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Black people seven times more likely to die after police restraint

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The report from the Inquest charity revealed data that has not been made public before
Issue 2843
Met police officer

Report finds further evidence of rampant police racism (Picture: Yukiko Matsuoka)

Black people are seven times more likely to die than white people after being restrained by police, according to a new report by charity Inquest.

The report I Can’t Breathe: Race, Death and British Policing revealed data that has not been made public before. This includes the total deaths following restraint and the racial disproportionality figures of these.

Five bereaved families were interviewed for the report. Marcia Rigg, sister of Sean Rigg, who died in police custody in south London in 2008, said, “I hear the officers on the witness stand and the pattern is that the police are scared of black men. He was so strong, we were sweating, he was resisting’ they said. It’s nonsense. We’re not stronger than anybody else. We’re just trying to breathe, because somebody is on your neck.” 

Carla Cumberbatch, sister of Darren Cumberbatch, who died nine days after excessive force was used on him by police in Nuneaton, said “Darren died because he was a black man. 

“He wasn’t acting violently or threateningly. He was scared. It was a medical emergency. Instead of calling an ambulance – they called for backup.”

From 2012-13 to 2020-21 there were 119 deaths involving police contact and restraint. In total 86 were white people and 23 were black. Just 7.5 percent of the population is black, compared to 86 percent white. So black people are four times more likely to die than the proportion of the population they represent and seven times more likely to die than white people when restraint was involved.

Inquest works with bereaved families whose relatives have died after contact with the police or state bodies. It said, “Families of black people who die following police contact cannot get accountability for racism from a system that is not ‘fit for purpose’.”

The report investigated the processes, procedures and evidence base of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) to examine how accountability for racism is delivered.  Inquest adds it “found a system which works against delivering accountability, that appeared blind to the evidence and where racial discrimination was not addressed meaningfully.”

The report also found that no officer has ever been found to have acted in a racist or discriminatory way following the death of a black person after contact with police. And that no death of a black person following police custody or contact has led to officers being disciplined for racism at a conduct or criminal level. 

The report’s analysis of official data from the IOPC found that the categorisation of certain deaths is obscuring the extent of racial disproportionality. It excludes some restraint-related deaths of black men. 

One set of official data covered deaths in custody where restraint was involved, but fatalities were placed in a different category labelled “other”. This covered deaths after contact with police where the person was not in police custody.

So, for example, the cases of Dalian Atkinson, Edson Da Costa, and Rashan Charles fall into the other category and aren’t counted in the custody data because they were never arrested. In 2021 former West Mercia cop Benjamin Monk was found guilty of the manslaughter of Dalian. He was the first officer to be found guilty of killing someone in custody for over 30 years.

Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, said, “The evidence is stark. Deeply rooted patterns of systemic racism, across police forces and across time, are resulting in disproportionate numbers of deaths of black men following the use of restraint.  Investigation and oversight bodies are failing to examine the potential role of race and racism in deaths involving police. This renders racism invisible in the official narratives and prevents justice, accountability and change.  

“Institutional racism is embedded in police culture and practice which equates black men with dangerousness and criminality.”

The police and the “independent” bodies that govern it are built on racism. Abolishing the institution is the only way to stop black people dying after contact with the cops.

  • Read the report here

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