Four familes struggle to fight a racist state

There has only ever been one occasion where a British police officer has been convicted of killing a civilian while on duty, back in 1969 when two Leeds policemen were successfully prosecuted for the murder of David Oluwale. While this incident did not occur in police custody, since 1990 there have been over 1,700 deaths of people of any race in custody without a single conviction taking place (despite several inquests finding officers guilty). Since 2010, 163 people have died in or following police detainment, 13 of which were Black. Using the population count provided by the last census in 2011, this means Black people are more than twice as likely to die in police custody.

While the broader picture shows the police are given impunity regardless of the person’s race, the issue facing Black people is even more serious. They are also three times more likely to be stopped and searched by the Police (2019 saw a 19% rise in the stop and search of Black people in London), while Black children are four times more likely to be arrested than white children. For the vast majority of the Black community this is sadly nothing new, as the fight for justice and equality in the UK has been an ongoing struggle since the 1950s.

Director Ken Fero and Tariq Mehmood focussed on a small number of Black families searching for the truth in their 2001 documentary Injustice. After playing successfully on the festival circuit, the filmmakers had hoped the film would be aired on Channel 4, only to be told the broadcaster did not wish to get into a dispute with the Police Federation (Channel 4 have hardly been shy of similar in the past). Yet, a single viewing of Injustice will tell you there is nothing controversial about a film that exposes the lies and hypocrisy of the British police. It also should come as no surprise that upon release in 2001 the Federation threatened legal action against a number of cinemas only minutes before the film was due to play onscreen.

Injustice was shot over a seven year period, no doubt due to the length of time it took for the authorities to address the concerns raised by the families of Oluwashijibomi “Shiji” Lapite, Brian Douglas, Ibrahima Sey and Joy Gardner. All four were killed while in police custody, with not a single charged brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). As we have seen more recently with the Grenfell disaster, the age-old tactic often employed by the state is to drag inquiries and investigations out for as long as possible in the hope people will lose hope and give up. But even in the face of such disrespect, these families refused to be cowered and continued to stand up to those trying to silence them.

Fero and Mehmood’s film is shot with minimal fuss and is certainly more suited to the small screen, employing a female narrator to stitch together the stories of the four families. We are taken back to how each person was killed, with some of the pitiful excuses offered by police for their actions near-laughable. For example, even several eye witness accounts and the police’s own pathologist stating Brian Douglas was struck on the top of his head by a baton wasn’t enough to bring charges. In defence the police said he was struck on the shoulder and the baton ‘slipped’ upwards causing the fatal injury. That’s all it took to avoid prosecution.

Joy Gardner was gagged and bound with handcuffs and leather straps, with officers then wrapping 13 feet of adhesive tape around her head. She died shortly afterwards and no charges were raised. 27 years on and a coroner’s inquest or public inquiry has yet to be held. CS spray was fatally sprayed at close quarters into the face of Ibrahima Sey whilst being restrained on the floor. An inquiry ruled the killing to be unlawful but still no charges were brought. Shiji Lapite died in the back of a police van after being kicked, punched and choked by officers. An inquiry found the killing to be unlawful. The CPS refused to prosecute.

Various members of the respective families speak about their loved ones and the trauma they have been left with in the aftermath of the murders. You can only watch in admiration at the drive and energy reserves they possess in the face of such blatant racism and neglect, their desire to uncover the truth stronger than the arrogance being offered in return. At the same time, you are likely to sit in silent rage at not only the way they have been treated, but at once again seeing Black families being left to pick up the pieces while the police turn their backs and wash their hands of the situation.

During the making of Injustice Stephen Lawrence was murdered in cold blood with the police deliberately botching the subsequent investigation. Six years later (notice the pattern?), the Macpherson report declared the police force to be institutionally racist. The question to be asked is how much has changed in the past two decades? The answer is obvious, but Cressida Dick, the current Commissioner of Police, believes the force has since eradicated the disease from its ranks. This is despite the deaths of countless Black people in police custody during this time and the Met’s head of human resources, Clare Davies, stating that “If we continue, even with the great progress we’ve made, it would take over 100 years [for the police] to be representative of London.” Their arrogance is flagrant and undeniable. As is the pain and heartache they have inflicted on countless families. And the injustices will only continue the longer they are allowed to remain unaccountable for their crimes.

Injustice has been made available to watch for free by the filmmakers on Vimeo.

You can also sign the petition to have the film broadcast by Channel 4.

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Steven Sheehan

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

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