It’s very easy for those of us in the UK to proclaim, when faced with descriptions of police violence, and BLM protests, that those stories aren’t relevant to us. Our police aren’t racist. Our police are decent. They keep us safe and can be trusted.
Such privilege in these views.
Ken Fero follows his 2002 documentary Injustice, with Ultraviolence. An examination of police violence in the UK and how it is (or isn’t) being dealt with. We open with a stark statistic, 2000 people have died in police custody since 1969. A voice-over taking the form of a letter to Fero’s son tells us the stories of 8 men who have died while in the care of the police in the last 20 years.
We are presented with CCTV footage of inside police stations, interviews with family members, footage of protests and meetings with the IPCC (Independent police complaints commission). Scenes of actual violence are dramatized with animation. Many of the interviews were recorded a number of years ago, so the production value feels a little low for something being released now, but it doesn’t detract from the importance of their message.
The stories are compelling, and act to paint a stark picture of our law enforcement. They are presented as corrupt, incompetent, uncaring and racist. Their victims are ignored, assumed to be carrying on or faking injury, and are ultimately left to die as help is called far too late.
There are some flaws, the police or their representatives aren’t given an opportunity to answer to the accusations they face on screen. The bias of the filmmakers is clear, and ultimately that does a little to undermine their argument. These stories must be told, but they need to be told in a balanced way that suggests they have been fully explored with nuance and context. However, the footage of IPCC and Police press conferences does a little to bridge this gap. They do not come across in a way that suggests they have any interest in improvement so much as reputation, non-committal language and cover up. This begs the question as to whether they were approached to speak on the documentary, one assumes if they were they would say no. There is little surprise when you consider the evidence they are faced with, there is clear negligence. It utterly beggar’s belief.
Of course, as expected, most of the men included are Black. And some of the attacks are mentioned as being racially motivated. There are also cases of mistaken identity, and accidental death due to a mishandled raid. Comparisons are made to the war on terror, and the governments ongoing disregard for life. Some attacks are blamed on islamophobia.
Ultraviolence is bleak viewing. However, it is engaging, shocking, and fills its relatively short runtime comfortably. The women who have taken upon themselves the responsibility of getting justice for their loved ones display absolute strength despite the constant pushback from authority. The ability to stand up in front of authority and make the accusations they do, with evidence, is awe inspiring.
Ultraviolence has a limited run at the BFI Southbank from June 25th before it becomes available on the BFI player from July 5th.