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Deaths after police contact show that racism is still alive

PROTESTS: Placards from campaigners who gathered at Stoke Newington police station after the death of Rashan Charles

YES, YOUNG black men have every right to fear the police.

The CCTV footage of the final moments of Rashan Charles's life has shocked many. The distressing scenes ended with a young black man ending-up lifeless following contact with the police.

Social Media, which has become a barometer for society's opinions, was awash with anger and rage but also full of comments praising the death of a supposed 'drug dealer'. There is no evidence in the public domain to suggest Charles was involved in any criminality, let alone with a big enough quantity of any substance that would amount to ‘intent to supply’. In fact, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) who are still investigating the tragedy have confirmed that the 20 year-old had paracetamol and caffeine in his throat, substances which are far from illegal. Comments strongly suggest that the age old racist stereotype of young black men being drug dealers is still prevalent.

Racism hasn’t gone anywhere. It still exists. It still festers in our society, often lingering beneath the surface, but still holds the ability to manifest overtly.

Figures produced by the Office for National Statistics show a worrying trend - hate crimes are rising year on year, however to put it all down to Brexit would be misleading and incorrect. Even beyond the hate crime statistics, since the start of the millennium the proportion of Britons who admit to being racially prejudiced has steadily risen. So, does a climate of rising racism have anything to do with the death of Rashan Charles?

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS: Stafford Scott with Esa Charles (left), father of Rashan Charles

Racism is not purely about attacks on people, vindictive thoughts or offensive comments on social media. Institutional racism, racial discrimination that has become established as normal behaviour within an organisation, also continues to chip away at the quality of life that black people can expect to have. These are the facts.

Black people with GCSEs earn 11% less than white colleagues. Black people who go to university earn 23% less. If you are black you are twice as likely to be unemployed. Even if you have a job, black workers are much more likely than white workers to be in insecure jobs and on zero hours contracts.

So, we can pretend that 'racism doesn’t exist any more' or 'we’ve moved on now' just because Love Thy Neighbour is no longer on the television, but put very simply, if you are black you are more likely to be poor, and be poor because you are black.

Racism is all pervasive, so we can’t delude ourselves and say that our criminal justice system is somehow immune to it. If you are black you are six times more likely to be subject to police stop and search powers and even if you have committed a crime, if you are black your punishment is statistically likely to be longer and harsher. Research carried out by the organisation Release found that for cocaine possession, 78% of black people are charged by police rather than cautioned, compared to 44% for white people. As David Lammy MP, who is chairing The Lammy Review (an independent review of the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system) pointed out that black men and women are 50% more likely to be sentenced to jail than white people for the same crimes.

VOCAL: Members from Hackey Stand Up To Racism protest outside Stoke Newington police station after Rashan Charles's death

In 1999, following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the MacPherson report branded the Metropolitan police institutionally racist – the question is, can the police escape that label? Stephen Lawrence was murdered when I was six years old. Like many young black people growing up in the 1990s I received racism at school, but my first understanding of what racism could lead to was the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Today however, young black people are growing up in a situation where their peers aren’t predominantly being killed by racist youths, but at the hands of police. Azelle Rodney, Olaseni Lewis, Sheku Bayoh, Christopher Alder and too many more were all black and all were found dead after police contact.

Most recently, in the space of one month, three young black men have died after police contact - Edson Da Costa, Daren Cumberbatch and Rashan Charles. Does their skin colour have anything to do with it?

Statistics speak for themselves. Despite making up only 13% of London’s population, those who self-identify as black or black British have been on the receiving end of 36% of uses of force by the police. Of the 1,620 people who have died following contact with the police since 1990, a disproportionately high number of those killed are black. In addition to this, more than 500 black and Asian people have died since 1990 after being in contact with the police or in state custody.

'At least we aren’t as bad as America', I hear them say, as if we can take comfort in such a comparison.

What is most shocking is that legitimate protests following the recent deaths of young black men at the hands of police, are smeared as riots. This is nothing more than state-sponsored tone policing, that is designed to invalidate any rightful anger communities have. This isn’t only about smearing those protesting, it is about smearing the victims.

Instead of being found with paracetamol and caffeine, Rashan Charles could have been head to toe in Class A drugs for all I care - you don’t see the police wandering around private schools and university campuses treating wealthy, white kids with such brutality.

The anger that people feel is legitimate. Even when police killings have been deemed unlawful, prosecutions have not followed. When police can act with impunity trust cannot be built.

Daniel Kebede is a London-born teacher currently based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, an activist in the National Union of Teachers and a prominent anti-racism campaigner who holds the Blair Peach Award for his anti-racism work in schools and his wider community.

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