PLEDGE: Home Secretary Theresa May
Home Secretary Theresa May yesterday announced a package of measures to tackle the growing problem of black deaths in police custody.
Speaking at a mental health and policing conference organised in partnership with charity Black Mental Health (BMH) UK, May revealed plans to improve the experience of those affected by mental health problems by creating alternatives to police custody and demanding transparency in the use of restraint and tasering.
According to research, people from black communities are more likely to be referred to mental health services via the police and criminal justice system.
They are also more likely to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act, to receive medication, to be in high and medium secure units and prisons, and to be tasered.
She said: "Imagine what it is like for the thousands of people with mental health problems, learning disabilities or other vulnerabilities who regularly encounter the police: people suffering from a breakdown or a psychotic episode; people acting in a way that is dangerous to themselves or others; people who are vulnerable and have been attacked or robbed; people who are confused, distressed and disorientated.
"And then imagine if that encounter also leads to physical restraint, or even being tasered by the police. Imagine being transported to hospital not in an ambulance, but in the back of a police car. Or being detained in a police cell rather than a health-based place of safety or mental health ward. That encounter must be terrifying."
Loved ones of those who have died in custody posed tough questions to the politician about making the police accountability and about justice and support for families.
Matilda MacAttram, director of Black Mental Health UK, said: "One of the things that is very significant about the issues that we cover is that it affects families. We know that when these sorts of issues touch the lives of our communities it has a generational impact, and the legacy of anyone whose loved one has died in custody is something that we don’t really look at."
Speaking exclusively to The Voice May said: "I fully appreciate and understand why people feel so strongly about this, particularly those who are family members and friends of those who have died in custody. But I understand the importance of this issue to the whole black African Caribbean community.
"It is not possible to change everything overnight, things do take time to put into place, but I want to reassure everybody of my commitment and the government’s commitment to look at this issue and do something about it."