Omission, erasure and obfuscation in the police institutional killing of Black men

Patrick Williams, Lisa J. White, Scarlet Harris, Remi Joseph-Salisbury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Between 1990 and the time of writing, 1,849 people have died in police custody or otherwise following police contact in England and Wales, with people from racially minoritised backgrounds over-represented in use of force and restraint related deaths. Drawing upon research undertaken by the authors, alongside bereaved families, this paper approaches these deaths as a form of institutional killings, surfacing the norms, cultures and values which systematically omit, obfuscate and mystify the violence of police action and inaction that eventuates these deaths. We contend that the police use of lethal force is therefore embedded and enmeshed within the processes, attitudes and behaviours of the police as an institution – both historically and in the present – which shapes how those killed encounter the police, how their deaths are (re)presented and how their bereaved families experience the processes which follow. The article argues that these processes follow a predictable pattern, with a similar lack of accountability also observable across other aspects of the criminal justice sector in relation to state deaths.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)250-268
Number of pages19
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2023


  • deaths in custody
  • institutional killings
  • institutional racism
  • Police
  • state violence


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