Bristol Copwatch is proud to support StopWatch RAW Summit 2021 Look out for us on the morning of the 23rd. We will be hosting a workshop on bystander intervention. A link to Eventbrite to order your tickets will shortly be available on our events page.
‘John Pegram (Copwatch) leads a workshop focusing on bystander intervention, or passive observation of a stop or arrest on the street. John takes a look at how to conduct yourself on the street and how to ‘cop watch’, what questions you should and should not ask, how to film the police and why it matters’.
“Portrait of Basquiat being welcomed by the Metropolitan Police.” Art by Banksy
John is the founding member of Bristol Copwatch and a community activist. He has been involved with anti-racist campaigning for many years and has been monitoring police since 2018. He has been on the receiving end of racial profiling and has been stopped and searched 53 times in his life.
John was dragged through the criminal justice system at a young age and understands the trap of the cycle many Black youth find themselves caught up in, he understands the trauma police can create, and is one of several members of the team who have lived experience of police harassment and targeting. We feel this event is important and empowering for communities across the UK and we look forward to making a positive contribution.
PC Benjamin Monk, of the West Mercia force, has been found guilty of manslaughter for his part in the death of Dalian Atkinson, a Black and highly talented footballer from Shropshire. This is a landmark case. In the UK there have been 1789 deaths of people either at the hands of the police, following police contact, or in police custody since 1990, and this is the first successful conviction of an officer.
Mary Ellen Bettley Smith, who was the other police officer present when Monk killed Atkinson, was charged with assault but the jury failed to reach a verdict. A retrial against her will not happen until next year. Monk is set to have a hearing at time of writing expected to bar him from serving again in the police; Bettley Smith remains suspended from the force but whether she will be allowed to return to working in the force remains unclear.
Dalian Robert Atkinson was a star footballer, born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire in 1968. He played for a number of football teams, won “Goal of the Season” on Match of the Day, and trophies in three different countries. Since his death, he has been described by those who knew him as: “just a gorgeous soul.”
He had lifetime harassment by the police” and “one hell of a football player and a top man”. On the 15th August 2016 West Mercia Police were called to the home of Ernest Atkinson, Dalian’s father. Ernest has said it was not he who phoned them, but that Dalian was amid a severe mental health crisis, and that he thought the police would be able to calm him down.
Outside of the house, Benjamin Monk tasered Dalian three times, the third of which lasted 33 seconds. Once Atkinson lay on the floor, he was kicked by Monk so hard that his boot prints were found on Atkinson’s head and Atkinson’s blood found on the laces. It has been said by a witness that she saw Monk stamp on Atkinson’s head and shout at him “Stay down.” Bettley Smith also struck Atkinson with her baton whilst he was on the floor. West Midlands Ambulance service were called at 1.45AM. At 3AM Atkinson was pronounced dead.
The case was instantly passed onto the IPCC (now the IOPC) and West Mercia police said they could not publicly comment. Five years on (the family say this is an unacceptable amount of time for it to have taken to reach trial, and Bristol Copwatch are inclined to agree) a jury has found Monk guilty of manslaughter.
Has justice been served? The problems surrounding all of this are complex and multilayered. Monk was found guilty of manslaughter, but cleared of murder. He has been sentenced to eight years in prison, just two thirds of which he will have to serve before he can be released on licence.
Bettley Smith has been referred to as “covid volunteer” by the press, instead of “assault criminal on trial” as if her volunteering somehow undoes the fact she chose to strike an injured man with her baton while he already lay on the floor. In the weeks and months following the incident, press swarmed to vilify Atkinson; describing him as being on a drink and drug fuelled binge.
West Mercia police describe one of their key values as “reducing vulnerability” and another as “problem solving”. Dalian Atkinson was a man in an acute mental health crisis; officers called to the scene should have been working to solve the problem and aware of his vulnerability, but instead he died at their hands. This clearly demonstrates an acute and terrifying failure by West Mercia police.
Bristol Copwatch would like to express our solidarity with Atkinson and his family, as well as the many other people who have lost their lives at the hands of the police. We hope that this is a step forward which can begin to set a precedent where violent and dangerous police officers are held accountable, and families of victims can begin to see some justice.
On March 6th Bristol Copwatch hosted an online event to explore the escalating levels of police violence and racism seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
We were joined by a panel of powerful speakers, including Lawrence Hoo (award-winning poet, activist and educator), Ken Hinds (Chair of Haringey’s Independent Stop and Search Monitoring Group), Siana Bangura (writer, community organiser and founder of Courageous Films) and Neal Brown (Youth and Community Engagement Coordinator for StopWatch).
Siana started us off with her story, and that of her documentary ‘1500 And Counting’ – named after the number of deaths in police custody in the UK between 1990 and 2015. Today, this number is closer to 1800, with zero convictions. Mentioning the attention that is often given to police brutality in the USA, Siana explained that she began the project to draw attention to police violence in the UK, instigated after the murder of Sheku Bayoh in Scotland. Paying homage to a number of other efforts, including the United Families and Friends Campaign, Siana highlighted for how long both racist police brutality and its resistance have existed, referring to the origin of the police as a colonial project, born out of a need to quell dissent. This is continued in the training and support the UK provide to militarised policing in other countries like Nigera, and even the USA. She also drew attention to the lack of awareness around black women’s experiences of policing, and how the effects of the pandemic have impacted those already most marginalised. She stressed how these ‘numbers’ of deaths are not just that, but lives lost, stories ended, families broken. On the topic of protest during the pandemic, Siana stated ‘for us, it’s a matter of life and death anyway’ and that the pandemic of racism has existed for generations and finished with a compelling note that police abolition is not a utopian idea, but a real possibility that should be taken seriously and actively engaged with.
Beginning with the shocking statement that he has been stopped and searched over 125 times in his life, Ken told us his story of being abused by the police and his work with young people in conflict de-escalation. Ken told us how he realised his need to step up to stop other young people being targeted like he was, and spoke to the way that the trauma from policing is internalised by those who experience violence. Ken also spoke of the impacts of intergenerational trauma from colonialism and slavery, and the way that different state processes align to form a systemic means of oppressing racialised people. Today, Ken helps young people win their cases against the police and works with young black men to heal the trauma people experience as a result of policing.
Ken left us with the acronym GO WISELY, referring to the information that police officers should (but often don’t) provide to those under a Stop and Search.
G: Grounds for the search O: Object the officer is searching for W: Warrant, particularly if the officer is in plain clothes I: Identification, proof that the officer is indeed a police officer! S: Station to which the officer is attached to E: Entitlement, any citizen being searched by a police officer is entitled to copies of all paperwork L: Legislation, the legal power which gives the officer the right to stop and search Y: YOU are being detained for the search or for the purpose of…essentially informing the citizen in no uncertain terms the purpose and nature of the search
Neal began with an overview of Stopwatch, which has existed since 2010 and is a leading voice on Stop and Search tactics, research, policy and advocacy. Neal described how the police have 19 stop and search powers, and that these are often abused. He spoke to the high levels of distress in black and ethnic communities and his experience of working with people in them, mentioning the difficulties of discussing the trauma from police violence within families. Neal works to amplifying community voices and build resilience. He also delivers youth workshops, which he sees as empowering people through using knowledge as self-defence. He stressed the importance of holding the police to account through questioning their actions, and recording your experience of being stopped and searched as evidence. He also introduced us to the app ‘YStop’, created by Stopwatch and Release, which provides an accesible means of recording and reporting experiences of being stopped and searched.
Our final speaker, Lawrence, related to us his experiences of growing up in Bristol and of the Avon and Somerset Police as a racist force that continues to be so. Stating that accountability simply isn’t served, he has seen the worst of Bristol’s police force. Lawrence drew attention to the fact that the laws made to protect people from racist violence are not being recognised, how the police operate above the law and how institutional racism is still racism and should be illegal. On his own story, he spoke about how he internalised the narrative he was told while being targeted by police: that there was no place for him in the world. He related to us some local anecdotes of police brutality, including that of Ras Judah, a 64 year old elder who was tasered in the face (tasering above the shoulders is illegal), and a mother who, last December (2020), was violently arrested by six police officers and and pepper sprayed on a bus after a dispute with the driver. He also spoke about his long campaign against the bail hostel on Brigstock Road (St Paul’s) for child sex offenders, how the bail hostel was directly adjacent to a nursery, despite sex offenders prevention orders outlawing proximity to children and the crimes that were committed against local children. This, he said, was a clear example of how working class communities of colour are marginalised and violated by the establishment.
We are so grateful to all those who attended, and were bowled over by the response. Thank you to our panellists for sharing your stories, which just went to show how important community-based action against police violence is and will be in the continued struggle for justice.
An exploration and discussion of escalating police violence and racism in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
About this Event
UK policing disproportionately targets people of colour in the UK, with a range of police powers used to target and harass communities. This meeting aims to address how long term trends of racism and police brutality have escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We will be hearing from 4 speakers;
Lawrence Hoo, an award-winning poet, activist and educator based in Bristol, and founder of CARGO films. He will speak about policing in Bristol and St Pauls from the 1980s St Pauls riots to today.
Ken Hinds, Chair of Haringey’s Independent Stop and Search Monitoring Group, will speak on the use of force and strategies to hold police forces accountable.
Siana Bangura is a writer, community organiser and founder of Courageous Films. She is the producer of ‘1500 & Counting’, a documentary film investigating deaths in custody, and will be speaking on police brutality in the UK.
Neal Brown is Youth and Community Engagement Coordinator for StopWatch. Neal will give an overview of UK stop and search, and practical information on you rights.
This event is hosted by Bristol Copwatch, a community project and police monitoring group fighting back against police brutality and abuses of power in Bristol and beyond. It’s an opportunity to engage with an experienced panel of activists and organisers, and to explore together what we can do within our community to combat police misconduct.
This event is free to attend and will take place on Zoom. We have limited numbers, so if you can no longer attend after booking a ticket, please let us know so we can give your place to someone else.