Lee Jasper Official Blog
Thursday, 15 December 2011
Deaths in police custody cut deep in the psyche of black Britons
An improvement on feeble IPCC responses to police abuse might help avoid the kind of anger shown in the summer's riots.
First published at
Thursday 15 December 2011
'What we have seen in the IPCC investigation of Mark Duggan’s shooting is an enfeebled organisation with weak ineffective leadership.' Photograph: Rex Features
For many in the black community, justice in Britain is colour coded. The inadequacy of the Independent Police Complaints Commission in relation to deaths in custody illustrates this stone cold reality.
(aka Smiley Culture),
, and the surreal and horrific desecration suffered by the
Christopher Adler family
, have left many of us reeling in shock and anger.
What we have seen in the IPCC investigation of Duggan's shooting is an enfeebled organisation with weak ineffective leadership. The overwhelming perception within black communities is that the current system of IPCC investigation and coroner inquests is so stacked against us that in effect, it protects the guilty and denies justice to the victims.
Within government, the London mayor's office and the senior ranks of the police, there is little appreciation of the depths of anger these tragic cases generate in our communities. That's because tackling racism and institutional racism are no longer considered policy priorities. The results are that the invaluable lessons learned from the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence have now been discarded as "political correctness gone mad". That fundamental mistake has cost the country dear and I fear will do so again in the future.
What's not understood is that a black death in police custody exposes the perennial faultline in relations between the police and black communities. Duggan was the fourth black man to die in suspicious circumstances this year. Since then more have died. Had political sensitivity and genuine anger relating to these tragic events been better understood then maybe the
that took place this summer could have been avoided.
Death in custody remains the one issue that can transform police and community relations in an instant, tapping deeply into the psyche of black Britons. Historically the tragic story of black men and women being detained then beaten, abused, treated like animals and dying in mysterious circumstances is an all-too-familiar experience.
It is ingrained in our collective memories. From
and lynching in America's old deep south, the brutality of the South African apartheid regime, or the beating of Rodney King – or, in the UK, the cases of
, Clinton McCurbin,
. Brutality backed up by institutionally racist organs of state that conspire to deny black people their right to justice.
Very few police officers have ever been charged, and not a single one convicted of manslaughter or murder. What we experience are the impenetrable barriers of ancient laws, lengthy and complex procedures and enormous costs that make justice an unobtainable dream.
There are some ways to try to end this cycle. One is a full and independent public judicial inquiry into deaths in police custody and the inquest process. This could help draw a line under the past 50 years that have seen family after family broken in their desperate search for the truth.
If the government refuses, then alternatively, given the significance of London, the mayor, Boris Johnson, could announce his own independent judicial inquiry. This will bring the cleansing properties of transparency to an issue mired in controversy and acrimony. For this government, moral argument about access to justice many not be enough. However there is a strong economic argument. The cost of an inquiry is cheaper than the cost of a riot.
We also need urgent parliamentary and legislative reform of the now discredited IPCC. If confidence is to be restored then the IPCC will need more powers, authority and truly independent investigators forensically searching for the truth.
In my view, though, none of this is likely to happen soon, and it is therefore inevitable that we will see more suspicious deaths followed by enfeebled IPCC investigations.
If I am right then we have not seen the last riotous disturbance; for where there is no justice, there can be no peace.
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