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netribution > features > reviews > Injustice

by Robert McCourt | November 9th, 2001


Dir: Ken Fero and Tariq Mehmood

Since 1969 over 1000 people have died in police custody, and only one policeman has ever been convicted. Injustice, after seven years in the making recounts the deeply emotional story of families struggling for justice after their brothers, sons and daughters have died in police custody. The screening at the Sheffield docu-fest played to a full house, but received a very different response from the audience than at previous screenings, leaving filmmakers Ken Fero and Tariq Mehmood a little startled.

Injustice begins with the story of Brian Douglas who is stopped by PC Tuffy and PC Harrison on his way home. A few hours later he is lying in hospital his body stuffed with tubes and covered in bruises, and a few days later he dies.

Beaten over the head with a US-style baton the police protested that this ‘accidental’ blow to the head was caused by the baton sliding upwards in the officers hand. Yet the testimony of medical experts suggests a different story, with the force of the blow to Brian’s head being equivalent to being dropped head first from a six storey window.

Throughout the film emotional interviews with family and friends builds a compelling case promoting Brian as an inncocent black victim of unwarranted police violence. Yet Brian is not the only victim, Joy Gardner, a vivacious and lively young women dies in her own house after police wrapped 13 feet of tape around her head. Next Wayne Douglas is arrested for suspected burglary and dies whilst being detained in Brixton police station. Having noticed that he is unwell the police call for an ambulance but when the paramedics arrive they find Wayne lying in a police cell face down, he later dies in hospital from his injuries.

With each new death, and each new story you are simply bewildered and amazed that something like this could have taken place. Even though the version of events is told purely from the families point of view the sheer number of deaths creates an alarming case against the police.

After the chilling stories of Brian, Joy and Wayne, the story of Shiji Lapite is no less incredulous. Stopped by the police for ‘acting suspiciously’ Shiji is dead within just half an hour of being detained. In the police’s defence Shiji is described by one officer as the ‘biggest, strongest most violent black man’ he’d ever seen. You would have therefore expected the police officers to have also suffered several painful injuries, but after Shiji Lapite had died from asphyxia, his neck being compressed in a stranglehold one had a small cut on his finger, and the other a bite mark on his chest.

At the trial the jury returned a unanimous verdict of unlawful killing, and the family felt that they could finally breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the men responsible for Shiji’s death would be brought to justice. Yet the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service reversed this early optimism as they declared there to be insufficient evidence for manslaughter. The families left court feeling a great sense of betrayal, and injustice, and started what became for them and later others a determined battle for justice. Shiji died before Brian Joy and Wayne and since his funeral the camera has acted as a witness to several funerals, protests, and court battles. The access and coverage that filmmakers Ken Fero and Tariq Mehmood achieve is absolutely incredible and as each story unfolds on screen you increasingly begin to sympathise and identify with the families. Yet many people in the audience felt the film suffered from to a lack of factual evidence, and biased and unbalanced reporting. In retrospect I would have liked to have heard more from the police, but as the film and the film-makers argue the story itself is so utterly convincing that any other detail would be unnecessary.

Unfortunately Injustice is not a film that is readily accessible, and the police initially threatened libel action against any cinema where it was due to be shown. It was only by throwing out the cinema management that the organisers were able to screen the film. Although the police have stopped threatening libel action it is unlikely that Injustice will be broadcast on TV any time soon as Channel 4 anxious to avoid another expensive and lengthy legal battle have turned the film down.


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