The force used on Adrian, you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. Adrian’s last words were, ‘I can’t breathe.’ And nobody took any notice. Nobody.

  - Germaine Phillips 

On 23 February we held a webinar to discuss the ground-breaking findings from our recently published report: ‘I can’t breathe: Race, death and British policing’. 

The report makes a powerful intervention and reveals how families of Black people who die following police contact cannot get accountability for racism from a system that is not “fit for purpose”. 

The webinar was chaired by Dr Patrick Williams, a Trustee at INQUEST and academic at Manchester Metropolitan University whose research specialises in racial disparity and differential treatment within the criminal justice system.  

The webinar provided an opportunity for Raekha Prasad, author of the report, to highlight the new research on the deaths of Black people following police restraint. 

She explained how inquests, police watchdog investigations and the Crown Prosecution Service fail to scrutinise the role that racial stereotypes might have played in these deaths. As a result, officers are not held accountable, racial disparities persist, nothing new is learned to prevent future deaths, and more families are bereaved.  

Raekha Prasad explained, “What's going on here is the refusal to see race in the post-death investigation processes. We found a system working against delivering accountability, one that appears blind to the evidence and where racial discrimination is not just meaningfully. So, without seeing race as an issue, nothing will be done about racism.” 

One of the people featured in the report is Adrian McDonald. He died in 2014 in the back of a police van after having been restrained by police, bitten by a police dog, Tasered and then placed in the van where he lost consciousness.  

His mother Germaine Phillips spoke at length about how the findings of the report resonated with her own experience, how she felt unable to bring up racism during the post-death investigations, the complete lack of accountability from those involved, and the isolation of families having to fight these institutions on their own.  

She said: So as a mother, how can you trust these people? Not the IPCC; not the IOPC; not the Crown Prosecution Service. Nobody. It’s very, very hurtful the way that the misconduct work is carried out. 

Echoing Germaine’s experience, Leslie Thomas KC – a human rights barrister working on these cases – spoke about the reluctance of the UK legal profession to acknowledge racism in death investigations and the historical context from which this stems.  

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, emphasised the need to develop focused investigation and oversight of deaths to address racism and policing and public services and respond to repeated state failures. In the end, however, she highlighted the need for “real and sustainable change” which enables social and racial justice.  

INQUEST is calling for the diversion of resources away from policing and the criminal justice system and into communities to properly resourced welfare, health, housing, education and social care.