CI: Two Years On, UK Riots in Context

August 07, 2013 at 6:44 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Immigration, Intersectionality, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex

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Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Riot is the voice of the unheard.
~ Maxine Waters
(Los Angeles Times, 4 May 1992)

Editors Note: It has been two years since the police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham sparked 4 days of rioting in London and elsewhere in England between August 6 and 10. The riots resulted in at least 4 deaths, hundreds of injuries, and millions in property damage.

Two years later, a final police report on Duggan’s killing has not yet been released, as officers are refusing to cooperate. There are community complaints that the government has largely ignored recommendations from The Riots, Communities and Victims Panel. The conditions that laid the foundations for the riots remain — poverty and a youth unemployment rates of more than 20%, and an aggressive police presence in communities of color.

CI is pleased to republish this excellent piece from Susan Pashkoff*, originally written in the immediate aftermath of the riots. It is as relevant today as it was at the time of publication, and sadly, echoes USA issues of police violence and racism in the criminal injustice system that are covered here each week..

UK Riots in Context: Police Brutality and Institutional Racism in the UK
by Susan Pashkoff*

The name, Mark Duggan, has been absent from the discussion of the riots that have wracked first London and which have spread to the rest of the United Kingdom. But the name Mark Duggan is a name that must not be lost; mark duggan as the man, Mark Duggan, and the shooting of this young black man by police in Tottenham is the spark that led to the fires in Tottenham . His shooting by police raised clear distress and concern to family, loved ones and members of the community and the absence of an explanation by the police lead to a peaceful vigil being undertaken to request answers from the police. Consensual and Community policing is dependent upon community relations and support and this has been compromised due to a history of institutional racism, deaths in police custody and the clear racist component both in practice and in theory to Stop-and-search procedures historically in the UK. In fact, it was a stop-and-search procedure which yielded no weapons which led to the riot in Hackney that followed the next day.

These incidents cannot be understood as isolated events. Police brutality against working class people, but especially people of colour, and institutional racism in policing (both in theory and in practice) and in the judicial system has a long history in the UK. The death of Mark Duggan is the latest in a history of problems of race and class that has plagued the UK since black immigration began in the post-war period.

Some History of Black Communities in the UK

The history of the black community in the UK cannot be done justice in the space of this piece. What follows is some history demonstrating both racism and the struggles of the black community (and it must be stressed that this has been a community response) for social justice and against a culture of racism that has plagued the community since black people immigrated to the UK from British colonies in the post-War period. Interspersed throughout is legislation that has been passed by Parliament as the UK struggled to deal with both the increase in immigration from its colonies (Immigration Acts were designed to stop people of colour from immigrating to the UK) and racism in response to clear violations of the civil rights of blacks in the country due to the demands by the black community for social and economic justice.

Immigration begins in 1948-65

The history of the black community in the UK begins in the post-war period when large groups of Blacks from the West Indies and West Africa came to the UK. Immigration began at a period of economic growth and labour was needed to rebuild UK after the war. Black workers were employed in low status work at low pay that white British people did not want to do; in this sense, the division of labour between whites and blacks was from the onset of Black immigration racialised. Black workers were concentrated in the service industries (transport, health and hotels) in areas such as food supply and domestic service and as aides and assistants in hospitals.

”The largest concentrations of Black people grew in London where a West Indian community developed around Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove (smallies – small Islanders) and Brixton (Jamaicans). By the mid-1950’s there were over 100,000 Black and minority ethnic residents residing in Britain, less than 0.5% of the entire population

The Commonwealth Immigrants Act (1962) was passed by the Tory government to place a barrier to further immigration of people from British colonies, specifically people of colour; (for the actual act see this). Only those with government-issued employment vouchers, limited in number, were allowed to settle in the United Kingdom. It has been argued that the fear that immigration would be completely prevented by the British government led to a large increase in immigration. “In 1964, two years following the legislation the BME population had grown significantly to around 750,000 (still less than 1% of the entire population) and discrimination was visible within new communities)”.

In this period, while labour demand exceeded labour supply, housing demand could not keep pace with the need. London was still rebuilding from WWII. Moreover, the cost of purchasing a property was prohibitive especially for those on extremely low salaries which Black immigrants were earning. Whites refused to rent homes and flats to blacks systematically, and those that were willing to do so, charged exorbitant rents; this lead to overcrowding of homes and multiple occupancies. Public housing was not accessible due to legal prohibition. These situations combined to force Blacks into the worst inner-city areas.

“During the 1960’s whites began to move out toward the suburbs (Inner London experienced a 28% population decline between 1961 and 1981 according to Census data) and a wave of concrete brutalise housing estates replaced slum areas, estates such as Stonebridge and South Kilburn in Brent; Holly Street and Clapton Park in Hackney; Broadwater Farm in Tottenham all followed with the building of multiple estates in Brixton, Peckham, New Cross and Deptford. Black people became disproportionately represented in these un-popular estates. A study of London social housing in 1974 showed that 69% of Black residents were living in sub-standard council accommodation in deprived areas in comparison to just 28% of white residents (Smith and Whalley, 1975).”


While quite happy to exploit black labour, the government constantly used racism as a lever for divide and conquer to divide the working class in the UK. So, while happy to exploit, having to provide services for the Black community and equal access to housing, education, services and employment led to the government to constantly attempt to place limits on immigration and limits to the choices of black workers. Constant threats of closing the immigration door led to the immigration of families and relatives of the first black immigrants to the UK. While earlier discussion concerned access to housing, service in restaurants, bars and shops; the incorporation of families meant that new issues began to arise, primarily education, housing and employment discrimination.

The Race Relations Act (1965) made it a civil offence to refuse to serve a person, an unreasonable delay in serving someone, or overcharging, on the grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins. So this act did not include housing and employment and excluded shops and boarding houses .

In education we begin to see the use of the classic racist argument that somehow black children were less able to learn than their white counterparts and that they had substandard IQs. This also led to policy stating that no school could have more than 30% immigrants and black children exceeding that number were bussed to other areas. Racism ensured that black children were disproportionally placed in classes for Educationally Subnormal children (ESN) and classes for backward children regardless of their ability. This led to black communities to fight not only against government policy but for the establishment of supplementary schools within the community. The creation of Black bookstores provided not only a wider range of analysis beyond the white version of history and culture taught in schools and preached in the media; these bookstores were an incredibly important contribution to building an anti-colonialist/imperialist view in the Black community.

“In London there was the Kwamae Nkrumah school (Hackney Black Teachers), George Padmore School (John La Rose and the Black Parents Movement), South-East London Summer School (Black Unity & Freedom Party) and the Marcus Garvey School. Other projects to improve the skills of young people were also set up across London. There were workshops for designing clothes, art and sculpture, encouragement of Black poets and playwrights and so on. Roy Sawh ran the Free University for Black Studios and a host of newspapers and newsletter organisations existed such as Black Voice, Freedom News (Black Panthers), Frontline (BCC: Brixton and Croydon Collective), Uhuru (BPFM: Black Peoples Freedom Movement), BWAC Weekly (Black Workers Action Committee) and the more theoretical journal Black Liberator. Furthermore, clubs and youth centres for Black kids were in abundance, ran within the community.”

Visits by Martin Luther King (1964) and Malcolm X (1965) lead to first the creation of Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) in 1965 and a more militant organisation was formed the Racial Action Adjustment Society (RAAS) with Michael de Freitas (also known as Michael X). Viewed as a threat to ‘integration’ by the government due to their outspoken and articulate spokespersons arguments against racism, members were penalised under the Race Relations Act, for inciting racial hatred towards whites. Racial attacks began to re-occur with more severity in the mid-1960’s with the shooting dead of a Jamaican in Islington, the attempted murder of a schoolboy in Notting Hill and a drive-by shooting at a Black cafe in Notting Hill. Fascist parties united to form the National Front in 1967 which ran candidates for the Greater London Council.

The grossly inadequate race relations act of 1965 was reformed by the still inadequate 1968 Act . The Race Relations Act 1968 (1968 c. 71) made it illegal to refuse housing, employment, or public services to a person on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins. It also created the Community Relations Commission to promote ‘harmonious community relations’.

Given areas where Blacks were employed (transport, hospital services, industry) and the rising militancy in the struggles for civil rights, the right in the UK decided to once again raise the ante in divide and conquer racist strategy. Two weeks following the murder of Martin Luther King, Enoch Powell gave his infamous “Rivers of Blood” Speech.

Rivers of Blood: Enoch Powell (1968)

Powell’s speech led to an escalation of abuse and violence against Blacks and Asians, both immigrants and British born. Providing support to white racist and fascist arguments, Powell’s speech led to marches against immigration and violence against people of colour and increased police harassment. It also led to further organisation and mobilisation in the Black community discussing and fighting racism and racist attacks.

In May of 1970 a march was organised. Known as the Hyde Park March, over 2000 Blacks and Asians marched from Hyde Park to Downing Street to protest against organised police brutality arising from stop-and-search and Sus arrests (see below on stop and search for more information on Sus arrests). Demands went unanswered and in July and August 1970 there were clashes between young Blacks and police in north London.

“In one event a hundred Black youths protested the arrest of four innocent Black youths at Caledonian Road police station. On the 9th August 1970 police intended to close the Mangrove Caribbean Restaurant in All Saints Road, Notting Hill. The Metropolitan Police had long been concerned with the venue because it acted as a meeting place for Black people and it was raided regularly. Residents organised a march and protested against the persecution of the Mangrove and when police tried to break up the demonstration Black people fought back and nine men were charged.”

In 1971, a new Immigration Act stopped all primary (Black and Asian) immigration permanently and authorities were empowered to stop and search anyone who could potentially be residing in the UK illegally. As all Blacks, on the face of them, are non-patrials, it also meant they were all viewed as illegal immigrants until proven otherwise see this link also for an explanation of the term patriality introduced by this legislation).

”Summarising the new laws, Sivanandan observes that, “On the face of it, the Act appeared no more racist than its predecessors. Bans and entry certificates, stop and search arrests and ‘Sus’ detentions and deportations were already everyday aspects of Black life. Even the distinction that the Act made between the old settlers and the new migrants to make them all migrants again did not seem to matter much: they had never been anything but ‘coloured immigrants’…the raison d’etre of racism [changed]”. There was no longer any need for cheap immigrant labour, the problem now was that the government wanted to reverse immigration and get rid of the ‘coloured’ labour in Britain and “racism could help there – with laws and regulations that kept families apart, sanctioned police harassment, invited fascist violence and generally made life untenable for the Black citizens of Britain. And if they wanted to return ‘home’, assisted passages would speed their way” (Sivanandan, 1981, p.132).

Powers granted to the police and immigration authorities by the act enabled increased use of Sus Laws and stop-and-search by the Police to hunt down “illegal immigrants.” The police created an Illegal Immigration Intelligence Unit (IIIU) to aid with their activity. Deliberate persecution of Black’s organising to protect themselves and their communities became constant; meetings were disrupted by the Police and meeting places were destroyed by fascist groups.

New tools of repression were created by the police. One such group — The Special Patrol Group (SPG) — was specifically developed to use violent tactics to control large groups of people and were used to swamp areas with police officers where there were large concentrations of people of colour (specifically Brixton, Lewisham, Hackney, Peckham, and Notting Hill). In 1976, at the Notting Hill Carnival Riots young black youths’ anger exploded leading to a riot.

Following the Notting Hill Carnival Riots, the Race Relations Act was again amended . Discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethnic and national origin in the fields of employment, the provision of goods and services, education and public functions was addressed. The Act also established the Commission for Racial Equality (this has now been superseded by the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, in October 2007) with a view to review the legislation. It included a statutory duty on public bodies to promote race equality, and it became required that for them to demonstrate that procedures to prevent race discrimination were effective.

The 80’s and Brixton Riots

The decline of British industry and manufacturing brought with it massive increases in unemployment throughout the industrial working class. While in the UK overall, unemployment increased by 38% in the period from 1972-81, unemployment for blacks increased by 325% .

Racism clearly plays a large role in minority unemployment rates; the article also raises the importance of understanding geographic distribution of unemployment and poverty in London. Black people moved into areas that were already populated by other immigrants and white working class and poor areas. By 1981, these areas already had severe declining labour markets arising from industrial decline and the beginnings of the attack on the industrial and manufacturing sector workers by the Tory government. This period really is the beginning of the impact of these economic policies which now began to affect not only workers of colour but the white working class. Increased unemployment in the inner cities also was a result of the decentralization and shift in jobs from the inner-cities to the rest of the country .

Specifically, for younger working class people:

london umemployment ”A combination of all factors at play in 1980’s Britain helped to increase social polarisation and in turn contributed to the development of an urban underclass. In 1981 young men aged 16-24 were highly over-represented in unemployment statistics. Across Greater London 18% of white males aged 16-24 were unemployed, as were 38% of Black Caribbean and 46% of Black African young males. Unemployment rates for white and Black young adults were higher in the inner-city, and in contrast for both groups, were considerably lower in the suburbs ).” (Map illustrates Unemployment Rates in London)

In the summer of 1981, riots broke out across 30 towns and cities in the UK. The initiating cause of the riots which began in Brixton was the stabbing of Michael Bailey and the insufficient rapidity of response on the part of the police. Deep mistrust between the black community and the police brought about through use of the Sus Law, stop-and-search procedures, and the Swamping of Brixton (Swamp 81 when large numbers of police brought into Brixton and employing stop-and-search procedures indiscriminately) created increasing distrust between the police and the black community.

The stabbing of Michael Bailey on the 10th of April 1981 and the perception of insufficient police support and medical intervention by the community exploded in a riot where over 200 youths, black and white, finally openly and violently turned on the police.

”The white working class and the black and Asian communities found common cause and shared support and solidarity. Some argue that Thatcher’s ‘swamping speech’ was aimed at the white working class to make them feel threatened that foreigners would take their jobs and that social and welfare services would be thinned out to accommodate immigrants. In reality, the new government policies all along had been designed to have a detrimental impact on the white working class but it was immigrants, not police and government, who should have taken the backlash from the white working class. When young people, black and white, began to riot the media and Conservative government branded the white working class as un-British and dubbed them ‘the enemy within’ (Fekete, 1988).”

Unsurprisingly, this argument was resurrected by monarchist sycophant and Tory David Starkey two nights ago on a discussion on the riots where he had argued that white youth had become black and criminalized by black culture.

“The Whites Have Become Black” David Starkey (2011)

Up until the latest riots, the Brixton riots were the worst riots seen in the UK. There are similarities on the surface between the latest riots and Brixton. Both occurred during the terms of governments led by Tories; Thatcher in 1981 and now the ConDems. Both series of riots began in areas with high levels of persistent unemployment and poverty where high percentages of people of colour live. Both the Brixton Riots and the current riots initiated with a death of a young black man and a police role either as killers or not doing their job protecting the community. Both riots included youth of all colours. However, the Brixton riots were a direct response to government oppression at the hands of the police against the poor and rising unemployment and poverty and were directed at the police. The current riots are the result of long-term unemployment, economic policies favouring the wealthy, institutionally racist policing and hopelessness of youth. Blame the victim ideology against the poor (they are immoral, lazy, dissolute; these are old arguments that can be found in the criticism of the Old Poor Law) raised its ugly head again under New Labour and has continued in earnest under the ConDem government. These riots were not aimed at the police directly, rather these were angry explosions and looting of things that people simply could not afford or obtain: looting was the primary goal, it not incidental.

Institutional Racism and the Police

The Scarman Report (1981)

Following the Brixton riots, a report was commissioned by the government to analyse the riots and the role of policing as a causal element. The Scarman report (1981) was the result of that commission and investigation. According to the Scarman report,

“Lord Scarman said “complex political, social and economic factors” created a “disposition towards violent protest. He found the disorders were not planned but a spontaneous outburst of built-up resentment sparked by particular incidents. He found loss of confidence and mistrust in the police and their methods of policing. Liason arrangements between police, community and local authority had already collapsed before the disturbances. He recommended concerted efforts to recruit more ethnic minorities into the police force, and changes in training and law enforcement.

Highlighting problems of “racial disadvantage” and the decline of inner cities, Scarman warned that action was urgently needed to prevent “racial disadvantage” from becoming an “endemic, ineradicable disease threatening the very survival of our society .”

Unsurprisingly, Scarman found unquestionable evidence of the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of ‘stop and search’ powers by the police against black people with detailed reports of arbitrary roadblocks, stop-and-search and mass detention (943 stops, 118 arrests and 75 charges) .

Lack of consultation with the community and local police officers during Operation Swamp 81 and the breakdown of police liaison arrangements between police, community and local authority had broken down and with historic police actions combined with the swamping operation, there was serious mistrust between the local community and the police. Scarman recommended changes in training and law enforcement, and the recruitment of more ethnic minorities into the police force. The report resulted in a new code for police behaviour was put forward in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that clarified the use of stop-and-search, entry-search-and-seizure and arrest. The act also created an independent Police Complaints Authority (1985), to attempt to restore public confidence in the police. This is now known as the Independent Police Complaints Commission, IPPC).

Scarman’s denial of the reality of institutional racism in the police force and policing was absurd and as a result the analysis and opportunity for change was missed. This claim was overturned by the Macpherson report into the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, a young black man, by a gang of white racist thugs.

The Macpherson Report and the Stephen Lawrence Murder Inquiry

Stephen Lawrence was waiting at a bus stop with his friend Duwayne Brooks in Southeast London. He was attacked by 3 white youth and stabbed to death. stephen lawrence A case was brought against two of the suspects, Neil Acourt, then 17, and Luke Knight, who was 16, who were initially charged with murder but the case was dropped on 29 July 1993 by the Crown Prosecution Service due to “insufficient evidence.” In 1994, the family attempted a private prosecution against the initial 2 subjects and 3 others. Lacking legal aid, a fund for forensic testing was raised, the lawyers worked for free and still the case was dropped for the initial 2 suspects on insufficient evidence, with the case against the other 3 dropped after the testimony of Duwayne Brooks was ruled inadmissible. Gary Dobson and David Norris were arrested in September 2010, and in May 2011 it was announced they are due to face trial, accused of killing Stephen Lawrence.

In 1997, Lawrence’s family registered a formal complaint with the Police Complaints Authority. The officers who had worked on the case of allegations of racism were exonerated in 1999. Only one officer who was second-in-command of the investigation was ordered to face disciplinary charges for neglect of duty. Bullock was later found guilty of failure to properly brief officers and failure to fully investigate an anonymous letter sent to police, but he was acquitted of 11 other charges. Four other officers who would have been charged as a result of the inquiry retired before it concluded . Only recently, Gary Dobson and David Norris were arrested in September 2010, and in May 2011 it was announced they are due to face trial, accused of killing Stephen Lawrence.

The Macpherson Report (1999) was commissioned by Jack Straw to investigate the failures of police in investigating the murder of Stephen Lawrence. It recognised the existence of institutional racism in policing and recommended 70 actions that needed to be taken to address this problem.

An excellent discussion of institutional racism in policing and the development of the analysis of racism in policing and in the UK can be found in this piece written by John Lea (2000) published in the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice. It contains criticism both of the Scarman Report and the Macpherson report. It discusses definitions of racism, specifically institutional racism, and the inadequacies of that used in the Macpherson report arguing that it misses an opportunity for real change in policy to address racism in policing (See also the Race Relations Amendment Bill (2000).

According to John Lea, the Macpherson report identified three equally important forms of racism :

“So there are now, for Macpherson, three categories of racism of equal importance. Firstly, the racism of overtly prejudiced individuals, secondly, racism as a conscious and deliberate policy of public institutions which is not to be found in Britain, and, thirdly, racism as unintentional or unwitting discriminatory practice in the mode of operation of organisations which are formally non-discriminatory. “

The definition of institutional racism made by the report is:
“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.”

Recommendations of the report addressed institutional racism in policing, the judicial system, and in police procedures. The police now had to follow anti-racist legislation, racist incidents had to documented, police that were participants in racist incidents were now to be disciplined, independent investigations against the police were to be ensured (see the recommendations of the Macpherson report). However, stop-and-search procedures were allowed to continue and no changes were recommended in the standard of proof for racist crimes. Here are two links for the 10th anniversary of the Macpherson report discussing the legacy of Stephen Lawrence and his murder and the impact of the Macpherson report, 10 years on from the murder of Stephen Lawrence and Paul Boateng (2009) Institutional Racism Laid Bare .

Police Brutality and Racism

According to an Amnesty International Report (2001), institutional racism in the UK police as well as racial disparities in the rest of the country’s justice system has been widely documented.

“Amnesty International’s research has shown that the police target the black community with particular practices such as stop and search operations. Black people faced more serious charges for the same offences than whites, were less likely to be just cautioned and were more likely to be imprisoned. Black people were also under-represented among officials of the criminal justice system. The report further alleges “widespread” racism in a large number of British prisons. It cites the murder of 19-year-old Zahid Mubarek by a racist and violent cellmate in Feltham young offenders’ institution and remand centre.”

Deaths in Police Custody

Inquest is a non-profit working on offering support and advice for the bereaved of those who have died of contentious deaths in policy and prison; they have compiled lists of these deaths.

From 1993-2011, this is a list of deaths in police custody; here is an additional link from 1997 from the Movement for Justice Magazine discussing deaths of blacks in police custody that year .Here are also the results of unlawful killing inquests and the verdicts from 1997 to 2011 which does have a racial breakdown of the victims and action taken.

Several cases have provoked intense anger and scrutiny leading to inquests and demands for inquests. In 1998, Christopher Alder, a black former paratrooper suffering from mental illness died in police custody in circumstances indicating at least a lack of police supervision (for an important critique of the failure of prosecutions following of inquests and police not being held accountable for abuse and deaths of those in their custody, please see this). This April 16th, saw large Black-led protests to demand justice for Smiley Culture who died during a police raid at his home. The police (the only witnesses present) allege that while the raid was taking place, Smiley went into his kitchen to make a cup of tea, where he stabbed himself in the chest. This protest was not only to raise Smiley Culture’s death, but rather was a response to deaths in police custody, the vast majority of which are uninvestigated and of which a large number are disproportionally black people. Smiley Culture, like Sean Riggs, Julian Webster, and Wayne Hamilton and Mark Duggan, was another suspicious death in police custody (For more information that has been catalogued and a specific examination of certain cases in which there were inquests, see the Guardian and the list of names of people of colour that have died in police custody from 1978-2002 ).

IPPC report (published 3/12/2010) on 333 deaths in police custody over the period of 1998-2009. The most recent census stats are from 2001 as the 2011 stats have not yet been released, but these are very useful for a comparison of total prison population stats in terms of race and ethnicity found below in the report of the IPCC to total population to indicate the over-representation of people of colour especially blacks in prison. So while blacks represented only 2% of the population in 2001, they represent 7% of the prison population currently. Unfortunately, since the last census stats are from 2001, drawing definitive statements would be erroneous statistically, but the pattern is quite clear: where 92.1% of the population as white; 1.2% mixed, 4.0% Asian or Asian British; 2.0% Black or Black British, Chinese .4%, other ethnic groups .4%). Percentages in terms of the number of ethnic and racial minorities in the UK: mixed are 14.6%; all Asian and Asian British 50.3% all Black or Black British 24.8%; n.b., race and ethnicity breakdowns are self-defined).

Findings from the study include:

• The most frequent characteristics of those who died were that they were white (75%), men (90%) aged between 25 and 44 (48%). On average they were 39 years-old.
• The ethnic breakdown was as follows – 76% white, 7% black and 5% Asian – representative of the general ethic make up of the custody population.
• Approximately three-quarters of those who died had a link to drugs and/or alcohol, in that they were intoxicated, had been arrested for alcohol and/or drug related offences, or the cause of death was related to alcohol and/or drugs.
• On average there were 2.2 deaths per 100,000 notifiable arrests, a figure that ranged from 3.6 in 1998/99 to 1.0 in 2008/09
• In the first year of the study there were 15 suicides, but this fell to 3 a year in the rest of the period the study looked at. This appears to correlate with the beginning of work to make custody suites safer. Previous Home Office research found that between 1990 and 1996 172 deaths in custody (63%) had been caused by ‘deceased own actions’, including 73 hangings.
• 58 people had mental health issues, including 17 who were detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act.
• Of the 87 cases where restraint was used on a detainee, it was linked to the death on 16 occasions.
• Less than half of detainees that were booked into custody and should have been risk assessed were actually risk assessed.
• In 87 cases misconduct action was recommended for police officers/staff and 13 officers were charged with criminal offences.
• Over the period of the study no officers have been convicted of any offence in relation to the death of detainee. One police member of staff received a six-month sentence of imprisonment for misconduct in public office .”

For a comparison between 2008/9 and 2009/2010 –

In 2009/10 there were 86 deaths during or following police contact, of which:

• 29 were road traffic fatalities;
• 2 were fatal police shootings;
• 17 were deaths in or following police custody; and
• 38 were other deaths following police contact.

In 2008/09 there were 93 deaths. The drop in deaths is mostly attributable to the number of fatal road traffic deaths falling from 40 to 29. There was also one fewer fatal shooting. The number of fatal road traffic incidents fell by seven, from 33 in 2008/09 to 26 in 2009/10, resulting in 11 fewer deaths. The number of incidents this year is the second lowest figure recorded since 2004/05. The number of pursuit-related incidents has increased by one compared to the previous year to 17 incidents. This is the third lowest number of pursuit incidents since 2004/05.”

Stop and Search Procedures and Racism

The Sus Law was introduced in the war on the working class and poor during the early part of the 19th century. These laws were then used in the 20th century against people of colour and literally amounted to the right to stop-search and arrest those in a public place on the basis solely of suspicion.

“The power to act on “sus” was found in part of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824, which provided that every suspected person or reputed thief, frequenting any river, canal, or navigable stream, dock, or basin, or any quay, wharf, or warehouse near or adjoining thereto, or any street, highway, or avenue leading thereto, or any place of public resort, or any avenue leading thereto, or any street, or any highway or any place adjacent to a street or highway; with intent to commit an arrestable offence (section 4, Vagrancy Act 1824). […] “shall be deemed a “rogue and vagabond” and would be guilty of an offence, and be liable to be imprisoned for up to three months.”
These laws effectively permitted the police to stop and search, and even arrest, anyone found in a public place on the grounds that they suspected that they might intend to commit an offence. All that was required to bring a prosecution under the Act was that police needed to prove that the 1) the person acted suspiciously; 2) this provided “intent” to commit an arrestable offence. Two witnesses were needed for substantiation the charge and that invariably was the 2 patrolling police officers.
The sus law was repealed on 27 August 1981, on the advice of the 1979 Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure.

This document published by the Scottish executive (2001) discusses not only Scotland but lessons learned from England and Wales and contains discussions of the breakdown in community relations and trust in the police deriving from stop and search procedures. There are also summaries of various reports relating to policing, stop and search procedure and brutality that are extremely useful for those that want to do a more extensive study.

CARF, 1999 “The report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry singles out country-wide racial disparities in the use of stop-and-search as one of the key areas of “institutional racism” in the police. In doing so, the report does no more than to confirm what has long been widely known in the Black community. ”

Stop-and-search procedures were seen as a contributory factor to the Brixton riots by the Scarman report. Interestingly, PACE, a pilot programme on this was in Tottenham (NACRO, 1997) where it was reported that there was a gulf between local communities and the police service. “In practice PACE was not providing the protection envisaged, it was poorly understood in terms of “reasonable grounds” and that the police continued to make stereotypical assumptions about Black people and that the use of search powers was not effectively managed and supervised (pp. 14-15, ). ” Concern over the role of race in stop and search has remained a consistent issue.

On the 20/05/04, the Evening Standard published the following on the racism behind stop-and-search procedures being used by police:

“The Metropolitan Police was accused of racism again today over its use of controversial stop-and-search powers. A new study shows black people are four times more likely to be stopped than white – and that their chances of being stopped are increasing dramatically. Now the Metropolitan Police Authority is calling for a drastic overhaul of stop-and-search tactics and has listed 55 recommended changes.
These include asking the Commission for Racial Equality to consider prosecuting individual officers if their actions are found to be racist.

The study, by an MPA panel chaired by Cecile Wright, claims stop and search in London “continues to be influenced by racial bias”. It says “racial bias and stereotyping” by individual officers is the main reason more black and Asian people are likely to be stopped. It adds: “Institutional racism – as reflected in the policies, priorities and practices (or lack thereof) of the Metropolitan Police Service – continue to be dominant factors in both permitting and causing dis-proportionality in stop-and-search

The Met announced it was setting up a panel to review stop-and-search procedures urgently following publication of the report. Deputy assistant commissioner Carol Howlett said: “We are deeply concerned about dis-proportionality in stop and search. “We want to find out why this is happening. Is it or is it not justified? “We accept it exists and leads to a perception of bias. If we find racial discrimination is a reason then we will be robust in tackling it. We are already starting to review our policies.”

The MPA study says the Met’s own figures show that between 2000-1 and 2001-2, stop-and-search rates rose by 30 per cent for black people and by 41 per cent for Asian. For white people the increase was only eight per cent. ”

Despite multiple reports documenting racial disparity in police practices, despite recommended remedies, institutional racism in the UK policing has not been overcome. Indeed, strained relations and a pattern of violence between police and minority communities again provided the immediate spark for more wide-spread unrest.

References in Text:

BUNYAN, T. (1981). The police against the people. Journal of Race & Class, Vol. 23: pp.153-170.

FEKETE, L. (1988). Racist violence: meeting the new challenges. Journal of Race & Class, Vol. 30: pp.71-76.

SIVANANDAN, A. (1981). From resistance to rebellion: Asian and Afro-Caribbean struggles in Britain. Journal of Race & Class, Vol. 23: pp.111-152.

SMITH, D. & WHALLEY, A. (1975). Racial Minorities and Public Housing. London:PEP

*Susan Pashkoff is a former senior lecturer in economics (MA and PhD in Economics, New School for Social Research, Graduate Faculty), historian of political and economic thought, and a life long political activist. Susan is one of the founders of the Anti-Capitalist Meetup Series .

KayWhitlock 1 Like

This is excellent, Susan - and, unfortunately, still all too timely.

I believe this is the wave of the foreseeable future:  governments and police simply refusing to respond to such state-sanctioned violence.  It's going to take massive grassroots movement building and organizing to overcome this.

And we can.  But only if we capture the public imagination.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg moderator 1 Like

Thanks so much for this excellent piece Susan -- truly provides the larger context for the unrest..

So many parallels to made with the US.The persistence of deep racism  -- be the colonies internal or external -- the role of police/cjs as key enforcers of same and the endless stereotypes

Still have not recovered form golliwogs being sold near the old Salisbury Cathedral..