'We need a greater understanding of humanity': Britain’s leading QC on racial discrimination in 2017
March 21st is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The theme for 2017 is racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration. To mark this day, MKF’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Dee Sekar, spoke to Leslie Thomas QC who is Head of Garden Court Chambers and a diversity role model about racial discrimination in the UK.
Leslie is a leading expert in claims against the police and other public authorities and claims against corporate bodies, with expertise across the full spectrum of civil wrongs, human rights, data and privacy claims. He is an expert in all aspects of inquests and inquiries, having represented many bereaved families, in particular where there has been abuse of state or corporate power.
Through your legal work, do you feel racial discrinination is still prevalent? If so, is there a particular group in society that you feel is being discriminated against the most?
Yes, racial discrimination is still a problem. Gypsies, African Caribbean, and since Brexit, anyone who is perceived to be ‘non-English’ continue to face discrimination. I see this in my work, particularly in the area of sudden and unexpected deaths in state custody. This often also interlinks with mental health.
There are still myths surrounding black men. They are continually perceived to be big, powerful, black and dangerous. Often, their mental illness is interpreted as the individuals being `bad` as opposed to ill therefore their handling by state agents is different to say, their white counterparts.
There are many recent controversial deaths in custody illustrate this point such as Sean Rigg, Mikey Powell and Sheku Bayoh, by way of example. In these cases, there has arguably been an excessive or disproportionate use of force on young men with mental health problems.
How can we, as a society and as individuals, help to eliminate racial discrimination?
Tackling this problem for both society and individuals is hugely important. We should begin by focusing on perception and dispelling myths. We need to have a greater understanding of people and humanity which can then lead acceptance.