Similar deaths follow at the hands of the police

In the early hours of Saturday, Rashan Jermaine Charles was pronounced dead at the Royal London Hospital in East London an hour after being pursued and apprehended by police in a “Yours Locally” shop in Hackney, East London. According to Scotland Yard, a police officer pursued Rashan on foot after he fled from a car the officer attempted to stop on Kingsland Road.  CCTV video footage documenting Rashan’s apprehension has been shared all over social media sparking disparate reactions. The video footage shows Rashan in a choke hold as the officer attempts to retrieve evidence which he had allegedly tried to swallow. The Independent Police Complaints Commission’s (IPCC) confirmed that evidence in their possession shows an object was removed from Rashan’s throat in the Kingsland shop. The Metropolitan’s Borough commander, Simon Laurence, encouraged the public to pay attention to the IPCC’s statements instead of speculating over the circumstances surrounding his death. He further reinforces that all officers know that they will be held accountable for their actions and are subject to the rule of law. The IPCC has begun an investigation using obtained CCTV footage from the shop and made a public call for witness statements. Following the death of Rashan, residents began laying flowers and lighting candles outside the Kingsland shop as well as sharing the video footage with the hashtag #JusticeForRash. On Monday 24 2017, roughly 150 campaigners joined a vigil organised by Stand Up to Racism outside London’s Stoke Newington Police Station calling for justice for Rashan’s death.

Rashan Charles’ apprehension and death is very similar to Edir da Costa’s (known as Edson); both were apprehended by police, allegedly swallowed evidence and later died. Edson, a 25-year-old father, died in hospital six days after being pulled over and arrested by Metropolitan police in Beckton, East London. Claims of police brutality causing Edson’s death are still being investigated; the IPCC conceded that the police used force and CS spray during his apprehension. What began as a peaceful protest in East London, on Sunday 25 June 2017, saw tensions mount as campaigners called for justice for Edson’s death outside Forest Gate police station, East London. Tensions spilled over and the protest resulted in the arrest of four over criminal damage and arson charges; six officers sustained injuries. Edson’s family disagreed with Scotland Yard’s assertion that he “swallowed a large quantity of drugs” contending that he ingested a small amount and died from injuries inflicted in custody. A post mortem conducted concluded that his injuries did not indicate use of excessive force. 

According to the INQUEST charity organisation, a disproportionate number of deaths in or after police custody, resulting from the use of force, are of members of the black and minority ethnic communities (BAME). According to INQUEST data, from 1990 till date, there have been 152 total BAME deaths in custody, of these, 80 were under the Metropolitan police; 13 of a total of 16 deaths from shooting were by the Metropolitan Police. The IPCC publishes lower numbers than INQUEST as they count detention and arrest deaths only. INQUEST figures place the number of BAME deaths in police custody at 10% of the total figure since 1990; only 14% of the British population identify as BAME.

According to, the IPCC’s raison d’être is to “increase public confidence in the police complaints system in England and Wales”  as a body that investigates police misconduct, complaints and appeals. However, there seems to be low levels of confidence in the IPCC following its handling of controversial cases in previous years such as the shooting of Mark Duggan in North London, 2011. In a 2016 article for the Hodge Jones & Allen law firm, Joanna Bennet asserts that the public view the commission as “merely and extension” of the police as opposed to an independent body. Moreover, it is made up of former officers and has been asserted to heavily “rely on the organisation”  it is to regulate and investigate- how independent is it? In 2016, Theresa May’s attempts to overhaul the commission were criticised as a “desperate rebranding exercise” : the enactment of the Policing and Crime Bill 2017 has brought reforms in a bid to revamp the complaints system. Many remain sceptical of the reform promises. 

Police brutality and police related deaths of males of African-American ethnicity is a harsher reality across the pond, in the USA: black males aged 15-34 are 9 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than any other American citizen according to the guardian’s The Counted database . African-Americans were killed by law enforcement at more than twice the rate of their White counterparts. Although England and Wales’ figures are not as severe as North American ones, there is great cause for concern over the growing frequency of cases of BAME maltreatment and brutality by law enforcement.

By Patience Nasieku