In the early hours of Monday 15 August a black man in a manic and depressed state was murdered in the street by police using a Taser stun gun, their feet and a baton. The attack wasn’t in some far off red-neck American town but in Telford, the town where the victim, retired top footballer, Dalian Atkinson, had grown up and was very well known and liked.
According to witnesses a mumbling and at times ranting Mr Atkinson ‘stumbled’ towards police and was immediately shot with the Taser weapon, there were no attempts to talk him round or restrain him by any ‘less’ violent means. One witness, Ms Paula Quinn, who lives in a first-floor flat in Meadow Close very near to the Atkinson family home has said to a reporter from the Shropshire Star that Mr Atkinson had “seemed a bit, perhaps, inebriated” and that: “As the Taser hit him in the stomach he just went ‘doof’, down like a lead balloon.” She also later described to the BBC the scene as Mr Atkinson lay on the floor: ” They were shouting and kicking so much all you could hear were the boots hitting him. Then the officer who released the Taser stepped back while the other officer still continued to kick and then I could hear him shout to the other officer that was still kicking, ‘Back off, back off, back off.’ And then the officer with the Taser asked the gentleman to put his hands behind his back and did so probably two or three times and reactivated the Taser another four or five times after that. ” Another witness, a Mr Lewis, who also lives in the street says he saw one officer draw back a foot but couldn’t see a kick land. However, Mr Lewis is adamant that a baton was used on Dalian Atkinson after he had been Tasered and was lying on the floor.
The aggressive policing methods that are being used in Britain today are not new although they mostly go unreported by the ‘free press,’ except in cases where they cannot be hidden and then we are treated to stories of how the victim deserved it or, where the police really cannot escape total blame, the old ‘one bad apple’ story where the ‘offending’ policeman is allowed to retire with pension intact.
When Dalian was killed he was a few hours away from his next hospital appointment for further dialysis for his kidney disease/failure, and he also had a weak heart and was suffering visibly from mental health problems. Any conversation with the family would have gleaned these important facts about the health of a man about to be Tasered but, of course, Dalian’s health was not something that mattered to the officers in question. They were answering a call about a commotion on the street, and here was a black man apparently drunk or drugged and ranting stumbling towards them. It is even likely that they recognised him as he was a regular visitor to the street in his expensive car and always attracted crowds as the ‘local lad done good.’
In this state can we be surprised that Dalian was Tasered? Black people are three times more likely to have a Taser used on them than whites, and a person’s mental health is also a huge factor in how likely it is for police to use a Taser on them. It has been found that 67 per cent of people who have been subject to a discharge of the stun gun suffer from mental illness. Where people are in need of care and treatment, police officers are instead turning to the weapons they have been armed with. Britain generally suffers a mental health crisis, but black men are 17 times more likely to suffer from psychotic illnesses and so face an even greater risk where policing with deadly weapons is a first response to distressed people in public.
Black people are also twice as likely to die, either in police custody or following a recent contact with the police than white people. Where both so-called lethal and non-lethal weapons and force were used which ended in a fatality, not a single conviction of a police officer has ever been secured and this very impunity for police officers involved in killings has proven itself to be a fatal policy and is by no means accidental.
Michael Naughton, a reader in sociology and law at Bristol University, has been quoted re this incident as saying: ” The evidence is clear. Whether stop and search, deaths in police custody or deaths by the police during arrest. Black men (and their families) are massively disproportionately targeted and victimised in the UK, as in the US, by a system of policing that is systemically and institutionally racist. ” The fact that poor whites and whites with mental health are also Tasered does not mean that institutional racism in the police doesn’t exist, merely that working class and ill people are also valid targets.
The Taser puts an excruciating and totally incapacitating 50,000 volts through the victim’s body and Dalian Atkinson is by no means the first fatality. According to The Guardian at least 10 others have died over the last decade in England and Wales following incidents where a Taser was used. In 2013 Jordan Begley suffered cardiac arrest after a police officer shot him with a Taser for 9 seconds. An inquest found last year that the use of the weapon contributed to his death. Just two months ago an ex-soldier named Spencer Beynon died after being Tasered by police in Llanelli.
The Taser stun gun was given to police officers in 2003 and has since been deployed with increasing regularity. Though it has been marketed as an alternative to police using firearms, since 2007 many normal officers without specialist firearms training have been allowed to carry the weapon during their patrols. In 2015 police in England and Wales used a Taser, whether to threaten or actually discharge it, a total of 10,329 times !
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) Commissioner Derrick Campbell said: ” Having carefully considered the evidence gathered so far, we are undertaking a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Atkinson’s death and the level and type of force used. Two police officers will be interviewed under criminal caution by IPCC investigators.
“As this is a criminal investigation, the IPCC is limited in the amount of information which can be released into the public domain. I would ask people to be patient during the progress of our investigation and not to add to speculation about the circumstances of Mr Atkinson’s death.
“We will keep Mr Atkinson’s family updated and our thoughts remain with all of those affected by his death .” The two officers have also been handed gross misconduct notices by their own force but as Commissioner Campbell has already added ” A criminal investigation does not mean that criminal charges will necessarily follow.”
Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Mercia force John Campion said his thoughts were “with the former footballer’s family.”
He added: “It is an important part of my role to hold the police to account.
“I want to be absolutely clear and reassure our communities that I will be doing that fairly and proportionately with regard to this incident once the full facts are available .”
All previous experience suggests that no charges against any officer will follow but what must be learned quickly among black communities in imperialist Britain is that capitalism is in crisis and contradictions among the different races within the working class is more necessary to our rulers than usual. It is time for black and white to unite and fight against our mutual class enemy, for us all to follow the old trade union adage of ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’. If black workers are not safe then white workers must turn out en masse to protect them and it must be done sooner rather than later.