The death of a black man in police custody in Minneapolis has led to a wave of protests in the United States and beyond.
In the UK, thousands marched in London, Cardiff and Manchester following the killing of George Floyd, chanting “black lives matter”.
Some have raised the issue of policing and race here, saying that black people are disproportionately likely to die in police custody.
What do the figures show?
Over the past 10 years, 163 people have died in or following police custody in England and Wales, according to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) – the body responsible for police complaints.
Death in custody is the term for anybody who dies while in the custody of the state – this could include while being detained by a police officer or while being held as a prisoner in a police station.
Of the deaths in the last 10 years:
- 140 were white
- 13 were black
- 10 were from other minority ethnic groups.
When you compare these figures to how much of the population these groups make up (as measured by the 2011 census), black people are more than twice as likely to die in police custody.
The 2011 census – the most accurate source – showed that 3% of the English population were black (though this proportion may have grown since then). Black people accounted for 8% of deaths in custody.
That isn’t the only way of looking at the figures.
There is a different picture if you look at what proportion of people arrested end up dying in police custody.
Of those arrested, 79% were white and 85% of those who died in custody were white.
Meanwhile, 9% of people arrested were black (which is disproportionally high) and 8% of those who died in custody were black.
So, over the last 10 years, a white individual who has been arrested was about 25% more likely to die in custody than a black individual who had been arrested.
Use of force
An independent review of deaths in police custody between 1989/1990 and 2008/2009 found that: “a disproportionate number of people from BAME communities (and those with mental health concerns) have died following the use of force”.
It said that between 1990 and 2009, 16% of those who died after the use of force were black – more than twice the proportion arrested.
But between 2009-10 and 2017-18, there was no ethnic breakdown on the use of force in custody-related deaths.
Over the past two years there has been. The figures show that of 39 custody-related deaths:
- 17 involved the use of force by police officers
- 11 of these deaths were of white people
- 6 were of black people – nearly a third of the total
The IOPC says, of custody-related deaths overall, it does not “necessarily mean that the use of force contributed to the death”. It says mental health or drug and alcohol problems are factors. In 2018-19, almost two-thirds of the custody-related deaths were directly linked to intoxication.
Across both sides of the Atlantic, the same pain, anger and desire for justice has been shared as harrowing footage of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in broad daylight after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly 9 minutes, circulated on the internet.
But the institutional structures that hold both countries together are not identical and many people will again be reflecting on the UK’s own uncomfortable history.
Rashan Charles, Sean Rigg, Roger Sylvester, Joy Gardner and Cynthia Jarrett are just a few names of people who died after coming into contact with police.
The Angiolini Review
In 2017, the Angiolini review of deaths in police custody concluded that improvements were needed for investigations into deaths as well as greater care for vulnerable individuals across all ethnic groups.
However, this was particularly true in relation to race and mental health issues.
“The stereotyping of young black men as ‘dangerous, violent and volatile’ is a longstanding trope that is ingrained in the mind of many in our society. People with mental health needs also face the stereotype of the mentally ill as ‘mad, bad and dangerous’,” says the review.
Inquest, a charity which focuses on police and prison deaths, said that because of this black people with mental health problems faced “double discrimination” by the police.
It also suggested that investigations needed to explore whether discrimination played a factor in the deaths of black and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals more often.
The Angiolini report says that deaths in custody are part of a broader issue for minority groups.
“Deaths of people from BAME communities, in particular young black men, resonate with the black community’s experience of systemic racism,” it concludes.
The Lammy Review
In 2017, the Lammy Review, conducted by Labour MP David Lammy, of the treatment of minority groups in the criminal justice system said many in those communities found the system was “stacked against them”.
It came almost 20 years after the review of the murder of black schoolboy Stephen Lawrence, which concluded that the Metropolitan Police was “institutionally racist”.
This inquiry led to the overhaul of the police disciplinary system, enhanced powers to inspect police forces and an internationally ground-breaking law that forced all public bodies to promote and improve racial equality.
Both reports highlight the disproportionate number of minorities – and in particular black people – at every level of the criminal justice system.
The most recent statistics from the Home Office and Ministry of Justice show:
- In 2018-19, black people were more than nine times as likely to be stopped and searched by police as white people.
- They were over three times as likely to be arrested as white people.
- They were more than five times as likely to have force used against them by police as white people.
- A quarter of the prison population comes from BAME backgrounds, despite representing just 14% of the population. In young offenders institutions, this increases to 50%.
Mr Lammy said at the time that while people from minority ethnic backgrounds were starting to break through many barriers, such as education, employment and representation, the “justice system bucks the trend”.
“Those who are charged, tried and punished are still disproportionately likely to come from minority communities.”
At the time, the government acknowledged Mr Lammy’s “sober analysis of discrepancies in how people of different backgrounds experience the criminal justice system.”
In response, the Government committed to publishing more data on race and ethnicity, including on the working of the courts, victims and offender management. It also established the Race and Ethnicity Board, which would monitor the implementation of recommendations made by the board.