Am I talking about an event that happened 200 years ago? No, sadly, I am summarising the events that happened to my client Tariq Stanley in April of this year, when Police officers ‘picked upon him’ as he was minding his own business in his car outside his home address. You can read the shocking details of his case in a Guardian article here.
Scenes of conflict and anxiety, anger and protest continue to play across our TV screens, or social media feeds, from both sides of the Atlantic this week, following the death of a black man, George Floyd at the hands of Police Officers in Minneapolis.
We must be thankful, of course, that the general level of violence that occurs between Police officers and citizens of any colour in the UK is far less than in America (statistics show that the rate of Police killings of civilians is 66 times greater in the US than the UK). However, it is undisputable that the same issues of Police brutality, Police protectionism towards their officers and racial bias – compounded by a reluctance to root out ‘bad apples’, bad practices and toxic cultures amongst the Force as a whole – also exist in this country.
I have taken on the Police on behalf of individuals from all racial and cultural backgrounds; Police abuse of power and brutality can happen to anyone, but experience has shown me that there is an undeniable culture of bias amongst the Police towards black/ ethnic minority people in particular, who Officers as a whole seem predisposed to consider more likely to be guilty of criminality, and if not quite ‘second class citizens’ then not exactly worthy of the same respect as white people, and more likely to pose a threat of violence hence justifying the ‘pre-emptive strike’ and other over-the-top uses of forces.
This bias then intersects with the wider problem of bad attitudes amongst Police officers to any perceived challenge to their authority, and the kind of lazy thinking which seems to suggest to many Officers that an arrest isn’t real unless you put handcuffs on the person (no matter how unnecessary they are), to produce a disproportionally high number of Black victims of Police misconduct.
This type of behaviour is self- reinforcing, as if Police treat black people like this, they are likely to engender the type of psychological damage and resentment towards the Police which then feeds into the Police seeing the black community as something ‘other’, to be mistrusted, and potentially a source of threat and hostility towards them.
The statistics are stark –
- During 2017 during a 3 month trial by the Police of ‘spit- hoods’ 23% of males on which the device was used were Black and 15% Asian, whilst 72% of the women on whom the hoods were used were Black.
- In 2018/19 Black people w
ere 9 times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people;
- During the same period, 26% of all uses of force by Police Officers were against Black, Asian or people of another non-White ethnic appearance;
- During the current Covid crisis, Black people, who make up 12% of the population of London, were much more likely than White people to be fined or event arrested for alleged ‘Lockdown’ breaches – they made up 26% of those fined and 31 % of the arrests.
- And as I have also identified in a recent blog post, Black people are the victims of Police taser use in a grossly disproportionate way, being almost eight times more likely to have a taser pulled on them and/or fired by Police.
However shocking those statistics are, I think it is the real details of real people’s lives which hit home the most effectively in trying to get across the message of Police brutality and racial bias, and so I would like to outline the facts of just two of the many cases I have handled in recent years which highlight these issues.
My client David, a young black man, was travelling to Dagenham in his car one Sunday morning, accompanied by his cousin and friend, who were also black males.
David was doing nothing untoward and was driving within the speed limit, but made ‘eye contact’ with a passing car containing Metropolitan Police Officers. For no reason it seems to me other than the colour of the skin of the occupants of David’s car, the Police decided to activate their sirens and pull David’s vehicle over.
David, who was registered disabled, and suffered from avascular necrosis, which is a degenerative condition of the hips, got out of his vehicle and politely enquired as to how he could help the Officers.
The Officer he spoke to seemed to have no specific reason he could give to David as to the stop other than an assertion that he was carrying out a ‘routine check’.
David co- operated with the Officer’s request for his personal details and thought that he would soon be on his way. David waited on the pavement minding his own business whilst the Officers apparently ran a check on his details and spoke to his passengers (again, their justification for asking the three friends for their details was entirely unspecified/ unexplained).
Then, without any warning at all – and this fact was not even disputed by the Officer himself – one of the Police Officers seized David from behind. David was shocked, did not know who was attacking him and instinctively reacted by pushing away the person who had grabbed him – only to realise, to his further shock, that it was one of the Officers.
As David demanded to know what was going on the Officer attempted to handcuff him – without apparently thinking that David deserved any explanation whatsoever.
As David struggled in an entirely justifiable manner to stop the Officer from unlawfully handcuffing him, the second Officer joined in, performed a ‘leg sweep’ on David, and took him to the ground.
The two Officers now combined to handcuff David as he lay chest- down on the ground, placing a knee in his back, and holding his head down. David was struggling to breathe and genuinely thought he might die. He called out that he was disabled, but was ignored.
Other Officers now arrived on the scene and took hold of David’s legs, as he continued to lie on the ground, bending them up behind his back, causing excruciating pain to David – all the worse because of his hip disease. The pain was so much, David was close to passing out.
David was then pulled upright and marched to the caged section of a Police van, his pants coming down as the Officers moved him, exposing his buttocks/ genitals in a humiliating manner.
David was then conveyed to custody in a near-by Police station.
It was only there that David was finally informed of the reason for his ‘arrest’. It transpired that there was an outstanding warrant on the Police computer system for a man of the same name as David, although, somewhat ironically, it was noted that the wanted man was white…
To add insult to injury, rather than receiving an apology for this case of mistaken identity and over the top force, David was instead charged with assaulting the two Officers who had in fact assaulted him and was forced to undergo the stress and trauma of a criminal prosecution until he was found not guilty at the Magistrates Court some three months later.
I brought County Court proceedings on behalf of David against the Metropolitan police, and recovered £22,500 damages plus legal costs, though still the Met offered no apology for its Officers behaviour whatsoever.
Steven was another young black person, a man of exemplary character, who was driving home from work one day in South West London. Just as with David he was driving lawfully and within the speed limit in his own motor car, when he was suddenly pulled over by a Police Carrier van with its sirens blaring.
Steven got out of the car to speak to the Officer who approached him, to be met with no explanation but rather an immediate demand that he give his car keys to the Officer. Instead, Steve reasonably requested that the Officer tell him what he was supposed to have done. The Officer suggested, on the basis of no evidence, that Steven might use his keys as a ‘weapon’ and then when Steven calmly continued to respond by asking what he was supposed to have done wrong to justify a Police stop, the Officer grabbed hold of his arm without warning.
Other Officers then joined in and pinned Steven up against the side of his car, before forcing him to the ground, during which Steven banged his head. Steven was then pinned to the ground by a number of Officers and felt humiliated to be treated as if he were some sort of violent criminal in this way.
Just as with David, and sadly George Floyd, Steven was pinned to the ground by overwhelming and unjustified Police force, and had to fight for his breath.
He was trussed up in both handcuffs and leg restraints and informed he was under arrest for allegedly breaching the Public Order Act by ‘swearing’.
Shortly afterwards, Steven heard one of the Officers claiming that the smell of cannabis was in the air – as you will note, this classic Police tactic was also used in Tariq’s case – and feared that the Officers might ‘plant’ something in his car to incriminate him and justify their reckless actions against him. Steven had never in his life used drugs.
Steven was then manhandled into the back of the van and taken to a nearby Police station. He complained that the handcuffs were too tight and were hurting him, but was ignored.
Instead, the Officers now falsely accused Steven of having hit the first Police Officer in the face. He was told he was now also under arrest for this fictitious crime as well.
In the Police station, Steven was subjected to the further indignity of a strip search. He was in a state of considerable shock and distress and was held in custody for a period of almost 19 hours before being released.
As with David, Steven then had to face the further trauma of false charges being pursued against him in the Magistrates Court. The Crown Prosecution Service tried to induce Steven to accept a caution – a criminal record which would have blighted the rest of his life potentially – but believing in the truth and justice of his case, Steven refused and when his case finally came to Trial after some 11 months of stress and anxiety, the CPS suddenly announced that all charges were withdrawn.
Steven now wanted justice against the Officers who had not only brutally assaulted him but who had conspired to have him convicted of criminal offences. He made a formal complaint to the Metropolitan Police, which went as far as a disciplinary hearing the following year; three Officers involved in his case faced charges of Gross Misconduct, but the disciplinary panel found them all not guilty.
Fortunately, that was far from the end of the story, as I was able to bring a County Court claim on behalf of Steven for false imprisonment, assault and battery and malicious prosecution and recovered £46,000 damages for him.
There are inescapable similarities between all of these cases, and I am sure you will agree that the details of these cases bear out the statistics, demonstrating – in black and white – that whilst it may be less of a problem than it was a generation or two ago, British policing is still blighted by the same spectres of racial bias and over the top aggression towards people of a non- White appearance that are now haunting the streets of America.