Marcia Rigg’s brother Sean Rigg lost his life in the UK, after British police restrained him in a prone position for 7 minutes. She is fighting to shed light on police aggression in the UK. Her story was featured in Elle magazine this month.
But the fight against racism is made more difficult if we continue to describe things as happening to Black people in police custody instead of being done to them.
Elle magazine has made significant efforts recently to give exposure to Black women and their experiences, but like many media outlets, the magazine demonstrates how ‘normal’ media discourses actually lend to the blaming of Black people for their oppression.
The leading sentence in this article says ‘an encounter with British police saw him restrained in a prone position for 7 minutes’. It should say ‘British police restrained him in a prone position for 7 minutes’. He did not restrain himself, and he certainly couldn’t have done so for a full 7 minutes.
Regardless of any cause for the encounter, Sean Rigg was not responsible for the brutality meted out by police in that encounter. To understand the scale of the task we are facing, we must use language that shows Black people are not responsible for the level of violence & control that they are subject to in the UK. Overpoliced & underprotected, still, in 2020.
It doesn’t matter why Sean Rigg was detained, but because it is such a common reason, I want to highlight it. The Guardian reported, “Rigg had been in the grip of a mental health crisis in 2008 and was behaving erratically, aiming karate kicks at passersby in south London, when police were called. He was restrained by officers and taken to Brixton police station, where he died.”
It is incredibly common for minorities experiencing mental health problems (themselves aggravated by racism) to be treated violently by police. Just take a look at the Institute of Race Relations reports on death in custody, and how many happen because of brutal treatment of people already in need of urgent medical care. http://www.irr.org.uk/research/deaths/
The officers were accused of failing to identify & treat Rigg as mentally ill, excessive use of restraint AND giving false evidence to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and an inquest into Rigg’s death. Despite ALL that, AND an inquest ruling in 2012 that the way he had been restrained “more than minimally” contributed to his death, Scotland Yard dismissed misconduct charges against 5 officers.