Sparked by the recent police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Tony McDade, Black Lives Matter protests have swept the globe. However, there still remains the staunch belief here that police brutality against Black people is a US issue and that it doesn’t affect the UK – or at least, not as badly. Arguments such as “British police officers aren’t even armed” are hurled at Black organisers in the UK, negating the fact that Black people account for 8 percent of recorded deaths in police custody in the UK, despite forming only 3 percent of the UK population. In fact, just this month, a police watchdog announced that an investigation is underway into the death of Simeon Francis, a Black man who was found unresponsive in his cell at Torquay police station on 20th May.
The truth of the matter is that while most British police officers aren’t armed, there are specially trained authorised firearms officers who do carry guns, as well as the Ministry of Defence police and a select few other UK forces. All police forces in the UK have a firearms unit. But the invocation of the archetypal ruddy-faced British bobby walking their beat gun-less, unlike their US counterparts, remains at odds with the fact that over 1,700 people have died in police custody since 1990. You don’t need a gun to exact lethal force on another. The fact that the last time a British police officer was convicted for a death in custody was in 1969 – despite several verdicts of unlawful killing since – is all the more galling.
Ken Fero, a member of the United Families & Friends Campaign, a coalition supporting those affected by deaths in police, prison and psychiatric custody, tells VICE: “[We] welcome the focus that the brutal murder of George Floyd has put on state violence in the US, [however] we are heartened by the youth in the UK who are also making the very important point that police brutality is very real and present and dangerous in this country also.”
“This is not a new issue,” adds Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST, a UK charity that has provided specialist support for bereaved people following a state-related death for nearly four decades. “These are not isolated tragedies, but part of a systematic problem and synonymous with state violence, structural racism, injustice and impunity.”
When we think about or research the Black people who have been killed or maimed by police, we are confronted with tragic and traumatic loss. While their deaths provide critical references, the lives these people lived are often forgotten. Below, we’ve highlighted some of these lives, but this isn’t even close to an exhaustive list – never stop looking these people up, never stop supporting their families, and never ever stop saying their names.
ROGER SYLVESTER (NORTH LONDON, 1999)
30-year-old Roger Sylvester with a North Londoner through and through. Born in Islington in 1968, he was an avid Arsenal fan and worked for the borough’s council. According to friend Louise Raw, he was a “quiet man with a gentle presence, but obvious warmth”. Forever the peacemaker, his sister Tracey remembers Roger as the type to “always urge the taking of the high road”. To his cousin Beverley, he was like a brother, a best friend, and a counsellor all handily rolled into one.
Detained under the Mental Health Act in January 1999, Roger was taken to an emergency psychiatric unit in Haringey in North London where he stopped breathing after being held down on the floor by six police officers for 20 minutes. He died seven days later at the Whittington Hospital without ever gaining consciousness. In 2003, an inquest into Roger’s death returned a unanimous verdict of unlawful killing. Upon the verdict, Metropolitan Police suspended seven of the officers involved. However, the following year, the ruling was overturned and the officers reinstated. Read more about his case.
SMILEY CULTURE (SURREY, 2011)
Born in South London’s Stockwell in 1963, aspiring musician David Emmanuel gained his “Smiley” nickname during his school days, thanks to the way he chatted up girls by asking for a smile. The British reggae singer and DJ is often credited with creating a new hybrid accent with his well-known ‘fast chat’ style, as seen with his first single “Cockney Translation” and his biggest hit “Police Officer” – the latter a humorous track highlighting unfair police treatment towards Black people. His daughter Shanice McConnachie described him as a “calm and spiritual man” who “was always excited by his life and busy with where it was going”.
Smiley died from a stab wound sustained after police officers raided his house in Warlingham in March 2011. His death was investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and a 2013 inquest returned a verdict of “suicide” – it was concluded that Smiley stabbed himself. The IPCC also ruled that there was not enough evidence to justify criminal charges against the four officers present at his home that day. Read more about his legacy.
MZEE MOHAMMED-DALEY (LIVERPOOL, 2016)
Amongst those who knew him, 18-year-old college student Mzee Mohammed-Daley was known for his love of food and could often be found in search of some hearty Jamaican cooking. His mother Karla described the autistic teenager, who also lived with ADHD, as a “boisterous, colourful and imaginative” child who grew into a person who brought “joy, love and good humour” into the lives around him. As he got older, he became more and more set on emigrating to Jamaica, a desire that only grew every time he visited: “He often came back [from visiting Jamaica] with an empty suitcase as he gave away his things to family and friends out there.”
He died after being detained by eight Liverpool One shopping centre security staff and 18 police officers in July 2016. An inquest jury concluded that he died of cardiac respiratory arrest, ruling it death by “natural causes”. No disciplinary proceedings were brought against any of the officers involved. Read more about his case.
JOY GARDNER (NORTH LONDON, 1993)
Born in Jamaica in 1953, Joy Gardner’s discipline and studious mentality were instilled in her from a young age. Her mother, Myrna Simpson, remembers Joy’s childhood in Long Bay, located on Jamaica’s northern sea coast, and how she “every Sunday, without fail, went to church with her grandmother, whether she liked it or not”. She studied at St George’s College in Kingston and later worked at a parish council, where she earned the nickname “Burkey”, as a result of her maiden name, Burke. Joy first travelled to England in 1987, joining her mother in London, and by 1993, she was studying Media Studies at London Guildhall University with the hopes of becoming a journalist.
That same year on 28th July, police officers and an immigration official raided her home to detain and remove both the 40-year-old mature student and her five-year-old son, Graeme, for immediate deportation back to Jamaica. She was shackled with manacles and a leather belt, gagged and had 13 feet of surgical adhesive tape wrapped around her head and face. She died a few days later due to cerebral hypoxia and cardiac arrest. In 1995, three officers were accused of her manslaughter – one was acquitted on the directions of the judge and the other two were found not guilty by the jury. Read more about her case.
TREVOR SMITH (BIRMINGHAM, 2019)
Fifty-two-year-old transit driver Trevor Smith lived and breathed Birmingham. Known to most as “Big Trev” or “Big T”, the father-of-two was a huge Birmingham City supporter and popular face around the area. Described by many as a “Birmingham legend” and “a lovely man, always smiling”, the Blues supporter made a big impact. One friend described him as one of life’s diamonds, with a “heart as big as [his] smile”.
In March 2019, Trevor was shot dead by an armed officer in his bedroom during a raid on his flat in Lee Bank. A full inquest was provisionally set for 3 February 2020, but there do not appear to be any updates since. Read more about his case.
SARAH REED (NORTH LONDON, 2016)
“Warm, kind and loving” are the words Marylin Reed uses to describe her daughter Sarah. She reminisces over how the 32-year-old Londoner “loved to dress up in unusual, beautiful clothes”, often coming round with outfits to also dress her mother and sister in. A thoughtful person, Sarah was always concerned with including and helping others, making it feel deeply unfair that she was dealt with a number of life-changing blows. Sarah suffered severe mental issues after her baby died from muscular atrophy and both Sarah and her partner were given their daughter’s body to take to the undertakers in a cab. Her family says she never recovered.
In February 2016, Sarah was found dead in her Holloway Prison cell, where she had been remanded in order to obtain two psychiatric reports. In 2017, the inquest jury concluded that “unacceptable delays in psychiatric assessment and failures in care contributed to her death.” No action appears to have been taken against the prison or the psychiatrists involved with Sarah’s treatment. Read more about her case.
JIMMY MUBENGA (LONDON HEATHROW, 2010)
46-year-old Jimmy Mubenga was a quiet man. Described by friends and acquaintances as “articulate and composed”, Jimmy and his wife Makenda Kambana arrived in the UK in 1994 after fleeing Angola; he had become a man wanted by his country’s regime, due to having once been a student leader. Once settled in Ilford in East London, Jimmy found work as a forklift driver and helped raise his five children. Makenda describes her husband as a good family man devoted to their children: “He would do anything for the children. He would take them to school and pick them up, if I ever went to school they would all ask: 'Where is Jimmy?' Everyone knew him and he was a kind man. People liked him."
During an attempt to deport him to Angola in October 2010, Jimmy died after being heavily restrained by three G4S guards on a British Airways flight. He died of cardio-respiratory collapse after being pinned down in his seat and having his head was forced down – this was as other passengers boarded and the crew carried out the safety presentation. He repeatedly cried, from a seat at the rear of the plane, that he couldn’t breathe. In 2014, the three guards – Colin Kaler, Terrence Hughes and Stuart Tribelnig – were found not guilty of manslaughter by a jury. Read more about his case .
CHERRY GROCE (SOUTH LONDON, 1985)
A member of the Windrush generation, Dorothy “Cherry” Groce is fondly remembered as a pillar within her community. Described as a woman who “radiated positive energy”, the Jamaican mother-of-six migrated to Vauxhall in south London during her early teens. Growing up, the family didn’t have much but Lee Lawrence, her son, recalls that they were happy: “She was loving, caring and understanding, so our house was a welcoming place.” A Motown enthusiast, there was always music playing in the Groce household, thanks to Cherry’ huge collection of vinyls: “She listened to Al Green, Otis Redding and Percy Sledge – these were the characters we grew up with.” But above all, Cherry was a staunch believer in the power of the truth: “[She] believed that nothing ever happened before its time and that the truth will set you free”.
In search of one of her children, police raided her home and one of the police officers shot Cherry in September 1985. The bullet lodged in her spine, paralysing her from the waist for the rest of her life. Her shooting sparked riots across Brixton for at least two days. Cherry passed away in 2011 from kidney failure which was directly linked to her gunshot injury. The officer who shot, Douglas Lovelock, was charged with unlawful and malicious grievous bodily harm in 1987 but was later acquitted. Read more about her case.
DALIAN ATKINSON (TELFORD, 2016)
Former footballer Dalian Atkinson’s 16-year career was an impressive one – with him playing for likes of Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich Town, Fenerbache and Manchester City. His greatest moment of glory was arguably his solo wonder goal in 1992 against Wimbledon. The goal won him Match of the Day’s goal of the season in the first-ever Premier League season. His former manager, Ron Atkinson, remembers him as a popular player: “He was a really generous lad – sometimes too generous for his own good – but a good lad.” Next-door neighbour Lascelles Rose, 73, watched Dalian grow up alongside their own kids: “He went to school with my three children and I’ve known him his whole life, he was a good man who would always be friendly and say hello. I used to watch him playing football in the street and you could tell then he had something special.”
In August 2016, Dalian went into cardiac arrest after being restrained and tasered by police officers near his father’s house in Trench, Telford and died shortly after. In 2019, two officers were charged and will stand trial – PC Benjamin Monk was charged with murder and a second officer, PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith was charged with assault. Both have been suspended and are on unconditional bail awaiting their trial, which has been fixed for 14th September 2020. Read more about his case.
CYNTHIA JARRETT (NORTH LONDON, 1985)
Hailing from Clarendon, Jamaica, Cynthia Jarrett joined her husband in England in 1958 and together, they raised their family of five children in Tottenham. Her daughter Patricia reflects on Cynthia as “loving and kind to everybody”. Mr Jarrett lovingly describes his late wife as “very understandable and a lover of kids”, evidenced by the way she often looked after the children of neighbours and friends, alongside her ten grandchildren. Finding strength and solace in religion, Cynthia was a devout woman who attended her local Catholic church regularly.
In search of her son, Floyd Jarrett, police officers went to search Cynthia’s home on the Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham in early October 1985. During the search, Cynthia collapsed and died of a massive heart attack – just a week after Cherry Groce had been shot and paralysed by a police officer in South London. A shock to the community, the incident was the spark that lit the Broadwater Farm Riots, which began the day after Cynthia’s death. No police officer was charged or disciplined over Cynthia’s death. Read more about her case.
JULIAN COLE (BEDFORD, 2013)
Sport was Julian’s great passion, one ignited from a young age. At the tender age of six, Julian was a regular at his local football club and was the first child at the club to score 100 goals in a season. A “warm, friendly, cheeky” personality, Julian was popular with friends and teachers alike. He was hoping to eventually become a PE teacher or an athletics coach. To get him closer to his goal, the 19-year-old was studying sports science at the University of Bedfordshire, while competing in athletic competitions on the side.
In March 2013, Julian Cole was tackled to the ground twice outside a club – once by security guards and again by police officers. A broken neck and a spinal cord injury left Julian paralysed and severely brain-damaged – he now requires 24-hour care. A misconduct panel found that three officers involved in the arrest – Nicholas Oates, Sanjeev Kalyan and Hannah Ross – lied in statements about his condition, including saying that he walked to the police van during the arrest whereas CCTV footage shows him being dragged. All three were dismissed with no criminal charges brought against them. Read more about his case.
MARK DUGGAN (NORTH LONDON, 2011)
“Shy and clingy” is how Pam Duggan describes her son Mark Duggan as an infant. Though the father-of-six grew up in Broadwater Farm in North London, he spent his early teens with his aunt Carole in Manchester. At 17, he returned to Tottenham where he eventually began work at Stansted Airport, but according to a cousin, his aspiration was to become a firefighter.
In August 2011, the 29-year-old was shot dead in Tottenham in North London by armed police who intercepted his minicab, believing he was part of a gang and carrying a gun. An inquest jury concluded that Duggan had been “lawfully killed”, despite disputed expert evidence about whether the pistol found near his body could’ve been thrown by Duggan during the shooting. No attending officers claim to have seen Mark throw the gun in the moments after he was shot. In 2015, the IPCC cleared the firearms officers of any wrongdoing. Duggan’s death triggered the 2011 riots, “the biggest riots in modern English history”. Read more about his case.
You can support The United Families & Friends Campaign’s work by donating to their crowdfunder here. You can also support the work of INQUEST by signing their petition for legal aid for bereaved families following state-related deaths.