When we say Black Lives Matter, the many lives that are being campaigned for are American. British people who actively support the campaign tend to be ignorant of the many families fighting for justice over lives lost at the hands of UK policing institutions.
Ignorance regarding the UK's problem with police brutality is perpetuated by key political figures who fail to acknowledge what is happening in our society. Those who do - such as Keir Starmer- dare to address it as a ‘moment’ not a movement and dismiss the problem as something unique to American society. In reality, too many Black British lives have been lost as a result of police violence both on our streets and in prisons. To be exact, there have been 1,753 deaths in police custody or otherwise following contact with the police in England and Wales since 1990.
If we look back at all the lives lost at the hands of the police, only one story has truly gained awareness. Mark Duggan was killed by police in Tottenham. On the 4th August 2011, he was travelling home in a mini cab. Armed police were following him and performed a ‘hard stop’ to intercept the vehicle. Mark was shot twice and pronounced dead at the scene at 6:41pm. Protests have been organised since 2011, but justice is still being sought for Mark Duggan.
Deaths and harsh overpolicing on our streets are only the tip of the iceberg – I believe that there needs to be greater discussion about the lives lost behind closed doors, in police custody. There also needs to be greater discussion about the trauma young people go through at the hands of the police – whether it be the humiliation of being stopped and searched, state sexual assault through strip and search, or the pressure of constant police presence on mental health.
History gives us a deeper understanding of the UK's policing problem. Instances of racist targeting by the police were normalised in the 60s and 70s. Around this time, the UK introduced a unit called the Special Patrol Group, responsible for combating serious public disorder and crime. Their methods of policing led to the death of Blair Peach at the hands of SPG officers while she was part of an Anti-Nazi League. Such violence from police forces that aim to ‘solve crime’ is itself criminal. No SPG officers were charged.
Only now is the movement against police violence gaining the momentum it deserves. I believe it is necessary to actively support ways in which we can revolutionise law and order in Britain. I say revolutionise- because we have moved past the need to reform. An institution that is so deeply entrenched in racism is not open to reform. Organisations like the 4front are a major advocate for the defunding of the police, arguing that resources should instead be allocated to constructive social care solutions tackling the root causes of crime.
As well as defunding the police – a way of revolution that is shared between the UK and the US- prisons are a huge issue. We must promote care and not cages through real rehabilitation that delivers restorative justice and not retributive justice. The UK's government and institutions are uniquely stubborn in their refusal to be held accountable. Cressida Dick proudly declares that she does not believe in institutional racism. Such ignorance has increasingly come to define British culture, not only through apathy and denial regarding the poor state of policing, but also through denial of the horrendous colonial past. Instead, the government criminalises Black communities and creates strawman arguments concerning ‘black on black crime’. Black communities are the scapegoats for the failures of government.
There are so many brutal and saddening stories that have been ignored for too long. "The UK Is Not Innocent" needs to be a phrase repeated when discussing the UK's role in police violence and brutality. It encompasses racist police, brutal prisons, and the trauma that young Black communities go through. If we don’t actively try to promote change to ensure the healing and thriving of these communities, then who will?