Death in Custody

jmp Black History Month

CAWR’s Black History Month 2021: Death in Custody and Activist’s reflection

Death in Custody

The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) hosted a film night to mark Black History Month 2021. We screened Death in Custody, which is produced by British Broadcaster Darcus Howe, and which details the story of Clinton McCurbin, who died at the hands of the Police in 1987 while being arrested for alleged shoplifting and use of a stolen credit card in Wolverhampton in the West Midlands.

Following the screening, community activist Simeon Green (who was also with is in 2015) a community activist and features in the film) hosted a Q & A.

Death in Custody: On Friday, February 20th 1987, the police responded to a call from a shop assistant working in the NEXT clothing located in the main shopping centre in Wolverhampton, West Midlands. The shop assistant claimed that a young Black man was attempting to use what they believed to be a stolen credit card. Two police officers arrived on the scene. Aided by a member of the public, who held on to the young man’s legs, one officer laid across the suspect’s middle, while the other held him in a choke hold? The young man, 24-year-old Clinton McCurbin, died from what the coroner ruled to be Asphyxiation. At the time of the incident, Simeon Greene was walking down the street and approached by an elderly Black woman pointing in the direction of the shop and shouting, ‘the police are killing a young Black chap, they are killing him, they are killing him’!

When Simeon became aware of the details surrounding the police murder of George Floyd in 2020 in the US, he found the parallel with the police killing of Clinton McCurbin in 1987 in the UK astonishing.

Simeon Greene is an Equality, Diversity & Inclusion and Human Rights Consultant and Campaigner for Racial Justice. Born in Jamaica, Simeon has lived in Wolverhampton, since moving to the UK at the age of five. He was educated at schools in the city, studied and went on to work at the University of Wolverhampton.

Simeon began campaigning for racial justice nearly 40 years ago following the ‘New Cross Massacre’ and advises on policy development and training in the area of Equality, Diversity, Inclusion & Human Rights, with bodies such as the Schools, Councils, BBC, Home office, Crown Prosecution Services, Police, Prison and Probation Services.

Simeon’s passion is working directly with Children, Young People & Families who are furthest from decision-making processes to raise their voices, build their social and political capital. Responding to the rise in knife and gun crimes in the UK, Simeon began focusing his work on violence reduction between urban street gangs, developing a mediation and conflict resolution programme (based on the model used in building the Northern Ireland peace process). Central to his work is addressing what he sees to be underlying causes; racism/discrimination in education, employment, housing and the Criminal Justice System. More recently, Simeon has been working with the National Health Service (NHS) on addressing the causes of health inequalities.

Additional resources:

  • Ultraviolence
    • A film currently touring the UK exploring deaths at the hands of the Police in the UK since 1969. The film is the work of Dr. Ken Fero, an academic based at Coventry University
  • Mikey Powell/4ward ever
    • Family demands transparency in custody death case
  • Inquest
    • the only charity providing expertise on state related deaths and their investigation to bereaved people, lawyers, advice and support agencies, the media and parliamentarians
  • United Friends and Families
    • a coalition of those affected by deaths in police, prison and psychiatric custody, supports others in similar situations
  • Institute of Race Relations
    • is at the cutting edge of the research and analysis that informs the struggle for racial justice in Britain, Europe and internationally
  • Migrant Media
    • provides young Africans with reliable information and training on migration issues and social media to make informed decisions and be aware of safer migration options to Europe
  • The Angiolini Report: Deaths and serious incidents in police custody
    • independent review into serious incidents and deaths in custody, undertaken by Dame Elish Angiolini, began its work in October 2015
  • BME deaths in custody (1991 – 2014)
    • the cases of 509 people from BME, asylum seeker and migrant communities who have died in custody, in suspicious circumstances, between 1991 and September 2014
  • Thomas Thistlewood Papers
    • The papers act as a crucial archival witness to the brutality of slavery and plantation culture, and to the broader political, economic, and intellectual contexts underpinning Thistlewood’s career as a slave manager and owner in 18th-century Jamaica

See also our Black History Month 2020 posts here.

For info: In the UK, the Crown Prosecution (2016) definition of death in custody’ refers to the death of any person in the custody of the state. It is not limited to deaths, which occur in prison or police custody. The following list illustrates some circumstances where a person’s death, this includes a death resulting from:

  • Being under arrest in a police station;
  • Held as a prisoner in a prison or police station;
  • Under arrest by a police officer;
  • Detention for a search;
  • Other lawful detention e.g. immigration detention;
  • Detention of a child or young person for their protection;
  • As a result of being shot by a police officer;
  • Any other ‘contact with the police where there may be a link between the contact and the death.

Death in Custody

What is Black History Month and why is it important? The BBC writes:

“..Why is Black History Month important?

Black history month was first launched in London in the 1980s, where the aim was for the local community to challenge racism and educate themselves and others about the British history that was not taught in schools. Black people have been in Britain for a lot longer than previously thought – One of the oldest skeletons ever found was that of the Cheddar Man who had dark skin.

Archaeologists, the people who study human history through digging up sites looking at bones and ancient objects, think that he was alive during the stone age…”.