(Article updated 24th November)
Shortly after 9pm on Tuesday 21st November, police officers responding to reports of a robbery attempted to detain a black teenager riding a bike along Southwark Park Road in Bermondsey, London.
An Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) statement claimed that during the arrest “The cyclist came off his bicycle and sustained facial injuries”. A Metropolitan Police spokesperson similarly said: “While being detained, the male came off his bicycle.”
On Thursday 23rd however, CCTV footage emerged of the moment Terrell was seemingly charged by a police officer and slammed into the doorway of a chicken shop (content warning: link to footage). It appears to show a pursuing officer tackle Terrell from his bike.
The release of the footage will likely lead to further questions levelled at the police, given their use of language to describe how Terrell sustained his injuries, opting for the more neutral ‘came off’.
Speaking to the Evening Standard, Terrell’s mother, Shereen Jones said she spoke with her son by phone just minutes before, reminding him not to break his strict 9.30pm school-night curfew.
On the evening of the arrest, Ms Jones shared the story on social media, demanding “Police brutality on young black boys has to STOP” with the hashtag #JusticeforTerrell, saying she will not be silenced. She emphasized her eldest son “is not a thug”, has no criminal record and no involvement with the police, criticizing the police officer’s actions: “The police are accusing Terrell of the robbery of A MOBILE PHONE???!!! A PHONE?!! Was all of this necessary over a phone?!!”
Shereen later described the events after the encounter with police:
“I get in the ambulance and all I can see is his face just shattered, just completely disfigured. He looked like a dead person, that’s how bad he looked. I almost didn’t recognise him. I burst into tears.”
People are rightfully calling for answers as to just how Terrell went from making his way home with friends, risking trouble from his mum if he got home late, to a hospital ward with a broken jawbone, lost teeth, abdominal pain, split lip and bruising on the brain.
Those who implore ‘wait for the facts’ are denying the very real climate of mistrust and misinformation. The use of the phrase ‘came off’ likely rang alarm bells for communities already beset by racially profiled stop and searches, with a Met Police Commissioner accused of calling for “more black boys” to be locked up.
In numerous cases, getting answers surrounding encounters with police has involved decade-long fights. An example of this fight is The United Friends and Families Campaign – a coalition of those affected by deaths in police, prison and psychiatric custody, established in 1997. These families have struggled against the British state’s devaluing of black and brown life, against legal aid cuts as well as toxic media coverage trying to justify their loved ones’ deaths. In so many of these cases, they are still waiting for a clear answer from the state as to what happened to their relatives.
Terrell’s story comes amid historical and ongoing issues of institutional racism within the police and criminal justice system as well as Britain’s deeper failure to face up to its colonial roots and dismantle its white supremacist foundations.
Award winning freelance journalist and black feminist Reni Eddo-Lodge in her latest book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, worked to decenter the focus on the US in conversations surrounding race. Her book dissects Britain from its often denied and white-washed history of colonial looting to systemic discrimination that continue to push people of color to the margins.
Similarly, the rise of Black Lives Matter UK last year prompted questions like ‘isn’t this just a problem in America?’. Print Editor of gal-dem, Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff powerfully explored exactly why the movement is needed in the UK. The article highlights the death of Sarah Reed in Holloway prison after a horrific police brutality case in 2012, Sheku Bayoh’s death under suspicious circumstances in 2015 and Mzee Mohammed, who died after being restrained by police in Liverpool – just some of the cases that show why policing and its effects on black life is an issue in the UK.
Writer, poet, and activist Siana Bangura and award-winning filmmaker Troy James Aidoo are producing a film titled 1500 And Counting, exploring the “insidious and institutionalised” racism of the UK and placing a “much needed spotlight on police brutality and the gross misconduct of our forces here on British soil.” It is named after a 2015 report by INQUEST, that revealed that since 1990 there have been at least 1,532 deaths in police custody, or following police contact in the UK. More recent data puts the figure at 1,633.
This year alone, five police officers are under investigation for the death of Edir Frederico Da Costa, 25, six days after he was detained using force and CS spray. Weeks after Da Costa’s death, a 20 year old black man Rashan Charles, died after being chased by police and restrained on the floor of a shop in Dalston, with numerous unanswered questions awaiting an inquest next year.
What those who are calling for answers rightly fear is another name, another hashtag joining the list of encounters with police forces in the UK that have resulted in little to no accountability or meaningful justice. With this history of struggle for justice, these communities are right to treat official statements with skepticism. Don’t call for families and friends to ‘wait for the facts’, the truth is they already know just how long that wait can be.
UPDATE: The Independent Police Complaints Commission, after obtaining CCTV and body-worn camera footage, have clarified that Terrell was “pushed from his bicycle by a police officer“. There still remain questions over why Terrell was targeted and an explanation for the officers use of force.
Image: ashraf mahmood