CONTENT NOTE: This piece will include descriptions of police violence in some detail.

by Shane Thomas

In 2008, Sean Rigg – a black man suffering from mental illness – died in police custody. Yet it’s taken nearly eight years for the case to be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service to determine whether the police officers involved should be charged and the case brought to trial.

Sean Rigg PictureThis horrific story isn’t one in a million. It’s one of millions. Many black people (and other people of colour) have at least one tale of an unjust encounter with the police. Here’s mine.

It’s curious when reminiscing about such events how certain aspects remain cloudy, yet others you vividly recollect. During my time as a student in Southampton, I arranged to meet my flatmates in the city centre. I remember wearing a coat over my hoodie, but don’t remember whether I had the hood up. I remember having my headphones in, but I couldn’t tell you what I was listening to.

What I remember with extreme clarity, however, is what happened next. Walking past Burger King, I didn’t see the arm grab me, but I felt it as I was slammed against the wall. The first thing my senses registered were the words, “Hold it there, mate!” The suddenness of it was akin to the way former tennis player, James Blake was assailed by the NYPD during the US Open last year.

My initial instinct was to physically defend myself, but as I glanced upwards I realised the man who accosted me was a police officer. This immediately changed my deportment. Despite being guilt-free, I immediately flashed through everything I had done in the past week, the past month, the past couple of years.

Trying to reconcile my predicament wasn’t easy with the long arm of the Hampshire Constabulary being both figuratively and literally against my throat. This officer knew what he was doing, positioning me in such a way where I was able to breathe, but could barely turn my head sideways. The only direction in which I could move was upward. and as I’m yet to develop the ability to fly, that option was off the table.

While a clear case of mistaken identity, at no point did I expect an amicable resolution. I was gripped with fear on numerous fronts: What would this mean for my degree? What will my mum say? Should I have indulged all those jokes in my social circle about racist police profiling? And what will my mum say? Why are all these people walking past as if they can’t see what’s happening? And for the love of god, what will my mum say??

But – as absurd as this may sound – I got incredibly lucky. The officer turned around to the civilian he was with, asking; “Is that him?!” However, the him they were looking for was mere yards away on a bike. After being corrected, the officer let me go, grabbed the guy on the bike, and wrenched him to the ground.

Finally able to regain some sense of equilibrium, I surveyed the scene. My sense of disgust at being apprehended unjustly soon changed to incredulity. The guy being arrested in front of me was white.

Demanding an explanation and an apology from the officer, he eyeballed me the way one looks at a wasp that’s interrupted a picnic, and summarily justified his actions by saying, “You’re kind of wearing the same coat.”

Thunderstruck by this fatuous reasoning, I intended to question him further. But even though his job was to now read this ostensible criminal his rights, the officer continued to look at me, and the look swiftly became a glare. A glare that indicated he had no problem with manufacturing a reason to return us to the previous state of affairs that had me against the wall of Burger King.

All I felt now was deflation. Thinking on my position, I realised there was no pathway to justice open to me. This was in a time before the ubiquity of camera phones. And what point would there be asking for the officer’s badge number? I wasn’t physically harmed, I wasn’t being arrested, and it appeared the thief had been caught. This would ultimately be recorded as a win for the police. I walked away.

As I headed towards Maplin – this is where my flatmates now were – my confusion had metastasised into fury. A friend was also there, and my explanation of this incident manifested in a flurry of words, many of them beginning with the letters “f” and “c”.

What hurt the most was the reaction – or lack of it – from people I had considered friends. My story elicited little more than a shrug. It seemed as if they thought I was joking. Their primary concern wasn’t my well-being, but to get me to stop swearing so much. Never before had their white privilege been so obvious[1].

Yet, such egregious conduct is permissible in a white supremacist framework[2]. When the presence of melanin is equated with deviance, such profiling from the police – whether formalised through stop and search, or informally through what I experienced – is inevitable, as it is assumed our dormant criminality could be activated at any moment. Police interventions serve the purpose of keeping us honest; a reminder of the potential consequences if we revert to our natural state.

1500-and-counting-film_-posterThis unceasing torrent of police violence forces the families of the slain to campaign for justice, despite their grief and heartbreak. It’s also why Siana Bangura and Troy James Aidoo are helming the documentary film, 1500 And Counting (which still needs our assistance to be funded) to interrogate how widespread abuse of police powers are, despite it being assumed as solely an American problem.

What happened to me isn’t an anomaly. It could just as easily occurred yesterday as it did 12 years ago. It could have ended with me physically harmed, or worse. So many of us have a story of being guilty in the eyes of the law until proven innocent. This story needs to change.

The 1500 And Counting crowdfunder will continue to take contributions until the 12th March.

[1] – No, I’m no longer friends with any of these people.

[2] – Ableism is at play along with racism in many of these cases.

All work published on Media Diversified is the intellectual property of its writers. Please do not reproduce, republish or repost any content from this site without express written permission from Media Diversified. For further information, please see our reposting guidelines.


“Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing Pop culture to sport, and back again“ Shortlisted for EI Arts, Culture and Entertainment commentator of the year

Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

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9 thoughts on “The Police Have Their Own Crimes to Answer For

      1. Theres been.a Gradual decrease, but the point was it took those who wanted to carry knives a few years to twig police weren’t searching them so much, the really shock is that’s that 500% increase has happened so much in the last 3 years since police stopped doing,what’s the other reason, also police dont only stop and search for knives, why do you think there’s been such a large increase of people beung stabbed in the street in the last 2 years, maybe young eaters today are more violent, or it was always ther it was just unless the person died,then the ine beung stabbed didn’t go to the police or the NHS, if they figures are right,neatly 1 in 500 people were stabbed last year, or maybe people who do it dint care if they’re caught ,as they won’t get much of a sentence,

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        1. I’m guessing this response was rushed, as grammar and spelling errors aside, it makes a number of disconnected points stated as facts. First this increase happened “so much in the last 3 years”, then there’s “such a large increase of people being stabbed in the street in the last 2 years”. In your first comment you said the increase was over 10 years. Which is it? And like I said, the ostensible phasing out of stop and search only occurred in the past year (which some forces have ignored), so none of your dates match. More pertinently, you’re commenting on a piece that isn’t even about knife crime. Or stop and search.

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          1. The increase has increased over the last 10 years but only by a little, the big increase has been in the last 3 years, up and the figures for the last 6 months haven’t been released yet.,are you sure that atop and search especially in the a set hasn’t decreased in the last 5 years, in fact the section 44 stops and section 60 ones were decreased in 2010 by the coalition,

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          2. Why sis they use a photo of stop and search at the main page for this article if it’s not about atop and search,as for the the link to the 1500 and rising

            They say a disproportionate amount of those who’ve died in custody have been victims of colour just to point out that of the 1500 people who’ve died with contact with the police in the last 26 years 13 of those deaths were unlawful and 4 were BAME one of whom, Azzele Rodeny the police officer was found to have acted in self defence whn shot him, so that’s only 12 really so that’s 3 Bame people out of 12 , so that’s 25%’ and if those 12 the IPCC found there was no case to answer of in white men Ian timlinsins case the jury also cleared the cop

            So there were 11 victims, the rest of they died lawfully weren’t victims, and do you really feel the fact that 3 of the 12 people who died with cintwct with the police were BME so that’s disproportionate ,that, it was deliberate case of targeting BME people ,I mean the fact 3 out of 12 were, hie can such small numbers be used as statistics,

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  1. Yes, I as an old fashion man, don’t like like that way to wearing hoodies, hiding their heads in and going like a ghost in the street in sunlight, Go your way upright like man, not like some inmate, then no one touch you

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    1. The link to 1500 and Counting is because they were in the process of funding their film at the time – which was a year ago (seriously, you can’t even be bothered to check the date of the piece? It was written in 2016).

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