young black men is more likely to change due to personal perceptions being influenced. It is difficult to change an opinion or perception of something that has been viewed as unfamiliar and wrong for so long.

Young black men in the prison system do not have the support that they needed to prevent them from reoffending. If there were more black influencers within the justice system then maybe BAME people would feel more comfortable and willing to accept the help, advice and influence from people they can relate to instead of individuals who they feel they have no connection Also support would be re subjective and appropriate. It can be discouraging, intimidating to be advised on how to live in society by someone who in the view of a BAME person, has privilege and not experience of discrimination. BAME people are more likely to respond to those who have subjective understanding and or that they can relate to their personal experiences.

The government should have more open structured conversations with BAME community and effect and enforce polices that stop the school to prison pipeline specifically for black males. More relatable education, structured support both pre and post sentence, internally and externally needs to be made available. However, for this to even be possible the society at large needs to wake up and accept the extent of systemic racial discrimination within The police force and the judicial system and the adverse effect of the school to prison pipeline cycle.

It’s not enough for the government to claim that they have recognised that there is an issue as only actions are going to make a difference. It was surprising to see how may non-ethnic people got involved with the Black Lives Matter protests and campaigns e.g. Black out Tuesdays as well as white British owned companies standing in solidarity with the movement. Awareness is definitely out there but how long must the wait be for corrections and for progress. We are still waiting for robust legislation to be produced to offer more protection to BAME individuals and enforcement. We are still waiting for officers to be charged with the brutality and killings of BAME individuals. And we are still waiting for the police departments to make an overall change in the way they conduct their police work particularly with BAME individuals. We are still in great need for access to Justice Legal Aid cuts have resulted in huge complaints, delays and this has been worsened as a result of Covid19.


By Michelle De souse- junior Legal Assistant /Supervisor

Organisations :-

British Nigerian Law Forum

Affirm Human Rights 

Windrush Legal Angels

Bridging the Development Gaps







[1] https://www.inquest.org.uk/bame-deaths-in-police-custody

[2] https://fullfact.org/law/bame-deaths-police-uk/

[3] https://novaramedia.com/2020/06/01/the-uk-is-not-innocent-police-brutality-has-a-long-and-violent-history-here/

[4] https://www.inyourarea.co.uk/news/black-people-are-being-disproportionately-targeted-by-police/

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jun/11/black-deaths-in-police-custody-the-tip-of-an-iceberg-of-racist-treatment