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Sun, 27 September 2020

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How will the new Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities affect racism in Britain?

How will the new Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities affect racism in Britain?

David Lammy, shadow minister for Justice, said the Commission was a “back of a fag packet plan” meant only to “assuage the Black Lives Matter protests”, writes Alexandra Ming. | PA Images

Alexandra Ming | Dods Monitoring

5 min read

The independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has been tasked with investigating how inequalities in the UK manifest in areas such as health, education, criminal justice and employment.

It was almost a month ago that Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced the membership of his new Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

Comprised of representatives from a wide range of fields, the independent group has been tasked with investigating how inequalities in the UK manifest in areas such as health, education, criminal justice and employment.

When Johnson first publicly spoke about the Commission, he said that he wanted to “change the narrative so we stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination”.

Marsha de Cordova, shadow secretary for Women and Equalities, expressed dismay at the “condescending” tone of Johnson’s statement, particularly the implication that BAME people had hitherto been playing the victim.

David Lammy, shadow minister for Justice, went even further and said the Commission was a “back of a fag packet plan” meant only to “assuage the Black Lives Matter protests”. In an impassioned radio appearance, Lammy demanded action on the numerous reviews which had previously investigated racism, and whose recommendations remained yet to be implemented.

One of the major drivers for the new Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities had been the ignition of global outrage, following the murder of George Floyd by police brutality in America.

The Angiolini Review: A Refresh                                                             

A primary example of such a review is that by Dame Angiolini, published in 2017.

Although commissioned some five years ago, Dame Angiolini’s Review into deaths and serious incidents in Police Custody rings today with a particularly stirring resonance.

In 2015, then Home Secretary, Theresa May, commissioned the Review following a meeting she held with the families of Kinsley Burrell and Olaseni Lewis.

In 2011, Kinsley Burrell died of cardiac arrest whilst detained under police custody in the Oleaster mental health unit in Birmingham. An inquest into his death found that prolonged restraint had contributed to his death; which in part had been attributed to reports that Burrell’s face had been covered by police when placed in a seclusion unit.

In 2010, Olaseni Lewis died as a result of oxygen starvation to the brain whilst receiving treatment in Bethlem Royal Hospital, Beckenham. The 23-year-old voluntarily admitted himself to hospital for mental health treatment, and one day after becoming “agitated”, police officers called to the scene used excessive restraint in ten and then 20 minute prolonged periods, leading to his death.

Findings of the Review

Although the Angiolini Review was not solely focused on race and ethnicity, findings soon necessitated that issues pertaining to discrimination were carefully examined.

IPCC statistics and casework used as evidence for the Review highlighted that a “disproportionate number of people who died following the use of force were from BAME communities”.

One suggested reason for this was the impact of negative racial stereotyping, namely wherein Black men were considered “dangerous, violent and volatile”; and the mentally ill were considered “mad, bad and dangerous”. 

Men such as Kinsley Burrell and Olaseni Lewis may have been doubly constrained under the weight of these toxic notions. Meaning both the medical institution and the criminal justice system failed to humanise them at their greatest moment of need.

Nine of the 110 recommendations made by Angiolini relate specifically to race and ethnicity.

A number asked that discriminatory issues are considered as an integral part of the IPCC’s work; that training be mandated for police bodies to confront negative stereotyping; that correlations were monitored between ethnicity and restraint-related deaths; and that data was better collected and used.

In a statement to the House of Commons, former Minister for Policing and Fire Service, Nick Hurd, expressed “sorrow and sympathy” for the families who lost loved ones in police custody.

He broadly outlined the Government’s response and noted certain vulnerable groups, such as the under-18s and the mentally ill. He did not, however, make a singular reference to race, ethnicity or racism.

Similar absences are apparent in the official Government Response, where ‘ethnicity’ was used only five times: twice in relation to Gypsy and Irish Travellers, and three times whilst listing distinguishing factors for data collection, alongside gender, perceived mental illness and age.

Addressing absences and moving forward

One of the major drivers for the new Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities had been the ignition of global outrage, following the murder of George Floyd by police brutality in America.

At first, conversations in the media had taken pains to delineate the improper use of state force as a ‘US problem’, opposed to a UK one.

Such ideas, however, were rigorously interrogated when men such as Kinsley Burrell and Olaseni Lewis were remembered alongside George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The use of force against individuals in custody, and police powers for the purpose of ‘stop and search’, were then quickly centralised in debates relating to racism in the Britain.

In light of these events, it will be interesting to see the extent to which issues relating to deaths and serious incidents in police custody are likely to reemerge in the work of the Commission.

The group are set to report back findings in the areas of criminal justice, health, education and employment by the end of 2020.

 

Alexandra Ming is the Dods Political Consultant for Health and Equalities. To download the complementary report on the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparaties click here

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