“There Needs To Be A Real Change, We Need To Feel Safer”: An Interview With Becky Gumbiti-Zimuto

Poppy Read-Pitt

After witnessing what she believed to be a particularly forceful arrest of a young woman outside Rock City in September of this year, Becky filed a complaint with Nottinghamshire Police. The disillusioning response she received was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and inspired her to pen an open letter to Nottingham’s authority figures. Here, she discusses the events that led up to writing the letter, the responses she received from it and what changes she feels should be made.

Let’s talk about what you saw on that night outside of Rock City.

I’d left the club for some air; I wasn’t really feeling it. I was on the phone to someone when I saw something going on across the street. I saw a girl on the floor, with four men around her. There were three police officers, one who had his knee on top of her, and a Rock City bouncer. The girl was screaming bloody murder, she was really disorientated, and she didn’t seem to know what was going on. I would have recorded what I saw if I had the opportunity, but there was another girl around the scene who I was trying to help, who said she knew the girl on the floor. It was made apparent later that this girl didn’t know the girl being arrested.

The police officer stayed on top of this girl, and she started flailing her legs which seemed to aggravate him to the point where he forcefully turned her over onto her front and said something like: “this is what you get for kicking on officer”. She was hoisted up and put in the back of a police van, they then slammed the door on her.

What the police told me in their letter is that the girl put her leg in the doorway of the van, I don’t know if I saw that. It might be the case, but the way they slammed the door on her would not have been appropriate even if it was. The officers hung around the van for a bit and the officer that was on top of her crossed the street and spoke to the bouncer. Both were sort of laughing, then the officer skipped across the road and the police zoomed off.

One man on top of her – let alone three surrounding her – just wasn’t needed for that situation

Part of your complaint to the police was that you felt that excessive force was used by two police officers and a rock city bouncer, could you go into more detail about the specifics of that?

There were three police officers and a Rock City bounce and all of them were male. She wasn’t a big girl, she was actually quite petite, so one man on top of her – let alone three surrounding her- just wasn’t needed for that situation. Even if did escalate to a point where she was aggressive or physical with them.

Did you think she was being aggressive or physical?

I think her reaction was correct, I think anyone would act that way. The officers weren’t telling her why they were pinning her down, they weren’t telling her what was going to happen and if you have three men standing over you and one on top, I think your reaction would be to act the way she did. In my eyes it was acceptable behaviour.

You also talk about the officers conducting themselves with a jovial attitude after the arrest, you say they were “skipping” and “laughing”. Could you talk more about that and how witnessing this made you feel

It made me disheartened. The police are an institution that are supposed to make citizens feel safe, so when you see an officer laugh at an inebriated girl who was screaming her head off because she didn’t know what was going to happen to her, you loose faith. It shows a lack of care to the people they’re meant to be protecting and it showed them acting out of emotion, which I don’t think is right for law enforcement.

Did you consider intervening?

I did, but the thing that stopped me was the person I was on the phone to counselled me not to, and I was preoccupied at the time with helping the girl who led me to believe she knew the girl getting arrested. The attitudes of the officers also put me off from getting involved as they didn’t seem like they’d give me the time of day.

We’ve all seen videos on social media where similar routine techniques have gone wrong when emotions are involved, like I believe they were in this situation 

You contacted Nottinghamshire police and the response was that, after viewing two separate body cam footages, they did not feel that unnecessary force was used. Do you accept their response?

I don’t, there’s no need to have that much force on a woman, or anyone for that matter. In their response the police say that the technique was routine, but we’ve all seen videos on social media where similar routine techniques have gone wrong when emotions are involved, like I believe they were in this situation. I accept that that the technique used by the officers may have been regulation but having seen it enacted in person I still don’t feel it was morally acceptable in that situation.

How would you have liked to have seen the police respond to you? Because the response you received was very above board. There was footage of the event that had been reviewed by a senior officer who specialised in the professional standards of the police, and he had concluded that the events were routine. How do you think this event should have been handled so that you did not feel dismissed?

The police mentioned in their reply that there was CCTV footage from Rock City that night, but they said they didn’t review that footage and they weren’t planning too. I think that would have been a helpful thing to see as they would have seen what led up to that situation and what the bouncers were doing as they were likely to be involved given one of them was on the scene.

Time and time again we’ve seen the police protect their own and this process isn’t very transparent. I’m being told to trust an institution that isn’t historically very trustworthy

They also could have addressed the fact that I mentioned that this situation has made me lose faith in the police force because at the end of the day these are the people who are supposed to be protecting our communities -and as a woman of colour I felt uneasy with the police anyway- but they did nothing to address that. They’re meant to work with the community, for the community but they don’t seem to care if members of that community didn’t trust them. It felt like I had come to them with a complaint and their objective did not seem to be to deal with it, but instead to dismiss it as soon as they could.

The evidence they cited against my claim was having a police officer review police footage and asking two police officers if they did anything wrong, to which they said no. Time and time again we’ve seen the police protect their own and this process wasn’t very transparent. I’m being told to trust an institution that isn’t historically very trustworthy. I would have liked to have seen some more consideration for my concerns.

In your letter, you call upon our universities to implement better safety measures. What sort of safety measures would you like to see?

I think they have so much more authority than we do when it comes to these establishments, even though we’re the patrons. I think that authority would give them a much better chance at changing these establishments and do things like holding bouncers accountable for poor behaviour. On campus, there is security, but something like on campus helpers might be helpful. Someone who students feel they can go to on a night out if something goes wrong.

I always felt like the security presence last year was more to enforce lockdown rules than anything to do with our welfare

The university may claim that what you’ve just described, this idea of having a security presence that is around to protect you should anything go wrong, is their security. last year I was in halls on campus and there was security everywhere. Lots of people took issue with that and the response from the university was the security presence was there to protect and help us, not to police us.

I always felt like the security presence last year was more to enforce lockdown rules than anything to do with our welfare, you don’t see as much security around halls now. It’s the same with community protection officers, as a third year now living in the same house I did last year, there’s way less community protection on the streets. I think a large part of the problem is that people don’t feel safe around traditional authority figures, like university security, like community police, and it may be the case that we need a new style of protection that students feel they can trust.

Some would say that it is not the responsibility of the universities to protect its students on nights out. They could argue that they’re adults and must take responsibility for their actions.

I would disagree, I think the university does owe some responsibility. We’re all here at their establishment and it reflects poorly on that institution when you have so many cases of things like spiking’s or arrests on nights out. I think they need to work with the police to tackle these issues, as even though some of them are ‘our fault’ in terms of getting too drunk and acting poorly, you do have to question why the police seem to be arresting so many more inebriated students than the people spiking the drinks. The police should be more focused on that than reprimanding drunk students, and the universities should support this, especially as they endorse that student drinking culture by selling crisis tickets in their student union.

I don’t think it’s fair for universities to encourage that drinking culture which will occasionally obviously result in cases of people behaving poorly due to too much drinking and then not take more responsibility for how the local police force are interacting with their students when they get in that state.

What would your response be to those who say that drunken students can misbehave badly, perhaps that this was the case in terms of the woman you saw, and that police are only responding in a way that is necessary.

The group of students who are disrespectful when inebriated are a select few. I say to those people: the police should not be the answer to every single problem you have with the student community. The police website even says if you are about to report an ASBO you should try and reason with the party first and calling the police should be the last resort.

If everyone had that attitude of “this isn’t going to make a difference so I’m not going to do it” then nothing would get done

Do you see your letter making change?

I think it’s made change personally; I feel more fulfilled in myself as I know that I’m doing my part to help as much as a I can, but at the same time I’m not unaware that it probably isn’t going to make a lot of change. But if everyone had that attitude of ‘this isn’t going to make a difference so I’m not going to do it’ then nothing would get done. It’s a small piece of the puzzle, but it’s something at the end of the day.

Regardless of anything else there needs to be a real change, we need to feel safer. This goes beyond policing and feeling disheartened and comes back a real issue of women’s health and safety.  I think for me it’s about police reform and sensitivity training. Train police to respond better to those who are drunk and behaving badly as a result. I don’t think an increased police presence is the answer to making us feel safer.

Poppy Read-Pitt

Featured image courtesy of Koshu Kunii via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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