Lewisham’s elected mayor Damien Egan says he supports a new memorial to a black man who died after being restrained by police in Catford three years ago.
Kevin Clarke, who had schizophrenia, died in March 2018 after being restrained by officers in the playing fields of St Dunstan’s College. Southwark Coroner’s Court heard last year that the 35-year-old told officers “I’m going to die” as he was put into handcuffs, but was ignored and then lost consciousness as he was taken to an ambulance.
The inquest jury concluded that the use of restraints on Clarke “probably more than minimally or trivially” contributed to his death, and that the police’s use of force was “inappropriate”. Jurors also concluded that it was highly likely that at least one police officer heard Clarke say “I can’t breathe”.
During the inquest last September a mural dedicated to Clarke was unveiled in hoardings at the Lewisham Gateway building site close to Lewisham police station. But the builder Balfour Beatty painted over the mural, saying the artwork was unauthorised and that the hoardings were “private property”.
Clarke’s mother, Wendy Clarke, said that she and her family were “devastated” after the mural was removed. Black Lives Matter UK wrote to Egan on behalf of the Clarke family asking for the mural to be restored.
They wrote: “We note that Lewisham Council published a Black Lives Matter statement after George Floyd’s death. You have committed to establish a local forum to ‘better understand our local landmarks’ and a desire to ‘ensure future memorials and public art celebrates our borough’s diversity’.
“While KC’s death differed from George Floyd’s, there were unfortunate similarities. KC’s family have asked the council, the mayor and local MPs for help in commemorating KC and sadly after months of asking, they are still awaiting a response.”
The letter went on to ask Lewisham Council to restore the mural dedicated to Clarke in light of the approaching anniversary of George Floyd’s death, on 25 May.
In response, Egan said he “strongly supported” a new memorial to Clarke.
“I have asked Lewisham’s new Culture and Diversity Advisory Forum to explore with local residents and of course Kevin’s family what would be the most fitting tribute in our borough,” he said.
“Kevin’s death in March 2018 was shocking and obscene. I would urge local residents who are not familiar with Kevin’s case to watch the BBC Panorama documentary I Can’t Breathe, which highlights the last hours of Kevin’s life.
“I hope a memorial can help bring our community together, educate people about the suffering Kevin faced and also highlight the racial inequalities that need to be tackled in our society. As mayor I’m ensuring our council has a relentless focus on tackling racial inequalities wherever they exist, particularly in education, health, employment and the criminal justice system.
“But we need all organisations, public and private, to also be relentless in their commitment to anti-racism if we’re going to make the progress we need to see.”
Thanks to Adam Pugh for permission to use his photos of the mural.
Gráinne Cuffe is the Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham. The Local Democracy Reporting Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
See more about how 853 uses LDRS content.
Help 853 continue reporting on public interest issues in Greenwich and southeast London – we are the only outlet regularly producing original journalism in the borough, and we can only do it with your funding.
Please join over 100 donors who use Steady, PressPatron or Patreon to give a little towards our costs every month. The money pays the bills, a wage for the editor and pays others to write for the site.