Unexplained in-custody deaths are caused more often than is generally known by positional asphyxia, or at times through asphyxiation from sustained pressure.

Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 2:58 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 2:58 pm
Protestors gather near the makeshift memorial in honour of George Floyd marking one week anniversary of his death, on June 1, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Protestors gather near the makeshift memorial in honour of George Floyd marking one week anniversary of his death, on June 1, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

George Floyd, handcuffed and clearly incapacitated, gasped for air, calling for help, begging for his life, a knee crushing his neck, but Police Officer Derek Chauvin calmly kept his position for nine minutes, including after Mr Floyd stopped speaking or moving.

This brutal use of neck force is a method of restraint widely discredited by law enforcement experts because it can and does cause suffocation.

Shockingly, other officers took part as bystanders pleaded for them to check Mr Floyd’s pulse.

Chrissy Meleady is director of Sheffield-based Equalities and Human Rights UK

The officers had been called to reports of a non-violent crime, that a counterfeit bill had been used in a shop.

Ironically, Chauvin had worked with Mr Floyd prior to this, in security at a club in the same city.

Just because someone is talking, doesn’t mean they can breathe.

When somebody says ‘I can’t breathe’, that is a medical emergency and officers the world over have a duty to secure medical aid for them, to treat them right way because at that point, the ‘suspect’ becomes a patient.

Demonstrators start a fire as they protest the death of George Floyd, Sunday, May 31, 2020, near the White House in Washington.

In reality there is no such thing as a ‘non-deadly’-force option.

The proper terminology should be ‘less-lethal’, or in this case ‘lethal’ because - as the world has seen in the case of Mr Floyd and many other Black African-American men in the USA, as well as others who, like him, in other nations have died, including disgracefully, at times, here in the UK - all force/restraints have the potential to kill if they are misused abused, and more so, if racism is underpinning their application.

The killing of Mr Floyd sparked protests around the USA.

Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, while two other police officers who applied pressure on to his back, compressing his lungs, along with another who failed to intervene to safeguard Mr Floyd, have only been ‘fired’, thus far.

A group of Black Americans get off the 'Freedom Bus' at Jackson, Mississippi, to protest against the segregation of passengers on the nation's buses. in 1961

While massive support has been building, not only in America but here in the UK too, rightfully condemning the abuse and killing of Mr Floyd, there have also been others defending the way in which the Minneapolis Police officer ‘restrained’ Mr Floyd as he died.

The argument is this form of ‘non-deadly’ force/restraint is a technique allowed in Minneapolis.

However, just because something is permitted does not make it right nor just.

We only have to look at the Transatlantic enslavement of African people and the Jim Crow laws and other examples of centuries of differential and unfavourable treatment, including racial discrimination and abuse against Black people, in its many different forms, to see this is so.

The suspicion of wrong-doing by Mr Floyd - an African-American man - along with the other maltreatment and murder of him, is being felt sharply here in Sheffield and the UK too, because not only does the USA have an urgent need to acknowledge and redress the uncomfortable history and reality of racial discrimination, it continues to be a pressing requirement here in the UK.

The Race Relations Act was passed 55 years ago, outlawing the racial discrimination that sadly was the daily experience of migrants from ‘the Empire’.

Forbidden were signs of ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish’ along with the refusal of services, housing and job opportunities. All denied on the basis of skin colour, nationality and race.

The Act was a ground-breaking step in challenging the accepted norm of racism and discrimination, in days in which those of us from Black and other Minority Ethnic communities will recall being subjected to sporadic skinhead raids and facing the gauntlet of individuals and groups verbally abusing, kicking, hitting and spitting at us in shops, on our way to, from and in schools.

Sadly, despite racism being unlawful, it has not gone away. It is there in plain sight, in the murder of Black men like Mr Floyd, in laws that target Black young men, in Far Right ‘invasions’ into our area against Muslim and Asian people, and proscribed Terrorist groups harbouring and spewing Anti-Irish hatred.

Systemic racism is evident in health inequalities, poverty, in access to education and in employment and other life experiences. It is evident in the refusal of Government to give leave to remain to families of NHS staff who have died through Covid-19. The list goes on. It is a list of shame.