An autistic man has been in jail for seven weeks for swearing at a police station

Marcus Potter
Glen Black

Marcus Potter was arrested after making a “defiant V sign gesture” at a police station in Norwich on 16 November. The gesture caused an alleged breach of bail conditions that has left Potter in prison until at least 19 January.

There has been an outcry from his family and supporters because Potter is diagnosed with autism. And this has led to his dad Martin saying that putting him in HMP Norwich is an “excessive and cruel” reaction.

Turning concern into criminality

Potter has a history of run-ins with the police. He began filming the police “around three years ago”, and he uploads to a YouTube channel called Potter’s Police Videos. In an interview with Happy TV, Potter says [0:43] he does this:

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to hold the police to account to make sure that the legislation side and any actions such as arrests are taken lawfully, proportionately. And… to ensure the safety of the members of the public who police may well come into contact with.

But this has led the police to accuse Potter of anti-social behaviour, and a Criminal Behaviour Order was issued against him for posing “a threat to both the public and himself”. He was charged with breaching this order and given bail conditions. It is these conditions that he is alleged to have breached when he was arrested at his home on 17 November.

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He’s ok for now

Speaking to The Canary, Potter’s mother Ana says she visited Marcus on 6 January and that he has:

lost a bit of weight and looks rather pale but otherwise he is ok… It has affected him most physically, as without access to his medication for Crohn’s Disease for 5 weeks he had a flare up/set back and now has to take pain killers frequently.

When asked if Potter’s videos are part of his autism, she said:

Yes, definitely! It is kind of comforting for him to watch the videos over and over again. Also, there is the issue of ‘it is the only thing in his life he has control over’.

Potter’s mother also went on to explain the complicated relationship between Potter’s videos, the police, and their treatment of him:

Marcus believes that by filming the police he is making sure they don’t misbehave with others the way they did with him… following some incidents where/when Marcus encountered officers who disrespected and mistreated him. He got frustrated and angry about the situation, then started to follow/film them to try and prove that they are unprofessional/unfair. From there things got worse by the week because the police, rather than prove him wrong, gave him more reasons to believe he was right by mishandling him, handcuffing, arresting, detaining for whole weekends (many times), take to court, give him a ‘bad character’ evidence document, so on and so forth…

Prison is the wrong solution

Potter’s family were all working at the time of his arrest. But at first, they weren’t informed of what happened or of his imprisonment. In a letter to their MP, the family state:

We feel that it is a disgrace that Marcus has been placed in a prison environment, [and] that this was not the RIGHT outcome

And local support organisation Autism Anglia said in a statement on the case:

Arresting someone with autism and then putting them in Norwich Prison in order to ‘protect them’ is unacceptable. A vulnerable adult with social and communication difficulties is not going to be released as a healthy and rehabilitated individual, but [he] may be damaged and require more support.

“All interventions were and are considered”

Norfolk Police issued a statement to The Evening Standard saying:

It is important to note that Norfolk Police have well established links with partner support agencies and have engaged with them in relation to this particular case to ensure all interventions were and are considered.

They also said that:

The criminal behaviour order is a necessary measure in order to ensure Mr Potter does not present a danger to himself or the general public through his actions.

But when The Canary asked his mother whether he is likely to be a danger to himself or others, she said:

Marcus while filming has been abused, sworn at, spat at, even punched and shoved, so I suppose they can say his own safety is in jeopardy. As for the public safety, I fail to see how? He has never been an aggressive individual; he tends to walk away if people confront him.

Less punishment, more support

In October 2017, it was reported that police forces across the country have faced large increases of cases involving people with mental health issues. Labour MP and Shadow Minister for Policing Louise Haigh said:

These figures could show that police are better at recognising signs of mental ill-health. But it could also show that people are being let down by services and not getting the help they need early on…

And that’s what has happened to Potter, his family and supporters suggest. The Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) has called for “more mental health specialists, more social workers, more youth services, and more community projects” as alternatives to more laws and police officers.

But questions also need to be raised about how police officers react to being filmed. In 2008, two members of the anti-police surveillance group Fitwatch were violently arrested and jailed for four days after taking photographs of police officers. And the organisation I’m A Photographer Not A Terrorist has documented and supported photographers and film makers who have faced police harassment under the banner of anti-terrorism.

It is not a crime to film or take photographs of the police. Indeed, there are many instances of police brutality that have come to light as a result of citizens filming their actions.

Potter does not belong in an overcrowded and inhumane prison system. Not for swearing at a police station. A system of justice needs to reflect the diversity of everyone it applies to. And that means not criminalising mental health issues or attempts to hold the police to account.

Get Involved!

Sign the Change.org petition.

Watch this brief interview with Potter and make up your own mind about how much of a danger he is to himself and the public.

Check out Potter’s Police Videos.

Featured image via YouTube

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