In the early hours of Saturday the 22nd of July, 2017, 20-year-old Rashan Charles was tackled to the floor of a 24-hour shop by a police officer in Dalston, London. Charles reportedly then "became unwell", was taken to hospital and died shortly after.
For many Dalston residents, news of Rashan Charles' murder will not be received with surprise or confusion. His name will be added to an extensive roll call of people of colour who have died at the hands of police officers in the London borough of Hackney. There is significant context to the grief expressed last night by the mass of protesters who marched down Kingsland Road – the main artery which runs through Dalston – demanding justice for the killing of yet another black man by police.
Hackney's Stoke Newington police station hit the news in 1983 after the suspicious death of Colin Roach in the station's lobby, and the subsequent hostile treatment of Roach's family by officers. Four years later, Tunay Hassan died while detained at Dalston police station, and Trevor Monerville underwent emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain after being held in the same station, in circumstances similar to those faced by Julian Cole, who was left in a vegetative state after his arrest outside a nightclub in 2013. In 1999, a young black woman, Sarah Thomas, was held in custody at Stoke Newington police station for "acting suspiciously" outside her partner's flat (she was locked out). Two days later, Sarah died in hospital. In 2002, Kwame Wiredu was held in custody at the same station, and CCTV footage shows his lifeless body being dragged into the police van. Four hours later he was dead.
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The state's justifications for police killings of people of colour in the UK are various. Julian Cole was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence after being ejected from a club; Mzee Mohammed, who died in custody in Liverpool last year, was pursued by police for allegedly wielding a knife (the existence of which was never confirmed) and Mark Duggan was shot by police for reaching for a gun (a witness said he was reaching for his phone).
Simon Laurence, the Met's borough commander for Hackney, claimed that Charles was "trying to swallow an object". Scotland Yard said the officer involved had acted in order to "prevent [Charles] from harming himself". Investigators into the death of Edson Da Costa – who died just last month, after police officers in Beckton detained him using force and CS gas – also claim he had swallowed a "number of packages".
Many will look to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to offer accountability for Charles' death, but it's questionable whether the Commission can be relied on to obtain justice. The IPCC's 13-year history has been dogged by a string of errors in high-profile death in custody cases. In 2011, the IPCC admitted to having "inadvertently" told journalists that Mark Duggan – whose murder by police in Tottenham sparked the London riots – had fired at police. It was later confirmed that Duggan had in fact not fired at all.
A 2013 review into the IPCC's handling of the death of Sean Rigg – who died in police custody in Brixton in 2008 – revealed that the IPCC had failed to request a time-stamped version of footage from a witness' mobile phone, which depicted Rigg being restrained, handcuffed and face down for eight minutes while alive, and beyond the point of his death. The IPCC had also failed to give emphasis to the fact that the police officers who arrested Rigg did so because they refused to accept his passport as confirmation of his identity, and subsequently arrested him for theft of his own passport.
The IPCC also decided that officers who fatally shot Jean Charles de Menezes seven times in the head in Stockwell tube station in 2005 would not face a disciplinary tribunal. The IPCC acknowledged that the police had shot an innocent commuter "execution-style", and yet officers faced absolute impunity. We will never know how many other, less high-profile cases, have been bungled by the IPCC.
Last night's protest demanding #JusticeForRash delivers an incredibly clear message that the community here in Dalston is palpably aggrieved at their relentless mistreatment by the local police, which now spans half a century. Last night protesters chanted: "No justice, no peace!" Considering the rage which spilled over into riots after officers killed Mark Duggan in 2011, police up and down the country would do well to heed this warning.