This week, the world reacted to the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, with unsettling videos depicting something which should be shocking but is far from an isolated incident: a black person suffering dangerously and ultimately – it would appear – lethal excessive force at the hands of non-black police officers. Why the citizens around did not arrested those criminal-police officers and save the life of their victim?
George Floyd joins the likes of Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and many more – black victims persecuted by a system designed to protect, their lives turned into a hashtag symbolic of the worldwide grief and anger at a broken system.
The disproportionate statistics of black people being a victim of police brutality is not exclusive to America, however, so it’s important for people (of all colour) to know how to safely navigate the law and make a stand against unlawful or excessive violence.
Abimbola Johnson – criminal defence and professional regulatory barrister at 25 Bedford Row and a co-host and co-founder of The Manifesto Read Podcast – told us: ‘Too often when we speak about racism and look for tangible examples of police brutality, our attention is taken stateside, to the numerous and frightening accounts we see in the media of unarmed black people being gunned down by officers and non-black (overwhelmingly white) members of public with the law serving to protect the killer and not the deceased.
‘However, the time has arrived for us to consider the extent of the problems we have over here in the UK.’
That’s why we spoke with experts like Abimbola and Liam Walker, a barrister at Doughty Street, to find out what you can do if you see someone in law enforcement who appears to be acting unlawfully.
Can the police stop you from filming?
If you witness an interaction between the police and a civilian that strikes you as troubling, inappropriate or dangerous, there is no legal restriction preventing anyone from filming on public land.
Liam confirmed to Metro.co.uk that the only legal restrictions pertain to terror legislation.
Section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000 states police officers can stop you filming if they believe that the video will be used for purposes of terrorism. However, police guidelines state: ‘it would ordinarily be unlawful to use section 58A to arrest people photographing police officers in the course of normal policing activities’
Whether it’s a suspected act of excessive force or a possibly illegal stop and search, it is important to help and collect evidence, but there are still things to consider.
First, focus on the actions of the police as much as possible – you are collecting evidence, so it’s important not to try to get involved or interrupt too much.
Secondly, think about the victim, and their friends and family. Don’t be exploitative.
Can you get in trouble if you refuse to stop filming?
If you are filming what you believe to be an excessive use of force by a police officer, then you’re likely fine.
The Metropolitan Police’s guidelines (put into effect by all police forces in Britain) clearly state that ‘police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel.’
The only time a police officer could try to arrest you is if your filming was obstructing the officer executing their duty.
Excessive force or an abuse of power is not in their duty, and is a crime, so you would have a legitimate defence.
What is excessive force?
This is where common sense must play a role.
The police are legally given the power to use progressive force based on the circumstances, which means that they can in fact use a large amount of force if the situation was a dangerous one.
This could be trickier to prove, but if you are filming, you have a better chance of showing that nobody was being violent or resisting arrest if that was the case.
Can you call the police on the police?
Though this might seem strange and counter-intuitive, excessive force is not in a police officer’s duty, so it is wise to have a 999 call on file recording the incident.
Should you share the video online?
Sharing videos of such acts can have a galvanising effect, as seen with George Floyd and others.
But you should consider what sharing this video could mean for others – many black people could find it triggering and distressing.
Consider, where possible, getting the video to the victim or their friends or family members. They could use it to get justice or decide to publish it themselves.
If this isn’t possible and you want to ensure justice is served, consider taking the video and filing a new police report, or seeking free legal advice from Citizens Advice on your available next steps.
Resources to help
Abimbola Johnson stressed the importance of people knowing their rights when it comes to targeted actions like Stop and Search, pointing to resources like Y Stop.
The aim of Y-Stop is to give you the tools to interact with the police safely, equipping you with all the skills and knowledge you need to handle a stop and search, know what to do if you witness a stop and search and how to work out if it’s legal.
She provided an extensive list of resources that people can engage with to better understand their rights when it comes to the law, how people can be better allies for those targeted unjustly and those concerned with racism in the legal system.