He was on a night out in Shoreditch when he was tasered by the police in 2018. Mark was stopped for a breathalyser test – which he took three times – and after it came out inconclusive the police told him they were going to arrest him.
According to Mark, 35, seven police officers swarmed on him and “before he knew it”, he had been tasered.
He fell, hit his head and was hospitalised with a brain injury. He has taken legal action against the police and his case is set to be heard in court next year.
As a youth worker, he knows about deprivation and the complicated relationship with the police, but still, he was deeply shocked.
“I’m here trying to better society, but people can look at me and think ‘he’s built, he’s a black guy with a beard so he’s dangerous’”, he says.
The police says he was waving his arms and adopting a “fighting stance”, according to his lawyer, Kevin Donoghue. But Donoghue says the police’s own footage shows Mark wasn’t doing anything wrong.
“When you watch the body-worn footage – the police officer’s own camera recording – you see there was no justification for taser use”, says Donoghue.
The Metropolitan Police have been under fire from all sides this year, but incidents like these – which have been bubbling away for a long time – have been slowly eroding trust between the police and many communities in our capital city.
In order to be allowed to carry and use a taser, officers take a training course – it lasts just three days, with yearly refreshers. But the impact of being tasered on individuals and their communities will last much longer. Even Donoghue understands the pressure of matching up over-stretched funding with adequate training, but still, he says, “it’s not enough”.
Last August, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) released recommendations spelling out the genesis of public’s distrust for taser use in the UK. People have very different expectations of when a taser should be used to what is set out in the guidance given to police, according to a spokesperson for the IOPC. Currently, officers are allowed to use them where they face “violence or threats of violence where they would need to use force to protect the public, themselves or the subject”. For many, this is too open-ended.
Sergeant Richard Cooke, chair of the West Midlands Police Federation, has been one of the strongest proponents for more tasers. Now, most officers in the West Midlands have one available.
He says: “There has been an uptake in the propensity of criminals to attack officers. It wasn’t as commonplace as it is now”.
The ONS’s official crime severity score, which measures how many offences there are per 1,000 people in any given area, has jumped in the last five years for both London and the West Midlands. But crime levels are still yet to reach their peak from the early 2000s.
Sergeant Cooke believes even the sight of a taser can deter violence. They’re bright yellow, for exactly this reason.
But trust in the police is everything. If it’s not more responsive to community concerns, it risks losing legitimacy. That could cause more violence, not less.
Mark still shivers every time he hears a police siren. He won’t be the only black Londoner to say that, with people from ethnic minorities more likely to be tasered for longer.
The public’s faith in the police has been shaken. Taser use is a puzzle piece to start to listen to communities and build bridges.