March 2021: Police violence is a feature, not a bug
A particularly violent month for the good people of the UK who only desire proper justice
Scenes from Bristol this month are sitting in our minds. One year on from the first of many pandemic-induced lockdowns – a year that saw many stand up and make their voices heard in the wake of the death of George Floyd – and police and state injustice has yet again moved people to take to the streets. Thankfully, evidence suggests those out there are reasonably safe from the virus.
Less so from police. Videos of officers ‘blading’ seated protestors and assaulting reporters are circulating, while Black Protest Legal Support have shared that four of their legal observers were arrested.
We believe that the strength of feeling we are witnessing against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 – and the state’s response to it – tells us that the right to protest is a powerful democratic instrument at the public’s disposal that should not be relinquished lightly. A proper understanding of this – as demonstrated by former chief constable of Durham Michael Barton – should lead one to come to the conclusion that ‘protests sometimes means people are inconvenienced’.
This month, StopWatch our youth and community engagement coordinator Neal Brown spoke at the Bristol Copwatch event about racist policing in lockdown. Co-founders Dr Mike Shiner and Dr Rebekah Delsol also spoke at panel discussions No More Tasers and the Unlawful Use of Force and Racist Police Violence respectively.
And we welcome a new member of staff to the fold! Shenna Darcheville becomes our new Voice Lead, and will get stuck into a number of projects we are planning for this year.
Topics in this newsletter include:
The tragic and disturbing events of this month bring to more people’s attention the fact that violent suppression is a core feature of policing, rather than an anomaly
More instances of police treatment of civilians give the impression that they are not here to protect you
Another tragic death adds to the growing list of deaths in or shortly after police custody
The police actually managed to achieve a 100% unlawful prosecution rate for charges brought under the Coronavirus Act failure for a full year
And in Terrible tech, reports suggest the national Snooper’s Charter is gaining momentum, while the home secretary appoints a new Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
Police violence – a feature not a bug
Ever seen a stop and search and thought – we need some more girls in here? No, us neither. March begun with a questionable publicity stunt from the Metropolitan Police, who proudly announced their ‘first all-female operation’, which saw a team performing stop and searches in south London (Guardian, 08 Mar).
Hearing about the initiative – and seeing the image of six officers surrounding a citizen as part of this so-called ground-breaking operation – we can’t help but reflect on the nature of collective struggle. Should women be pleased that the Met chose to extend the franchise of racist policing to women on International Women’s Day? How do women win by engaging in a policing practice which has been consistently deployed at disproportionate rates against ethnic minorities across the capital and country for decades?
Unfortunately, as the month unfolded, it only served to bring the struggles we share in the face of policing into uncomfortably sharp relief. Following the arrest and charge of a serving Met police officer for the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard (Guardian, 12 Mar), and the heavy-handed police response to a vigil in her name (Guardian, 13 Mar), many began to question who and what the police serve. If you are one of those people joining us for the first time, welcome.
For many of us, this – sadly – looked like business as usual. This is the same Met police whose officers ‘took selfies’ with the bodies of two women brutally murdered ‘and shared them on WhatsApp’ just last year.
And as for the treatment received by those at the vigil? Heavy-handed policing, it seems, is a feature not a bug.
Which brings us to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021. The 300+ page Bill – which has been loudly protested (more on which later) against up and down the country – looks set to, amongst other things, introduce new stop and search powers and ‘[threaten] the Gypsy and Traveller way of life’. Oh, and if you don’t like it, good luck protesting: the Bill will significantly curtail your ability to do that, handing the police ‘significant leeway to stop protests on grounds including noise and disruption to the public’ (Guardian, 16 Mar).
We'll be following these developments carefully and we encourage you to raise your objections where you can. This Bill only looks set to entrench the huge inequalities embedded in police practice further. And if this month has reminded us of anything, it’s that we need real change, not a #girlboss stop and search operation.
The police are not here to protect you
This is your friendly reminder that the police will call you an Aggravated Activist – as NetPol discovered – if you want something done about any injustices you suffer.
If you feel there is no use complaining to the police if you want something done, less still if the police themselves are in the wrong, recent stats show that you might have a point.
And they will make out you were the reason that they could not conduct their policing operations properly.
In too many instances, officers will deny having caused any harm, to the point that any independent investigation of an incident will take months, if not years.
And at the end of it all, whichever officer did it will likely get away with it.
So when a member of the force states that policing by consent is not a duty, and that ‘technically we’re crown servants, not public servants’, let it be known that they are not here to protect you.
Deaths from police contact, cases old and new
A police officer charged in connection with the death of former Premier League football legend Dalian Atkinson will be tried in court after Easter (Birmingham Mail, 04 Mar).
Atkinson died after police used a Taser during an incident near his father's house in the Trench area of Telford, Shropshire. Two officers involved in his killing, Benjamin Monk and Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, were charged following a three-year inquiry into the death of Mr Atkinson, who went into cardiac arrest in an ambulance on his way to hospital. The date for the trial is set for 26 April.
An inquest jury concluded that neglect by the police and ambulance service contributed to the death of Leon Briggs, following an eight-week investigation, held over seven years after the event (The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), 12 Mar). The IOPC state that ‘by any measure, this is far too long for a family to get answers as to why their family member died following police contact.’
Three more South Wales Police officers and one custody detention officer have been served with ‘notices of investigation’ regarding the death of Mohamud Mohamed Hassan (IOPC, 16 Mar). This is in addition to another police officer who has received an updated misconduct notice. The IOPC say that three of the notices relate to when Mr Hassan was in custody at Cardiff Bay police station, and two concern the actions of officers who attended the Newport Road address on the evening of Mr Hassan’s arrest.
Yet another person died in custody after being restrained by police in handcuffs while he was ‘unwell and distressed’ (Independent, 24 Mar). The IOPC said Met police officers responded to a report of a disturbance at an address in Haringey in north London on the evening of 18 March. He was later taken to hospital in a critical condition following the incident, where he died.
The Corona Police – specialists in failure
The police forces of England and Wales have achieved something few thought was possible – a track record worse than the track and trace system! That's right, EVERY one of the more than 200 prosecutions brought under the Coronavirus Act has, to date, been wrongly issued. Gracie Bradley of Liberty explained to BBC News how policing has not led us out of the public health crisis.
This month also saw a carer fined £200 for going for a walk fewer than 10 miles from her home – something that the good folks at Big Brother Watch note has never been illegal.
100% failure for a whole year! Hurrah! Slow hand claps all around.
The Met police have suggested they ‘could change how it deals with cannabis possession amid concerns stop and search powers damage community relations’ (Guardian, 18 Mar).
The chair of the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), Martin Hewitt, told the Guardian of the need to ‘boost racial justice in policing’, admitting that the current race crisis in policing is damaging the force’s legitimacy and effectiveness (28 Mar).
A similar worry could be said for data collection, with over three quarters of police officers (77%) saying they have seen evidence lost or destroyed according to a report by Inside Justice (Justice Gap / Daily Telegraph, 29 Mar). Two thirds also reported that they had seen ‘evidence stored incorrectly, often directly impacting the outcome of their investigations’.
Remi Joseph-Salisbury, presidential fellow in ethnicities and inequalities at the University of Manchester, writes in the Guardian about the findings from the No Police in Schools campaign report Decriminalise the Classroom., and worries that police in schools is a policy ‘emblematic of a society headed in the wrong direction’ (Guardian, 25 Mar).
Randomised controlled trials to guide police practice? There are quite a few as-yet-still-untried recommendations from the Macpherson report, but a group of experimental criminologists believe they have a better answer (WIRED, 11 Mar).
And in Ireland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland ‘failed to implement’ legal requirements for stop and search powers relating to children, according to the Court of Appeal, following a case brought by a young woman, who as a 16-year-old was stopped in a way that contravened Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights protection - ‘the right to respect for private and family life’ (Irish Times, 02 Mar).
Section 60 watch*
Parts of Ipswich (20 Mar)
Birkenhead (17 Mar)
Cardiff, Wentloog Ave (21 Mar)
* This is not a comprehensive list
As if the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill could get any worse, The Register reports that it ‘contains clauses that will allow police and others to extract data from mobile phones if the user “voluntarily” hands the device over’ (11 Mar).
Four years on from the passing of the Investigatory Powers Act, the national Snooper's Charter is coming into its own, as WIRED reports (11 Mar):
… police and internet companies across the UK have been quietly building and testing surveillance technology that could log and store the web browsing of every single person in the country.
Meanwhile, the implications of the adoption of body worn cameras in non-police fields, such as security, retail, and healthcare, are beginning to be felt (IFSEC Global, 03 Mar), just as the government appoints a new Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (Police Professional, 09 Mar). Let’s hope they never have to answer for potential catastrophes like the one where startups with contracts to supply private and public sector camera surveillance get exposed by hackers (PCMag, 10 Mar).
All together now: THIS IS WHY WE ALL NEED END-TO-END ENCRYPTION...
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