This paper beings with a brief overview of some of the issues that characterise structural racism in policing practice in Europe, highlighting notable differences in the legal recognition of race in various parts of Europe. As an entry point to broader analysis, it focuses on a particular death in police custody, which serves as a case study for examining the complexities in the intersection of policing violence, race and the law, some of which are specific to the European context. It examines some of the processes of archiving, story-telling and public remembering that anti-racism activists have engaged in around the death of Oury Jalloh. Jalloh was an asylum applicant from Sierra Leone who burned to death in the holding cell of a police station in Dessau, Germany, in 2005. The paper analyses the praxis of activists who were determined to make Jalloh’s life and the legal and political aftermath of his death a lesson for Black people living in Germany.
The paper then considers how particular engagement with the legal system around patterns of racism and state violence is perhaps not only a form of activism, but a form of pedagogy and a step towards identifying and addressing structural racism and historical legacies of racism.
The final third of the paper shifts to examine a particular cross-section of the legal claims in European death-in-custody cases, at the juncture of criminal law and human rights. To this end, it reflects on several cases that were litigated in the European Court of Human Rights. It examines the entanglement of national and European human rights law, considering the tense interconnectedness between public law, criminal law and policing practice. It argues that the human rights violations exemplified in these cases were the result, in part, of a range of procedural and administrative practices, racial and class-based judgments and a high degree of prosecutorial discretion that, together, create a glass ceiling for human rights standards in death-in-custody cases, by making violations difficult to articulate and protection difficult to invoke.
Eddie Bruce-Jones is Reader in Law & Anthropology and Deputy Dean of the School of Law at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is author of Race in the Shadow of Law: State Violence in Contemporary Europe (Routledge, 2016) and has published in the areas of equality law and asylum law in such journals as the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, the International Journal on Minority and Group Rights, and Race & Class. He is currently co-authoring the first legal casebook on Race and Law in Europe. He is a member of the New York Bar and an associate academic fellow of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple in London. In 2017/8, he was a visiting researcher at the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History in Frankfurt. He serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Asylum, Immigration and Nationality Law, the Boards of Directors of the Institute of Race Relations (London) and the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (London), as well as the Advisory Board of the Centre for Intersectional Justice (Berlin). He serves on the civilian-led international commission examining the case of Oury Jalloh—a significant death-in-police-custody case in Germany. Prior to joining academia, he worked briefly in the London office of Cleary, Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, LLP. Eddie holds a PhD and a Magister Artium in Anthropology from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, an LLM in Public International Law from King’s College London, a JD from Columbia Law School, and an undergraduate degree from Harvard.