We’ve got a workshop coming up in Oxford on 09/04/22 at Blackbird Leys Community Centre with Oxford Copwatch, other groups, and community members who want to monitor the police in their county. The event will be starting from 2pm and our founding member John and fellow cop watcher Ahmed from our core team are heading to Oxford to deliver a workshop on Stop and Search, subject access requests, bystander intervention and how to Copwatch.
Both speakers have lived experiences of police harassment and trauma from police contact and stop and search. They will also be discussing the national phenomenon of Copwatch groups emerging across the UK and how we can work together to hold the police to account!
Here is an interview with Ahmed from 2020 with Weston Supermare Black Lives Matter to give you an understanding of his disgusting treatment by Avon and Somerset Police. We’re very pleased to say things have begun to improve for him since then and with a data protection breach claim against Avon and Somerset Police it looks like things are heading the same way for John.
It’s been eye opening and rewarding supporting both of them and we are still actively supporting others in the community who are on the sharp end of police harassment and abuse of power. In the meantime, we’re looking forward to connecting with other cop watchers on the 9th of April! This year let’s show the police what time it is.
On the 23rd of April we’ve got a community testimony day coming up with Co-POWeR at the Malcolm X community centre St Paul’s Bristol from 13.00 to 15.00. We’re also hosting a stop and search workshop with an introduction to Bristol Copwatch and the work we do in the community hosted by our founding member John, who has lived experience of stop and search and police harassment. Most importantly It’s your chance to share your views on policing during lockdown and to “help create a permanent record for future generations.”
Co-POWeR will present their findings to parliament later this year with a view of making recommendations that instigate change in how black and brown communities are policed and how we can be supported to build resilience following the pandemic.
“This Community Testimony Day will be collecting testimonies and views of BAME families and communities on the policing of emergency powers (e.g., mandatory face masks, restrictions for outdoor gatherings, etc) and how it has given rise to the over-policing of racially minoritised groups in the UK.“
The event is open to all members of the community and food & drink will be provided. All testimonies will be kept completely anonymous. You can find out more about Co-POWeR in the link here. Tickets are free and available via our events section and can also be ordered directly via Eventbrite. We look forward to seeing you on the 23rd!
By John Pegram, Bristol Copwatch founder, and caseworker
From September 2017 when I was wrongfully arrested for ‘Assault PC’ during a counter march to the EDL front group “Gays against Sharia” In Bristol to the malicious prosecution and crown court appeal that occurred the following year to a Judicial review, a high court appeal as well as being targeted by another 3 police forces it’s fair to say a lot has happened when it comes to me and my tumultuous relationship with the police. Between you and me, we’ve never got on.
I spent many of my teenage years through to my mid-twenties in and out of trouble with Hampshire police. In fact, I was stopped and searched between the ages of 16 to 27 In fact, so regularly the police used to address me by my first name. Speaking to my mum about those years she tells me that at one point I was stopped and searched almost every day.
I may not have been an angel back then, but I wasn’t always a bloody criminal. My earliest memory of being stopped by the police in Hampshire was being told I fitted the description of a suspected burglar. When asked what he looked like I was told he was mixed race. My dad hit the roof.
“It’s because he’s black!” I can still hear him like it was yesterday. It was the first time I knew I was being racially profiled. The police used to stop me for everything from riding on the pavement (is this your mountain bike son?) to walking down the wrong stretch of road (you don’t look like you come from round here).
When I was drawn into a cycle and finally found myself sent to prison for drug dealing in a nightclub my barrister accused the courts of sentencing me disproportionately. I’d been fined, received community orders but the police had kept coming and it felt like they wanted to make an example of me.
My friends and family had warned me where it was heading but back then I was being stopped so much, I decided that rebelling and being everything, the police said I was, would prove a point. The thing was, I was never very good at breaking the law.
When I saw what was happening to my life and the impact I was having on my family and those who cared about me the most I made my changes and never looked back. I broke the cycle before the cycle broke me for good. Even after I got myself back on the straight and narrow the police still never left me alone. It took martial arts to enter my life to prove my bully wrong and that people, even us mixed black boys do change.
“Stop and search the controversial police power” BBC 2019
I spent over 14 years with no convictions and had healed my life until September 2017 happened. I don’t regret taking a stand against a bunch of violent racists and I’d do it again if they came here tomorrow. In fact, after the wrongful conviction occurred in early 2018, I didn’t just appeal I carried on protesting. I think the following arrests that were then thrown out of court were a result of intelligence sharing.
I was arrested on a PACE search in London by BTP following the “Another world is possible” march in September of 2019 to protest the election of Boris Johnson whilst also fighting Avon and Somerset Police via a Judicial Review of the High court’s decision not to see my appeal to get the malicious “assault PC” conviction overturned.
This had followed a refusal to overturn the conviction in a crown court appeal the year before. The courts had ruled a verdict of “reckless contact.” The case had become a civil matter and I was represented by Bindmans LLP. We won the JR and although the High court finally saw my appeal the wrongful conviction was upheld later that year. I’d made mistakes in the past but had never been convicted of something I hadn’t done.
The original “assault PC” case was a complex one so I won’t go into the ins and outs here but you can take a look at case mine. I set a legal precedent. If anything, I take some solace in that. Going back to the London arrest, the police had singled me out for a stop and search. I was the only person of colour in my group of friends. BTP claimed my Kubotan keyring was an offensive weapon.
They also said my face covering meant I was “equipped for theft” or by police logic no doubt preparing to steal hubcaps. The police threatened to put me “on the floor.” They timed how long it took me to call them racist in the van on the way to Islington police station.
When I did they cheered and claimed I had “broken the record.” At points the institutional racism of the police is as clear as day. The case was thrown out of the crown court due to a lack of evidence. (Kubotan keyrings are not a weapon per se. BTP sent mine back to me in the post.)
In November of 2019, I was in court again for an alleged section 14 breach countering a far-right march in Dewsbury. In fact, they weren’t just far-right they were Neo-Nazis hiding behind a “patriot” front group. I was arrested and taken off the street for standing on the wrong bit of pavement. This was also thrown out of court.
Comments were made by my solicitors that I was being targeted but I pressed onwards with my life and soaked up and outright ignored police and what seemed to be intelligence team harassment. In late 2021 I discovered the DPA breach that I am going to be fundraising to take legal action over.
The police admitted in court way back in 2018 that any contact with their officer who I was convicted of assaulting was “accidental” the court said it was “reckless.” I and my legal team knew it was a miscarriage of justice.
My PNC (Police National Computer) record shows the conviction despite now being spent as being the higher end of “Assault PC” not the lower end fine I received. Avon and Somerset Police state that I punched a cop in the face in the description of the event. If it happened, I would of received a custodial sentence. In fact, I’d still be in prison now.
Don’t get me wrong, any assault charge is not a good thing to have on your record. But it’s also not a good thing to allow altered or inaccurate data to sit on a national database for over 3 years. It’s the sort of information that comes up in intelligence briefings. It can influence decision-making right down to street level.
From 2018 to 2021 I was stopped several times by the police under various powers as well as harassed and surveilled. All these events have created trauma. I’ve drunk too much to cope, worn my heart on a sleeve with the wrong people, and buried my feelings so they can’t hurt me or anyone I care about ever again.
Most importantly I’ve kept fighting for justice. In the midst of all this, Bristol Copwatch was born, it is a community project and an independent police monitoring group that is for everyone. One thing I’ve come to understand is that the law is not meant to punish us forever even if the police want you to think it is.
I know that the police must abide by data protection legislation. To consistently harass and target anyone who takes a stand against their corrupt practices speaks volumes about community relationships with the police today. I’m living proof that people can change.
On the 2nd of February, I launch my CrowdJustice fundraiser to take legal action against Avon and Somerset Police over a 2018 DPA breach that has resulted in over 2 years of harassment. I’ve also complained to the ICO.
My PNC data must reflect the court’s finding of reckless contact. Bindmans LLP will represent me and will issue a letter of claim to the police when funding is in place. (It’s tricky to get legal aid for data breaches at the best of times and unfortunately not eligible for this one which is why I am fundraising.)
I want to get my data rectified and seek compensation for the breach and the distress and trauma the police have created. Standing with me means winning with me.I know that I am not alone, and my story is yet another tale of racially and politically motivated misconduct by the police in Bristol.
It is unlawful for the police to target us based on previous criminal history. It’s unlawful but the police are vindictive, malicious, institutionally racist and must be held to account. I can see you, and this time around I really hope you can see me. Until there is justice, there can never be any peace.
Content/trigger warning: male on female violence, racism, sexual violence and police brutality.
The brutal kidnapping and destruction of Sarah Everard by PC Wayne Couzens has been a high profile case. Initially a social media campaign, and then a terrifying news story which provoked the mainstream press to briefly hold a magnifying glass up to the Met. Responses from Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick were abysmal, referring to Couzens as “a bad’un”; as if he was a troubled scruffy thing who had a habit of stealing Lucozade from the local offie, rather than a bloodthirsty police officer with a categorical history of abusing women and feminine presenting people.
Sarah Everard’s story is desperately sad, preventable, and enraging. It captured the minds and hearts of the nation throughout the earliest lockdown period, and once more recently during the unfolding of the criminal case. I wish it were as much of a freak happening as the police officers who spoke publicly on the matter claimed. In reality, Sarah’s case was seized upon to sell papers because she fit the bill of someone who the tabloids love to tell the gruesome tales of demise about.
The term used to describe this, as heartless as it sounds, is missing white woman syndrome. Whiteness, class, income, appearance, marital status, sexuality – all of these things are reasons why the press talk about victims of violent crime in a different way than their counterparts, and indeed, why some people get more police time than others. Another woman was found dead in unexplained circumstances in the same year as Sarah – Blessing Olusegun.
Blessing was a 21 year old business student from London in Bexhill for a care job. The last contact anyone had from her were text messages late at night asking people to stay on the phone with her while she went for a walk. The next morning she was found dead on the beach with her shoes and phone piled nearby. Her mother has repeatedly requested the police do their jobs and tell her what happened to her daughter.
A petition with over 8000 signatures has been signed urging the police to do so. Sussex police have released a lengthy statement professing that institutional racism has played no part in their investigation, but the stark difference in the media response as well as level of forensic investigations between the cases of Blessing Olsegun and Sarah Everard, is unmistakable.
‘Under fire: The shooting of Mrs Cherry Groce’ Kimathi Donkor 2005
Police violence isn’t a new issue, especially in communities of working class people of colour. Cherry Groce, a Jamaican mother of six children, was shot by metropolitan police in her own home on the 28th September 1985. The police were looking for her son, who they did not find, and entered the property by force. The shooting would leave Cherry paralysed and wheelchair bound until her death in 2011. Douglas Lovelock, the officer who shot her, was prosecuted, but acquitted. The shooting would spark the demonstration that became the 1985 Brixton riot.
Just days later, on October 5 1985, Cynthia Jarrett died of a heart attack during a police raid on her home in Broadwater Farm, Tottenham. Four officers searched the property after wrongfully arresting her son, Floyd Jarrett. Her daughter Patricia claimed she saw one of the officers, DC Randle, push her mother to the floor during the incident but he has always denied this. No police officer has ever been charged or disciplined for their part in the death of Cynthia Jarrett.
Sarah Reed was a woman who received abuse at the hands of the police horrible enough to turn anyone’s stomach. In 2012 she was falsely arrested and assaulted by PC James Kiddie who broke two of her ribs and beat her viciously. Caught on CCTV, Kiddie was convicted of common assault and dismissed from the police force. His punishment? 150 hours of community service.
Sarah, who had been suffering with mental health problems since the death of her baby, was later arrested and charged with GBH whilst in a psychiatric unit. Some reports say that her alleged act of GBH was in fact self defence when sexually assaulted by another patient. She was held in remand in Holloway Prison and her condition deteriorated due to a complete failure by the prison to provide the necessary medication and care for Sarah.
She was found dead on January 11, 2016. The prison would not allow her family to see her body for three days, despite telling them she had died. Marylin Reed, Sarah’s mother, has said that at one point it felt as if a prison officer was laughing at them, and that the prison ignored her attempts to support her daughter’s health before her sad death.
These are not the only women. There are many, many others. I will not include their names here not out of a lack of respect, but because I am tired of seeing articles with lists of names racked up. We run the risk when we write these lists of taking all authenticity from the individuals and rendering them to statistics and arguments. I am tired of seeing dead women on television dramas, beautiful, lifeless, glamorised, dead bodies.
We have a bizarre sickness in our patriarchal culture of both normalising violence against women and using it to sensationalize and sell news and art. If the Police are here to protect and serve, why then, are they not committed to tackle this issue? I implore you to look further into the individual stories of the women and other people senselessly abused by members of the British police forces: the internet is awash with information.
And then there is the unendingly disturbing issue of spycops. Undercover police officers deployed to gain intelligence on activist groups, largely anarchist/animal rights/protest groups. Somehow gaining intelligence, to these officers of the law, in practice meant getting into sexual and romantic relationships with women activists under false pretences. If you entirely lie about your identity and intentions to a sexual partner, that’s not consensual sex. It’s rape.
In some of these abusive relationships the officers even had children with the women. Kate Wilson has been fighting a legal battle for the last ten years, recently it was ruled by the high court that the metropolitan police are responsible for a “formidable list” of human rights violations. This is a rare victory in an ongoing grim war.
So lots of police officers treat women terribly while on the job, but what about when they’re not working, I (don’t) hear you ask? Perhaps they hang up their hats after a long difficult day but are good fathers and husbands? On the contrary, one woman every week comes forward to report their partner who works as a policeman as seriously abusing them – or their children. The allegations are not taken seriously or followed up. Does our state automatically grant those who work as police officers diplomatic immunity to abuse women and children?
And what of women who work in the police force themselves? Surely these women are safer from their colleagues, exempt from prejudice as one of the team? Apparently not. A female former superintendent has recently told radio 4 that the met is ‘very racist and misogynistic’ and that female officers are afraid to report incidents because they will be met with male officers ignoring their calls for back-up in violent incidents going forward, leaving the female officers deliberately to suffer as much violence as possible.
Whilst incredibly disturbing, this information isn’t really too surprising when we consider the fact it’s now common knowledge that Couzen’s colleagues nicknamed him “the rapist”. Matthew Scott, Kent Police’s chief constable and police and crime commissioner states on their website that “We will be there when the public need us and we will act with integrity in all that we do.”Apparently integrity, to Matthew Scott (who’s salary is £75,000) is casually allowing sexual predators to not only go unchecked, but be given power, weapons, and access to vulnerable people as part of their work.
Bristol Copwatch expresses its unending solidarity and sorrow with the families and friends of all affected by police violence. We urge all readers to challenge misogynistic attitudes and abuse wherever you can safely do so. The road is long and very difficult but please do not think that as individuals or small communities we cannot effect any change, because we most certainly can, and moreover, we have to.
Get involved with Bristol Copwatch! Bristol Copwatch is a fiercely independent grassroots community project and police monitoring organisation.
We’re holding a community meeting on Tuesday 30 November from 7.30 – 9.30 at Easton Community Centre.- Find out more about what the group does- See how you can get involved with our work- Meet new people and make connections in your neighbourhood.
This will be a friendly and informative meeting, followed by a trip to the pub so we can get to know each other! Email firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on socials to RSVP.
*UPDATE*With our event on the 30th just round the corner we just wanted to make you aware that We’ve been followed throughout 2021 by an independent documentary team called Story films They are releasing a 3 part series on the police complaints system in 2022 on Channel 4.
If you plan to attend do let us know how you feel about a film crew possibly being present. We have been very impressed with the holistic nature of the production and would say Story Films have the right attitude towards grassroots monitoring groups like ourselves. They also won’t film anyone without their consent. We are also still discussing this internally and will make a final decision tomorrow (29/11/21)
By John Pegram, Bristol Copwatch founder and case worker
The police, crime sentencing, and courts bill is rapidly approaching and holds major implications for black and brown communities across the UK. As the Institute of race relations said way back in March of this year “the race and class implications are massive and go beyond the right to protest”
To get an understanding of what the future holds for our communities we only need look back at history. Just recently I visited the outstanding War Inna Babylon at the London ICA. As moving and powerful as the exhibition is what it conveys is not only a communities fight for the truth and justice in the wake of police brutality and deaths in custody but of the continual resistance to racist and autocratic policing over the decades.
Professor of sociology and author Alex Vitale once said that “the police are not here to protect you” and as people of colour we know this to be a truth. Over the past two to three years there has been an increase in the disproportionately of stop and search nationwide. Here in Avon and Somerset we have seen a reintroduction of section 60 powers and during lockdown black people became a frequent target for fines and increasingly disproportionate and racist policing.
As a Police monitoring organisation we noted the 38% increase in the use of stop and search powers across the county (2019 to 2020 respectively) and the stark fact that black people became 6.4 times more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts. We also expressed a great deal of concern that not only did the police not acknowledge this fact but in fact outright denied its existence whilst drawing on the reactionary “more whites are stopped than blacks” trope.
Of course, this was not only infuriating but troubling for many of us. The lack of trust and public confidence in the police has become increasingly evident over the past eighteen months or so. Rather than bridge the rapidly emerging divide that exists between themselves and communities they seem more inclined to contain than protect we are currently witnessing an increasingly aggressive and militarized response to crime that has adopted the authoritarian law and order iron fist approach of the conservative leadership of this country with relish.
We need look no further than the introduction of serious violence reduction orders (SVRO ) to understand the implications. In the conservative party 2019 pre-election manifesto it was stated that “police will be empowered by a new court order to target known knife carriers, making it easier for officers to stop and search those convicted of knife crime.” However the landscape was soon to change when re-elected home secretary Priti Patel issued a consultation document proposing that anyone aged 18 or over who is convicted of an offence involving a knife or other offensive weapon could also be subjected to an SVRO stop.
We need only look at the legal definition of offensive weapon (‘any tool made, adapted or intended for the purpose of inflicting mental or physical injury upon another person’) to understand the scope and target range of SVRO powers increases dramatically on this basis as does the potential for disproportionate stop and search. The issue we face is that it has always been unlawful for a police officer to target someone based on previous criminal history. To do so allows no propensity for people to rehabilitate and change and effectively allows the law to punish us forever.
Of course, what the law states the police should and shouldn’t do and what they actually do are very different things. As a ‘mixed race black male’ (my PNC record definition) I have been stopped and searched over 50 times in my life. Upholding the once a criminal always a criminal narrative does not bridge divides or heal wounds and regain trust in the police. It creates trauma. It creates cycles and dog whistles to the reactionary elements of society as well as within the police themselves. By increasing the scope of powers that are frequently abused we are moving rapidly away from “policing by consent” and towards a model of policing from a bygone era.
As IRR stated in March “policing in the Brexit state” is a trip back in time to the 1980s. Recently, the government has said that discrimination against black people and travellers and the impact on us from the bill is “objectively justified”. They went further to state “any indirect difference on treatment on the grounds of race is anticipated to be potentially positive and objectively justified as a proportionate means of achieving our legitimate aim of reducing serious violence and preventing crime.”
This statement has massive implications for our communities and what the future of policing in the United Kingdom means for us. It’s clear that to some in the echelons of power the ends justify the means and racial profiling, stereotyping and disproportionate targeting of anyone who is deemed to be a potential criminal often it seems based solely on race alone is quite simply collateral damage.
At present black people are nine times more likely to be stopped by the police in England and Wales than our white counterparts. The police seem happy to open the doors to racist strategy without any consideration for those who are on the sharp end of such powers. Stop and search has failed spectacularly to act as an effective deterrent to knife crime and an expansion of these powers will only continue to destroy public confidence in policing.
I share the same concerns as the Criminal Justice Alliance Group that we are looking at the disruption of the lives of those who are rehabilitating in our communities and from my point of view no doubt ‘discretionary ‘ongoing vendettas by malicious racists who should never have been granted a position of authority. In late 2020 the ex-Met Police superintendent Leroy Logan said “young people feel they are over policed and under protected. They see the police as predators”.
Speak to anyone in St Pauls or Easton in Bristol and you’ll notice the general mistrust and disillusionment with the police. Communities here like those in London have a long and volatile relationship with the police and with the upcoming PCSC bill we can only expect things to become increasingly worse before they become better.
The focus on the bill in particular the goal of Kill the bill protests has primarily been to raise awareness about the attack on our civil liberties and the right to assembly. Of course like many others I completely agree that protest is a cornerstone of our democracy the fight is without a shadow of a doubt an important one.
However, it’s absolutely worth noting that other than a large amount of righteous noise being made about the impact the bill is going to have on travellers’ rights It seems that along the way the primarily white Kill The Bill protest movement seems to have forgotten about us.
Don’t get me wrong, the brutality of Avon and Somerset police during the protests earlier this year has been unforgiveable and has produced some of the most disgusting displays of state violence I have ever witnessed in my life. It’s worth remembering that when the uprising occurred at Bridewell that weekend in March following the first Kill the Bill protest a black man with a heart condition was tasered three times and violently assaulted by an armed response team in St Weyberg.
When you understand that the horrific levels of violence seen and used against peaceful protestors is used against black and brown communities far too frequently than not you realise that the police commit hate crimes against us every day. At points I’ve cringed seeing the dare I say it, middle-class trendy student “send flowers to Brixton police station please! “XR protestors take centre stage who think living in St Pauls is “edgy” and drinking in Easton is getting back to their nan’s roots but you know what? It’s their fight too. Except when they walk past a stop and search that seems a little rough because it’s not their problem.
The support work I have been involved with as a case worker and a member of Bristol Copwatch over the past 12 to 18 months has been emotional. When we’ve seen unjust convictions overturned for those we have been supporting it’s been liberating. When I’ve been called an everyday hero it’s touched my heart. It’s made me revisit my own trauma the police have created from years of stop and search harassment and most recently low key surveillance, tails and ongoing harassment because of the work I do in the community.
From what I’ve seen whilst volunteering and what I know about the police as a whole it is clear that they are unlikely to change their approach towards marginalised communities. What they put us through reflects the corrupt system they enforce. It mirrors the attitudes of those in the highest echelons of power and its something that we as people of colour should always stand together and resist.
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.