I am reminded of a sensational documentary, now a decade old, on deaths in British police custody ? haven't seen it? Ask why
The news about the Lawrence verdict and sentencing took me back to the mid-1990s ? the case has been hanging for such a shameful length of time ? when we journalists stood around gaping at Paul Dacre's sensational "Murderers" headline in the Daily Mail, and discussing what it all meant. (The paper challenged the five suspects to sue: did that mean sue for criminal libel? For which legal aid was available? Well, they didn't sue.)
My next thought was to pick up the phone and call the film-maker Ken Fero, who, with Tariq Mehmood, directed one of the most sensational documentaries I think I've ever reviewed: the 2001 film Injustice: The Movie. This was about the extraordinary, continuing phenomenon of black and Asian people dying mysteriously in police custody without any prosecution being brought. The film-makers suggested that 1,000 people had died in this way between 1969 and 1999, and focused on cases such as those of Joy Gardner, David Oluwale and Shiji Lapite. Despite the soul-searching that followed the Stephen Lawrence case, the situation highlighted in Injustice went all but unnoticed: a colossal elephant in the room. The film itself had to be pulled from cinemas after legal threats from the Police Federation, but the directors have continued to put on samizdat-style screenings ever since, and Fero is now preparing to upload the film in its entirety to the Vimeo site.
I asked Fero what he thought of the Lawrence verdict and he drily called it "too little too late", while paying tribute to the persistence of Stephen's parents, Neville and Doreen Lawrence: "It's terrible it takes a family to do the state's job."
And what of the Injustice situation? Well, one indirect outcome was the replacement in 2004 of the PCA, or Police Complaints Authority, by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, a body with sharper teeth. Its existence was welcomed by the families mentioned in Fero and Mehmood's film, but it was nevertheless criticised in the wake of the Duggan affair, which was a trigger for the summer riots. And the fact remains that deaths in police custody somehow do not show up on the radar as crimes.
Since 2001, I have been half expecting Fero and Mehmood to get the credit they deserve as documentary-makers and have their names mentioned in the same breath as Adam Curtis and Vanessa Engle. But, frustratingly, it hasn't come out like that and Fero tells me he has faced an uphill battle getting the follow-up to Injustice made. It was due to come out in 2011, for the 10-year anniversary. Things have been delayed. Depressingly, Fero and Mehmood have received no encouragement or funding from television or production companies. (Although, with another dry laugh, Fero concedes that projecting his film onto the wall of the Channel 4 building probably meant that this particular company would be unlikely to stump up.) Instead, they have paid for everything out of their own pockets ? which makes it an agonisingly long process. "If we thought about the economics of this, we'd just give up," says Fero.
However, Injustice 2 is nonetheless due to emerge later this year. It promises to be a must-see documentary. Meanwhile, the first film is due to go up on Vimeo soon, and we can watch it there.