Al Sharpton warns UK could suffer US-style police brutality without deep reform

Civil rights veteran who gave eulogy at Tyre Nichols’ funeral says racism in UK policing could produce similar tragedies

The Rev Al Sharpton has warned that racially charged incidents such as the brutal death of Tyre Nichols in the US will also occur in the UK without far-reaching police reforms.

On the eve of a two-day visit to the UK, the US civil rights veteran said that “systemic racism” and a “culture of policing that produces brutality” must be addressed.

Nichols, a 29-year-old father and black man, died in hospital three days after being pulled over and beaten by police officers in Memphis on 7 January.

Sharpton, the president of the National Action Network, who last week delivered the eulogy at Nichols’ funeral, called for reforms of UK policing.

“The failure to address systemic racism in UK policing and the culture of policing that produces brutality against our people will only lead to more incidences like the tragedy of Tyre Nichols,” he said in a statement.

His comments contrast with Suella Braverman, the home secretary, who in September said that “initiatives on diversity and inclusion should not take precedence over common-sense policing”.

A damning UN report last month found that the government has failed to address “structural, institutional and systemic racism” against people of African descent in Britain.

“We have serious concerns about impunity and the failure to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system, deaths in police custody, ‘joint enterprise’ convictions and the dehumanising nature of the stop and (strip) search,” the UN working group said in a statement.

Sharpton will expand on his comments on Monday when he begins his UK visit. He is expected to address Nichols’ death and the parallels of allegations against the police in the UK.

It follows demands for justice from the families of Chris Kaba, who was shot in the head in Streatham, south London, after a car pursuit in September, and Oladeji Omishore, who died after being after being shot with a Taser weapon on Chelsea Bridge and then being pulled from the River Thames.

The IOPC is conducting a criminal investigation into the officer who discharged their firearm which led to Kaba’s death.

The IOPC is also conducting an investigation into Omishore’s death but do not consider that a more thorough conduct investigation is required.

Sharpton will also raise police searches of black children after the outcry over Child Q, the 15-year-old girl who was strip-searched at school by female police officers while on her period.

Nichols, who had been pulled over after an alleged minor traffic violation, was pepper-sprayed, stunned with a Taser and beaten by five black officers who took turns to hold him up for others to attack him. Footage of the incident was released on 27 January and led to unrest across several US cities.

Sharpton, who has been at the forefront of the US civil rights movement since 1991, used Nichols’ funeral to condemn the officers for being a “disgrace to their race” before adding that the officers would not have attacked a white man in the same way.

“You know you couldn’t get away with doing that in Tennessee to a white guy. You’ll find out you ain’t getting away with it doing it to a black guy,” he said.

Sharpton, who is attending an event by Operation Black Vote on Monday, is also expected to address electoral rights in the UK amid fears that new laws requiring photo ID at polling stations will disfranchise black and Asian voters.

Lord Simon Woolley, the founder of OBV and a mentee of Sharpton, said: “The Revd Al Sharpton is coming to the UK at a critical time when simply acknowledging systemic race inequality is proving difficult.”


Rajeev Syal Home affairs editor

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