May 2021: Plus ça change...

A year on from the murder of George Floyd by the police, how much has really changed?

Dear StopWatchers,

As we enter the summer months, we remember it’s been a year since the murder of George Floyd. His tragic death marked a seminal point in race relations here in the United Kingdom as well as in the United States. The eruption of anger from footage of the murder has brought the issue of racist policing to the attention of ever more people. It has also brought many more challenges to our quest for fairer and more accountable policing. But we continue to grow in order to meet those challenges. For example, Sony Music selected us as one of seven beneficiaries of their Justice Fund; we’ll be looking to put their investment in us to good use soon.

We received so much support from the public last year as a result of the awareness of how police brutality damages the most marginalised communities. Donations have continued to come, some from unexpected places, such as the pupils at Haberdashers’ Aske’s School in London, who kindly raised £77.88 for us this month by organising a lunchtime cake sale, as well as raising awareness by creating the hashtag #StopWatchUKTellYourStory and opening discussions with parents or siblings who had been stopped and searched in their presence.

We are grateful to them, as we are to everyone who pledged money towards fighting racial discrimination in everyday policing. Your help makes the long and arduous task that little bit easier.

Our Youth & Community Engagement Coordinator Neal Brown also delivered the first of a six-week series of ‘Know Your Rights’ type workshops to young people at a Young Offenders Unit in Enfield in partnership with Y-Stop (Youth) Lead Jesse Bernard.

Topics in this newsletter include:

  • Much reflection on police and race a year on from George Floyd’s murder, amidst the same catalogue of errors and malicious conduct

  • Police team up with Channel 4 to issue a more sympathetic brand of copaganda than Line of Duty

  • South Wales Police slaps misconduct notice on a sixth officer in the Mohamud Hassan case

  • The police’s war on drugs is failing to produce much else other than misery and racist outcomes, 50 years on from the Misuse of Drugs Act

  • And in Terrible tech, new biometrics and surveillance commissioner paves the ground for the ‘inevitable’ police use of facial recognition, with no mention of safeguards against abuses of power

Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.


George Floyd, one year on…

If you are reading this, you are almost certainly aware of the coverage marking a year since the murder of George Floyd by (now former) police officer Derek Chauvin in the United States; there is no need to recap the painful events, fresh as they still are in the global memory.

You also may have read many thought-pieces asking (then attempting to answer) how far we have come in our attempts to improve race relations in the US and here in the UK.

You may have witnessed renewed pledges from law authority figures to reflect on, learn from, and reform police conduct towards people of colour (Police Professional, 24 May).

One police chief even admitted progress over the last 12 months wasn’t happening quickly enough and across a broad enough front (The Independent, 27 May), although one wonders whether Sir Stephen House’s previous contributions to racial disproportionality in stop and search debates were helpful.

However, what we’ve witnessed in the last year has felt more like the old French expression ‘plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose’ (the more things change, the more they stay the same).

This month, the Metropolitan Police dismissed an officer who used excessive force on a teenage girl, but the Crown Prosecution Service decided he would not face criminal charges (Channel 4 News, 05 May).

This year, a man died shortly after his detainment at the hands of approximately 50 officers in Cardiff. So far, South Wales Police have issued misconduct notices to six. Mohamud Hassan’s family are still seeking the truth about what happened (Wales Online, 05 May).

More than three decades on, the families of the 96 who died at Hillsborough receive no justice for the South Yorkshire Police commanding officers in amending statements to smear the supporters (The Guardian, 26 May). Worse still, the basic narrative of events is still contested by lawyers on national radio, without immediate rebuttal (Evening Standard, 27 May).

Far from the odd isolated incident, the legacy of impunity in police culture has survived largely intact, as reports of officers holding the public they claim to serve in contempt have shown (The Mirror, 08 May). Lawyer Attiq Malik said: ‘These numbers are the tip of the iceberg – cases that end with a formal hearing. Most complaints never get that far. Many others are brushed under the carpet.’

Worrying incidents include:

  • An officer in Derbyshire sending explicit messages while having sex on the job.

  • Lancashire Police sacking a cop who posted “grossly offensive” and “bigoted” material.

  • An officer in Torquay sending an offensive mocked-up picture after the death of George Floyd in the US.

In fact, more than 1,500 police officers and staff have faced examination by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) for their conduct in the two years up to March 2020 (12 May).

Yet, between the home secretary’s intervention in the case of Daniel Morgan and findings of the infamous Sewell report, the UK government would like us to believe corruption and racism are not endemic.

In fact, they believe the police deserve even more powers, courtesy of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill (Express & Star, 09 May).

So, for all the ‘lessons learnt’ rhetoric and the analysis of what constitutes ‘progress’ since George Floyd’s murder, the actions of forces across the UK have told us that nothing has changed, because nothing has changed.

Because of the PCSC Bill, the next 12 months could herald a change for the worse. We must resist it.


Copaganda

This month saw the end of one police series that government hopes will be replaced in the public’s imagination by a campaign portraying the force in a more favourable light.

The campaign, titled Untold: The Police, features members of the public from groups that are less likely to consider a career in policing interviewing serving black, female and LGBTQ police officers about their experiences (Police Professional, 18 May).

The Home Office’s partnership with Channel 4’s TV, digital and social media channels is part of wider efforts to boost recruitment among under-represented sectors of society while meeting the recruitment target of 20,000 additional police officers over three years. Current figures show there is a long way to go to improve representation of Black officers.

However, advertorials are certainly an opportunity for the government to control the narrative in a way that they could not with series 6 of BBC drama Line of Duty, which prompted columnist Simon Jenkins to write an article outlining the ‘long, tawdry history of corruption’ blighting UK forces (The Guardian, 07 May) and deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police Sir Stephen House to respond with a rebuttal claiming that the picture Jenkins paints is ‘irresponsible, inaccurate and does nothing but insult my 40,000-plus colleagues and all officers across the country who come to work every day to try to keep people safe’ (The Guardian, 11 May).

Sir House need not worry too much though: the favourable portrayal of police violence towards the public on mainstream broadcast channels and press outlets outweighs all else, and seems unlikely to change anytime soon.


Deaths from police contact, cases old and new

Dalian Atkinson

The trial of officers charged with the death of the former Premier League forward revealed further details of the incident. Jurors at Birmingham Crown Court heard that:

  • while Atkinson was on the ground and apparently unresponsive, one officer (PC Benjamin Monk) had kicked him in the head twice with such force that the imprint of his laces was left on Atkinson’s forehead (The Guardian, 04 May)

  • data from the Taser used on ex-Aston Villa striker Dalian Atkinson showed it was activated eight times for a total of more than 80 seconds (Birmingham Live, 18 May)

PC Monk denies murder as well as an alternative charge of manslaughter. PC Bettley-Smith denies assault occasioning actual bodily harm. The trial continues.

Neal Saunders

The family of Neal Saunders, who died after being restrained by Thames Valley Police officers, have threatened legal action after the IOPC refused to investigate their conduct on either criminal or misconduct grounds (The Guardian, 04 May).
Saunders, who was presenting with acute behavioural disturbance, is later captured on body-worn camera footage telling officers: ‘I can’t even breathe.’ Lawyers for his family say he was restrained for a significant period of time.

Mohamud Hassan

A sixth police officer has been served a misconduct notice in relation to the investigation surrounding the death of Mohamud Hassan (Wales Online, 05 May).
Hassan, 24, died on 09 January after being held in police custody in Cardiff overnight, and the IOPC’s investigations into the circumstances surrounding his death are outgoing. An inquest opened on 04 March heard that a provisional cause of death was given as 'unascertained'.

Paul Reynolds

An inquest has found that the actions of security officers, including neck and prone restraint, were ‘dangerous, deliberate and unlawful acts’ which contributed to Paul’s death (INQUEST, 11 May).
The jury also found security officers did not sufficiently monitor Paul’s welfare or provide sufficient information to Suffolk police officers, who in turn ‘continued to sit up, handcuff and arrest Paul and begin to transport him to custody, despite him appearing to be “asleep” or unconscious’.
Paul Reynolds (also known as Paul Gladwell) was subject to a chokehold and prolonged prone restraint by security officers at Pontins Holiday Park in Lowestoft, Suffolk before being arrested by police whilst unresponsive on 14 February 2017. He died at James Paget University Hospital two days later.

Sheku Bayoh

Gal-dem article ‘How police corruption and press collusion shaped the death of Sheku Bayoh’ provides a detailed analysis of the underlying factors shaping not only the killing itself, but the bias in coverage of the deceased during ‘a public inquiry that has shed light on institutional racism’ (03 May).

Anthony Grainger

One Night in March tells the story of how Anthony Grainger’s partner became involved in a battle for justice after he was shot dead by Greater Manchester Police in an operation beset with errors and blunders (BBC Radio 4, 09 May).

They couldn’t breathe

Lloyd Butler, Sean Rigg, Christopher Alder, and Mikey Powell: just a few of the 1,784 people who died in police custody. An excellent Huffington Post long read (published 29 Apr) gives a voice to the families of those victims. As of today (31 May), no officer in England and Wales has been held to account for any deaths in custody since 1990.


Other news

Pandemic policing hints at a dark future: ‘When the government handed the police powers to detain and fine people under emergency coronavirus regulations last year, anti-racists warned that some communities would be disproportionately affected… Unfortunately, our predictions have been proved right’, writes Micha Frazer-Carroll in The Guardian, as she implores readers to heed the predictions of anti-racists and feminist organisers of more problems ahead ‘if we allow more sweeping police powers to be rushed through’ (03 May).

Lewisham mayor backs new Kevin Clarke mural: The mayor of Lewisham ‘strongly supports’ a new memorial to Kevin Clarke, who died after being restrained by police in Catford, in response to a letter from Black Lives Matter (BLM) UK. Clarke who had schizophrenia, died in March 2018 after being restrained by officers in a field (News Shopper, 05 May).
During his inquest, a mural dedicated to Mr Clarke was unveiled opposite Lewisham Police Station, but developer Balfour Beatty painted over it saying that the artwork was ‘unauthorised’ and that the hoardings, used for health and safety reasons, were ‘private property’.
Responding to BLM UK’s, plea to create a new mural, Damien Egan said: ‘I have asked Lewisham’s new Culture and Diversity Advisory Forum to explore with local residents and of course Kevin’s family what would be the most fitting tribute in our borough… we need all organisations, public and private, to also be relentless in their commitment to anti-racism if we’re going to make the progress we need to see’.

Misuse of Drugs Act – 50 years of failure: The rise in popularity of recreational drugs was meant to have been halted by 1971 [Misuse of Drugs Act] legislation, yet drugs remain easy to access and the UK has the highest drugs-related death rate in Europe, writes academic Ian Hamilton (Independent, 26 May).
And there is a racialised component of the so-called ‘war on drugs’ it birthed in the UK, that is linked to stop and search. For example, Black people are ‘12 times more likely’ to be prosecuted for possession of the class B drug cannabis than White people, and eight times more likely to be stopped and searched for any illicit drugs than a white person, but no more likely to be found with them (Independent, 27 May).
Transform Drug Policy Foundation gathers the voices of 50 families, activists, lawyers, politicians, and police officers calling for reform of the Act.
Another one of those voices who called for reform was Norman Pilcher, the police officer who was given the task to start the ‘war on drugs’. Law Enforcement Action Partnership UK’s video takes a brief look at his career.

A tale of two police chiefs: Newly appointed chief constable of Greater Manchester Police ‘vows to quit if force not better in two years’ The Guardian reports, promising from the outset that his officers would attend all burglaries in the region (27 May).
Stephen Watson told the newspaper: ‘I am going to pull it off because I am surrounded by thousands of really good people who really want to make a difference… If within two years this force is not in a demonstrably better place, I’ll have gone.’
Meanwhile, his Merseyside counterpart has set out a plan to look at ‘the root causes of crime’ rather than ‘just locking up the bad people’ (The Guardian, 23 May).
Serena Kennedy, who took over the role last month, said she agreed with her predecessor [Andy Cooke], who said that if he was given £5bn to reduce crime, he would put £1bn into law enforcement and £4bn into tackling poverty.

Two shows on stop and search worth viewing/hearing: In BBC World Service show The Documentary, London-based broadcaster Edward Adoo and US DJ T Storm team up to discuss the experiences of black people who are stopped and searched in their countries. Together they hear the personal stories of others from all over the world who’ve suffered the humiliation of what many who have been stopped say is apparent racial stereotyping (18 May).
Ex-footballer Jermaine Jenas presents Channel 4 programme The Truth About Police Stop And Search, which airs on the Spring Bank Holiday 31 May at 10pm.


Section 60 watch*

London

Barnet (05 May), Camden (22, 25 May), Merton (03 May), Tower Hamlets (26 May), Waltham Forest (26 May)

Surrey

Sunbury (22 May)

Thames Valley

Milton Keynes (01 May), Oxford (20 May)

South Wales

Pentwyn area of Cardiff (20 May)

* This is not a comprehensive list


Terrible tech: Privacy is a privilege

Use of facial recognition by police should not be banned and instead left to the discretion of law enforcement rather than lawmakers, the UK’s new biometrics watchdog has said (Financial Times, 03 May (£wall)).

Fraser Sampson, the newly appointed commissioner whose job it is to scrutinise how police and other authorities deploy biometrics and surveillance cameras on the public, insisted to the salmon pink broadsheet the inevitability of artificial intelligence technologies for policing purposes, believing that ‘police will have no alternative but to use facial recognition along with any other technology that is reasonably available to them.’ Employing classic arms race logic, Sampson said that ‘criminals are increasingly relying on sophisticated technology, and police “need to match their technological capability”’. The FT article noted that these views are ‘diametrically opposed to those of his predecessor, Paul Wiles’, who called for biometric regulation of policing to tackle the potential for significant intrusion into individuals’ privacy. We shan’t hold our breath for Sampson upholding even this basic principle in future.

Meanwhile, Amazon said that it will extend its ban on police use of its face-recognition technology beyond the one-year pause it announced last year (Independent, 19 May). And France's top constitutional authority rejected a key article of a new security law that could see prosecutions of people who publish photos or film footage of police officers (The Local, 20 May).

If you fear that police use of facial recognition may prove to be yet another means of state surveillance that’ll do nothing for your safety, then the recent ruling from the grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on the UK’s mass interception of online data will definitely spook you (The Guardian, 25 May):

The UK spy agency GCHQ’s methods for bulk interception of online communications violated the right to privacy and the regime for collection of data was unlawful, the grand chamber of the European court of human rights has ruled… the judges also found the bulk interception regime breached the right to freedom of expression and contained insufficient protections for confidential journalistic material but said the decision to operate a bulk interception regime did not of itself violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

Hiding in plain sight – like our prime minister’s phone number – is the government’s intention to make data privacy a privilege for a few rather than a right for all.

But every expansion of powers expands the propensity – in scope and frequency – for abusing power. As it stands, we only have the words of police officers that current facial recognition technology used meets the thresholds set in the court judgment over its use in August 2020 (Tech Digest, 24 May). Sampson may be appointed by the home secretary, but he owes it to us to advocate for the safety of our data in police hands first.


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