By Hwaa Irfan
With a sieve, there are grains that can pass through, and there are grains that cannot. Of the grains that do succeed in being of the right type, they have been relegated to become a part of the whole that will serve another’s purpose. Of those grains that do not succeed to become acceptable, they are either relieved at being able to maintain some essence of what they are, or they become wasted. Of that which has been made acceptable, there is no wholesome benefit to the masses, who will instead experience a deterioration in physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
There are those who will who will know what is being said. They may never read this, but they will know, and have known for many generations. Regardless of the problem of assimilation being cast as one of poverty and education, they will know the real reason behind the phenomenon of xenophobia in South Africa – just as the disproportionate number of black men in American prisons, just as the disproportionate number of black people, especially men in English mental institutions. It keeps being swept under the carpet, but the descendents of the African Diaspora are still living it even though it seems to be a figment of the imagination because like the grain, some have succeeded in passing through the sieve, and they in turn learn to despise what they are reminded of every time they look within, they are reminded every time they see a victim of the System. The victims are not just the descendents of the African Diaspora, but here we will look at what is remains stuck within conferences, seminars, and reports, but remains unchanged, and sincerely addressed.
By the time of the end of the 1970s, it seemed to have been a situation resolving itself, i.e. the situation that any black male (usually young), would be picked up on the basis of whatever is going on in the mind of the arresting officer, which has been officially, and by the enforcement of law been called Suspect Under Suspicion, SUS. The arresting officer(s) could never understand why a black person should feel so offended, and therefore would only see a violent and dangerous person. There has been no history of trust to allay the fears of the black male being arrested, and so without further adieu, without serious questioning, the black male would be thrown into prison, and drugged. The trouble is, in the early days, often family members did not know what had happened, where their son had disappeared to, and when they finally did see their sons, whatever relationship existed before was put asunder by the fact that in that time their son had been reduced to a zombie.
The community was vibrant then, and through the social aspects of the arts: theater, poetry and music, the community educated themselves as to what was going on. As the incidents became an everyday occurrence, members of the community became adept at finding out what the police were up to, and locating missing members of their community, if they were lucky before death in prison occurred. In reality, nothing seems to have changed, with the recent report that black people are 26 times more likely to picked up under SUS, or as it is now called SAS (Stop and Search).
U.S. civil rights activist, Reverend Jesse Jackson was so horrified at the report that he said to the British Guardian daily:
“We’ve gone through this process in our country of ethnic and religious targeting,”
“It resulted in disastrous consequences. Wherever it happens it undermines the moral authority of the democracy. It damages the image of Britain, because Britain is held in high esteem.”
The report that provided the evidence was carried out by the London School of Economics, and the Open Society Justice Initiative that found for every 60 searches carried out on every 1,000 black people, the equivalent was 1.6 for every 1,000 white people, and for every 6.3 searches made for every 1,000 Asian people. The data was compiled from the Ministry of Justice figures for 2008-2009! The problem has not remained as dire as it was in the 1970s, it has escalated from 10.7 for black people, and 2.2 for Asian people. In response to these figures, Jackson is reported to have said to The Guardian:
“It is racial profiling. It’s as fundamental as that. It is based on sight, suspicion and fear. It’s a systematic pattern. In the US it is called driving while black. In Arizona it is called driving while Latino.”
Jackson said: “People who not long ago were colonized became immigrants, and now they are citizens. It is unfinished business …”
Yes, it is unfinished business indeed!
It was only this year that developments in neuroscience demonstrated diminished empathy in a racist, when pain is being inflicted on the object of that racism; and that this diminished empathy does not apply to people for whom there is no preconceived idea. Carried out in Italy, one of the researchers,
Alessio Avenanti of the Università di Bologna observed:
“However, racial bias may suppress this empathic reactivity, leading to a dehumanized perception of others’ experience”.
This probably explains why the kind of institutionalized racism that leads to ongoing incarceration of the descendents of the African Diaspora continues today. The reasons for this goes deeper than “fitting in”, and is one which cannot be explored in this context, it is the repeated experience over a period of time of a society the action of which has created a pathology rooted in the experiences of the past.
Told to the Guardian newspaper recently, is the experience that most young descendents of the African Diaspora have “enjoyed” over 3 generations in the U.K.
“I was wearing smart trousers and a white shirt because I was going to the theatre in the evening and these police officers were looking at me”.
As 18 year old Leemore Marrett Jr. was on his way to a tap-dancing lesson six years ago.
“The next moment they all jumped out of their vehicle, about six or seven of them. They were hurling abuse at me: “What are you looking at? What are you looking at?” I was in shock at their behaviour. I asked them about Section 61, introduced after Stephen Lawrence, which means they have to say why they are stopping me.
“They just said, ‘Get in the van’. I didn’t swear, I didn’t struggle – they dragged me down to the police station where I was held for two hours until my tutor got me out.”
Marrett who is fully employed has been stopped 4 times by police so far in 2010 whilst driving. He has white friends as well as black friends, but SAS only happens on routine basis to his black friends.
“Being stopped has a negative impact, especially when you are innocent and going about your business.
“Often they don’t even give you a reason. It only takes one bad experience for everyone to start keeping their distance from the police,”
“I thought SUS was eradicated in the Eighties – evidently not.”
Marrett was lucky one could say, but it was his knowledge of the experience of Black people in the U.K. that saved, hence why he was able to refer to Section 61. Marrett mentioned Steve Lawrence the inquiry of which acknowledged that institutionalized racism was endemic within the police force, and related public services. Lawrence was an example of the worst case scenario, and that worst case scenario could mean ending physically or mentally dead, and it has not just been confined to the young descendents of the African Diaspora. Of the physical deaths within police custody according to records from 1978:
- S. Singh Grewal died in police custody in 1979
- John Eshiett died in prison while awaiting trial in 1979
- Richard Campbell died of dehydration in a remand center after being force-fed a large quantity of drugs in 1980
- Leroy Gordon died in police custody in 1980
- Winston Rose died in a police van on the way to taking Rose to a psychiatric hospital in 1981.
- Shohik Meah died in police custody in 1981
- Simeon Collins died 1 day after arrest in 1981
- Colin Roach died from a gunshot wound in police custody in 1983.
- James Ruddock died from denial of necessary medication for diabetes and sickle cell anemia in police custody in 1983.
- James Hall died in police custody in 1985.
- Cynthia Jarrett died in police custody in 1985
- Keith Hicks died in prison diagnosed with schizophrenia and epilepsy in prison in 1986
- Anthony Lloyd Powell diagnosed with schizophrenia died in prison after in injection of modecate in 1986
- Donald Chambers died in prison in 1986
- Caiphas Lemard died in police custody from non-dependent drugs in 1986
- Akhtar Moghul who could not speak English was denied medication for a heart condition died in prison in 1987.
- Clinton McCurbin died in police custody in 1987.
- Nenneh Jalloh died in police custody in 1987.
- Mohammed Parkitt died in police custody in 1987.
- Terence Brown died in a psychiatric hospital in 1987.
- Joseph Palombella died in police custody in 1987.
- Femi Adelaja died in prison from neglected care – had sarcoidosis of the heart.
- Armando Belonia died from pneumonia in prison in 1988.
- Bahader Singh died 1 hour after leaving prison in 1998.
- Oakely Ramsey died in police custody in 1988.
- Derek Buchanan died from drowning in police custody in 1988.
- David Bailet died in police custody in 1989.
- Nicholas Bramble died in police custody in 1989
- Vincent Graham died in police custody in 1989
- Edwin Carr died in police custody in 1989
- Germain Alexander found covered in bruises died in prison in 1989
- Oliver Price died in police custody in 1990.
- Vandana Patel died of a stabbing in police custody in 1991.
- Ian Gordon was shot and died in police custody in 1991.
- Orvill Blackwood died from a “calming drug” in a psychiatric hospital
- Omasase Lumumba died from a heart attack in prison in 1991.
- Arthur Allison died 4 days after arrest in police custody
- Melita Crawford died while on remand in 1992.
- Marck Fletcher detained under the Mental Health Act died from a heart attack after receiving a spinal injection in a psychiatric hospital.
- Munir Yusef Mojothi died from 2 injections of droperidol in a psychiatric hospital
- Jerome Scott died on the way to a psychiatric hospital after being given 2 injections in police custody.
- Leon Patterson died in police custody in 1992.
- Randhir Showpal detained under the Mental Health Act, and died in police custody in 1992.
- Rupert Marshall died after injected with an anti-psychotic drug in a psychiatric hospital in 1994.
- Jonathan Weekes died from pneumonia in a psychiatric hospital in 1994.
- Tyrone Wilson died in police custody in 1994.
- Oulwashiji Lapite died in police custody in 1994
- Brian Douglas died in poluce custody in 1994.
- Denis Stevens died in prison though he was wearing a restraining body belt in 1994
- Kenneth Severin died in prison in 1995
- Wayne Douglas died in police custody in 1995.
- Alton Manning died in prison in 1995
- Newton White died in a bath in a psychiatric hospital in 1996.
- Ibrahim Sey died after he was sprayed with CS in police custody in 1996.
- Ziya Bitirim died in police custody in 1996.
- Donovan Williams died in police custody in 1996.
- Dominic Otoo died in prison in 1996.
- Ahmed El-Gammel died in police custody in 1996.
- Veron Cowan died in a psychiatric hospital in 1996.
- George Bosie Davies died in police custody in 1996.
- Oscar Okoye died in police custody in 1996.
- Herbery Gabbidon died in police custody in 1997.
- Ronnine Clarke was found unconscious in prison and died in a hospital in 1997.
- Abel Mukuna died in a hospital as a result of what took place in prison in 1997.
- Lytton Shannon died in police custody in 1997.
- Christopher Alder died in police custody in 1998.
- David Bennett died in a psychiatric hospital in 1998.
- Patrick Louis died in police custody in 1998.
- Roger Sylvester died in police custody in 1999.
- Robert Allotey died in police custody in 1999.
- Sarah Thomas (aka Lai Hong Cheng), died in hospital a result of what happened in police custody in 1999.
- Asif Dad died in police custody in 2000.
- Sultan Khan was arrested after leaving a mosque, and died in police custody in 2000.
- Eugene Edigin died in a psychiatric hospital in 2000.
- Ricky Bishop was in police custody, then taken by the police to a hospital where he died in 2001.
- Lee Duvall died one day after being in police custody in 2002.
- Fosta Errol Thompson was shot by police in 2002.
- Kwame Sasu Wiredu died in police custody in 2002.
- Stuart Warwick died in prison in 2003.
- Ertal Hussein died in a psychiatric hospital in 2003.
- Michael Powell died in police custody in 2003.
- Paul Yorke died in police custody 2003.
This is by no means a complete list, long as it may seem, but it demonstrates a history. When it came to highlighting the problem, Professor Sashi Sashidharan Chair of the Government’s Mental Health Task Force faced obstacles. Although a senior psychiatrist, Sashidharan’s report “Inside Outside” was suppressed. The report found that:
- The issue of ethnicity in mental health was being marginalized in the mental health services
- Mentally distressed black people are more likely to be locked away
- Compulsory admission is higher for black and minority patients than for white people, and that compulsion is demarcated as requiring a greater amount of supervision, control and security.
The report also set up targets and benchmarks for the government to reach. In 2004, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, referred to Belmarsh Prison, which is notorious to say the least. They found that:
- The nature in which black people were being detained contributed significantly to deteriorating mental health
- That the nature of the “stay” was undetermined, and compromised access to the law therefore increasing a sense of powerlessness, which in turn increases poor mental health.
It was not until 2005, the first ethic census on 34, 000 inpatients of mental health facilities was carried out by Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, and published by the Health Inspectorate. Not news to the community, it found that black people were three times more likely to be placed in a mental hospital than the rest of the population, are twice as likely to be sent there by the police or the courts, and black people are 50% more likely to be placed in seclusion. This was survey was not in response to a community outcry, but in response to a retired judge’s allegations of institutionalized racism. The judge, Sir John Blofield had chaired the independent inquiry into the death of David Bennett who died in psychiatric care after being held face down by 4 mental health nurses for almost half an hour. From that inquiry it was acknowledged how endemic institutionalized racism is within the National Health Service, NHS, in general, and the mental health services in particular. The first ethnic-based census found that:
- 9% of mental health inpatients were black/mixed (white-black) origin.
- Black inpatients were 44% more likely to have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act
- African Caribbean mean were 29% more likely to have been subjected to physical control.
In May 2010, more information was provided using data from the Mental Health Data demonstrating that 31.8% of users of the mental health services who are patients of inpatient units were detained involuntary, and that 53.8% were black. NGO, Ethnic Health Initiative commented that this is nothing new!
The 2009-10 NHS statistics reveal that 16,622 of their inpatients were forcibly detained in hospitals under the 1983 Mental Health Act. This represents an increase of 3.5% however, the total inpatient population forcibly detained under the said mentioned Mental Health Act is 49,417. Added to this, are those who were placed on Safety Orders, which rose by 40.4% (12,300) for 2008-09 on the year 2005-06. Citizens can be detained in hospital because:
- Civil detention
- Court disposal
- Prison transfers
- Safety Order
There was an increase in the amount of patients introduced to the mental health services through the “criminal justice system” with 2,191 admitted for 2009-10, the highest in 5 years according to the annual figures of the NHS.
The 2010 amendments/updates of the 1983 Mental Health Act include additions to the uncategorized mental health states as:
- “Learning Disability not present or not primary reason for using the Act”
- “Learning Disability primary reason for using the Act”.
When Eugene Edigin was detained under the Mental Health Act in the psychiatric unit at Whittington Hospital in 2001, it was because he exhibited “erratic behavior.” No one apart from his family seemed to be aware that he had diabetes until after his death. In the case of Michael Powell, it was his family who called the police because he was behaving “erratically”. In an increasingly individualized society where people communicate sincerely less and less, means an increased likelihood of exhibiting “erratic behavior,” which seems to qualify one to be diagnosed, judged and sentenced by a system which in itself is mentally imbalance. The antipsychotic drugs used to “calm” patients significantly, which is more likely to be administered to black people increases the risk of dangerous blood clots, especially the new medications prescribed for schizophrenia and bipolar disease (clinical depression). This has been evidenced by the Nottinghamshire County Teaching Primary Care Trust, and many previous studies. This adds to the problem as evidenced by the Mental Health Act Commission’s report “Risks, Rights, and Recovery” that there is over medication within the mental health system, and that the physical needs of patients were ignored within a system which has a very high mortality rate.
The team had investigated 25,000 cases of blood clots, where 7.2 million prescriptions were made in 2009 alone.
Disregarding, health experts, campaigners, and groups, the 2007 Mental Health Act was introduced advocating the new Community Treatment Order, CTO. Of those under the Community Treatment Order (6,237) for 2008, only 1,965 were discharged, which does not represent a good success rate. The Institute of Psychiatry are against CTO’s on the basis of a study commissioned by them looking at 6 countries where CTO’s have not been of benefit. The trouble with CTO as interpreted by the Government, is that one is forced to take the medications prescribed, which might be killing you or preventing any recovery within one’s own community, which increases powerlessness even more so, because one feels there is no hope, and if one does not, then one has to go back into hospital where at least one does not even have to try and get better. This is tantamount to a mental health system that is devoid of the needs of those it professes to serve, or maybe the truth is, is that those they serve have no regard for the needs of the diagnosed mentally ill. This is borne out by the report produced by the Deaths in Custody Forum which has recorded a total of 300 deaths under the Mental Health Act for January – February 2007.
As much as health activists, NGOs, and campaigners in the U.K. have tried to get the government to address the problem on a practical level, the reality is that the government will not. It is not just a matter of the mental health system, but the penal system, and the health system that feeds into it. These three systems of institutionalized racism are made up of people that do not appear out of thin air. Racism cannot be changed by legislation, and even then to change legislation and the affected policies, requires people who are not racist. The U.K. has the widest racial gap with:
- Non-Slavs in Moscow 21.8 times more likely to face SAS
- Arabs in Paris 7 times more likely to face SAS
- African-Americans and Hispanics in New York 9 times more likely to face SAS.
Members of the British African-Caribbean communities have struggled long to make a better world, and in that struggle divisions have taken place leaving those who have their eyes on the vision in a less active state. One can resolve individual cases, and find better alternatives which there are, but the system remains fervently in place without recognizing that racism is a mental illness within itself.
What began as a Public Order Act 1994, to cope with serious violence has avalanched out of control with a draft with the Home Office moving for SAS to include the right to stop and search someone based on ethnic origin. What “ethnic origin” is supposed to mean given the makeup of British citizens may reflect why the unwillingness to restructure/dismantle the mental health system and its appendages.
Launching a campaign, civil rights activist, Reverend Jessie Jackson arrived in the U.K. within days of learning how British African Caribbeans are 26 more likely to be stopped for SAS. Stopwatch is aiming to get the British government to put an end to SAS, but it will be a long fight, as SAS allows for anyone disliked by the government to be put in the criminal justice system. Stopwatch is backed by scholars, academics, campaigners, the Open Society Justice Initiative which is financed by the billionaire George Soros.
Enough is enough!
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Carvel, J. “Black People Three Times as Likely to Be in Mental Hospital”. http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2005/dec/07/socialcare.raceintheuk
Grant, D. “Increase in Black People Detained Under the U.S. Mental Health Act”. http://www.voice-online.co.uk/content.php?show=17588
The Health and Care Information Service. “Inpatients Formally Detained in Hospitals Under the Mental Health Act 1983 and Patients Subject to Supervised Community Treatment, Annual Figures, England 2009/10”.
Docherty, C. “Racism Claims ‘Suppressed’”. http://icbirmingham.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/0100localnews/content_objectid=13462867_method=full_siteid=50002_headline=-Racism-claims–suppressed–name_page.html
Dodd, V. “Jesse Jackson: Britain’s Moral Authority is Undermined By Police Discrimination”. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/17/jesse-jackson-stop-and-search
IRR. “Factfile: Black Deaths in Custody”. http://www.irr.org.uk/2002/november/ak000006.html
Samuels. Z. “Alarm at News That Antipsychotics Increase Risks of Blood Clots”.
Townsend, M. “Black People are 26 Times More Likely Than Whites to Face Stop and Search”. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/oct/17/stop-and-search-race-figures
The 2007 Mental Health Act: A matter of life or death for Black Briton http://www.blackmentalhealth.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=257&Itemid=127