Since 1969, there have been over 2000 deaths in UK police custody. This devastating statistic is explored by Ken Fero in his documentary, Ultraviolence. A cinematic letter to his son, Fero’s film exposes dark and disturbing truths and asks tough and uncomfortable questions.
Combining moving interviews and unflinching archive footage, Ultraviolence memorialises the victims of police brutality. The film features many tragic and distressing stories - including that of Fero’s classmate Brian Douglas, who was killed after being hit by a police officer using a long-handled baton.
Death is not cinematic, Fero observes. He uses the case of Christopher Alder as an example. Restrained and left lying face down on the floor of Hull Police Station, Alder’s death is captured on film - all 11 unbearable minutes.
We are also asked to remember Paul Coker, who died horrifically in police custody, Roger Sylvester who died after being restrained by eight police officers, and Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot and killed whilst travelling on the London underground.
A powerful, urgent film, Ultraviolence issues a rallying cry. Fero fears that these individuals (almost all are people of colour) and the events that led to their deaths will be forgotten. Memory is fragile, he reminds us, it needs to be spoken to be kept alive.
Ultraviolence honours those people (mainly the victim's own family members) who work tirelessly to preserve these memories. They march, they protest and they fight and they fight and they fight. Among others, Fero interviews Brian Douglas’ sister, Brenda, and Christopher Alder’s sister, Janet.
In the midst of unimaginable grief, they should not have to work so hard. And yet, with incredible resilience and inspiring strength (and despite being let down by the UK justice system time and time again), they continue to pursue their endless campaign for justice.
Shockingly, despite their efforts, Ultraviolence informs us that there has only ever been one known successful prosecution of a death in UK police custody (Henry Foley, who was kicked to death in a police cell).
Fero can barely contain his frustration that the country’s citizens are not more outraged by this fact. He questions why more people are not taking to the streets (virus permitting) and demanding justice for each death in UK police custody. He asks why we accept state-sanctioned violence and deaths as a result of war.
“These are the crimes that I accuse my country of and for which it cannot be forgiven,” Fero states. He challenges us to look at our own response to such disturbing events. Will we remember these stories? What difference can we make?