Ultraviolence: the shocking, brutal film about deaths in police custody

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source: The Guardian
published:  12 October 2020

It has taken 19 years for Ken Fero to complete the follow-up to Injustice, his unforgettable film about deaths in police custody. But perhaps the surprising thing is that he finished it at all.

Injustice is the great documentary about brutality in the police – a shocking exposé of deaths resulting from beatings, shootings, teargassing, asphyxiation and neglect. The film, co-directed by Tariq Mehmood, won numerous awards, yet was never shown on television and as good as destroyed Fero’s career. As he says today, no broadcaster would touch him after Injustice.

Yet Fero is now back with Ultraviolence, another collaboration with Mehmood and their film-making collective Migrant Media. Like Injustice, it does far more than documenting deaths in police custody.

It follows the families who have lost loved ones on their heroic, if thwarted, fights for justice. We witness the horror of their loss, see them build up hopes of justice, and gradually see that hope pricked. Nearly all the victims are people of colour – a reminder that Britain has been every bit as contaminated by police brutality over the decades as the US.

Injustice started with the death of a Nigerian asylum-seeker, Shiji Lapite, in 1994. Lapite, 34, died in a police van shortly after being detained by two plainclothes Metropolitan police officers who claimed he had been acting suspiciously.

At his inquest, PC Paul Wright described holding him in a headlock while PC Andrew McCallum admitted he had stood up and twice kicked Lapite in the head, “as hard as I could”, claiming he was using reasonable force to subdue a violent prisoner. One of the officers described Lapite as “the biggest, strongest, most violent black man” he had ever seen. Lapite was 5ft 10in.

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Ken Fero : Ultraviolence

“The silence over the police killings of Black people is now broken. Since 1969, over two thousand people have died at the hands of the police in the UK. Shootings, chokeholds, batons, gassing, suffocation, restraint and brutal beatings are some of the methods used. The numbers of deaths is escalating. Inevitably police officers involved are not convicted for these killings.”