Community leaders call for action against black deaths in custody

Jasper: “Colour of your skin dictates what justice your receive”

Community leaders have called for action against black deaths in custody. Addressing a recent public meeting in London, the leaders said time had come to put rhetoric into action.

The meeting was organised by Matilda MacAttram, Director of Black Mental Health UK, and Sherelle Davis, London School of Economics Students Union Anti-Racism Officer.

Mr. Lee Jasper, race equality campaigner, Ms. Matilda MacAttram, Director of Black Mental Health UK and Mr. Frederick Clarke, Director of Mighty Men of Valour

On the panel were family members of those who had died in custody, community leaders including race equality campaigner Lee Jasper, Olu Alake, President of 100 Black Men of London and Frederick Clarke, Director of Mighty Men of Valour.

The meeting was also addressed by Ken Ferro who co-directed the film “Injustice” which highlighted the issue of deaths in custody, and Helen Shaw, Co-Director of INQUEST, a charity that provides free advice service to bereaved people on contentious deaths.

Mr. Alake said deaths in police custody should be made a political issue as liberties are being taken over black men’s lives.

Referring to the recent riots in London, he said: “The initial issue that brought about this, which the press, which the Prime Minister, which the politicians, have tried very hard for us to forget, is this: a black man was unlawfully killed in the custody of police, and yet what we have seen on the covers of newspapers, what has been the source of outrage for our politicians hasn’t been that; it’s a building in Croydon that has stood for over 100 years.”

He said that the authorities are more worried about the building than the life of a black person. “We got more answers from what has happened when shops were burnt down, than we got when a family stood outside a police station for four hours, just asking for someone to come out and explain what happened to their child,” Mr. Alake said.

Mr. Jasper also voiced his opinions on how the media handled Mark Duggan’s death. “We don’t get the kind of press that we deserve and what does it result in? We get Mark Duggan shot dead. We get reports from the Independent Police Complaints Commission colluding with the Metropolitan Police Service, which phoned up their mates in Scotland Yard, in order to get a frontline headline that said he shot officers when he didn’t; he didn’t do that. I don’t care if Mark Duggan was Al Capone. He had a human right to be arrested, taken to court, charged with any criminal offence, and faced judgment like the rest of us. Not shot down in the street like the way he was.”

Mr. Jasper went on to describe what he saw as a two-tier policing approach. “We want justice equally dispensed, regardless of the race of the individual, but we don’t live in a meritocracy, we live in a society where the colour of your skin dictates what justice you receive. Where you live dictates what policing you receive. If you’re in Richmond, or in the nice leafy areas of Wimbledon, it’s one sort of policing. If you’re in Peckham, Brixton or Tottenham, you get a distinctly other brand of policing.”

Marcia and Samantha, sisters to Sean Rigg, a mental health patient who died in custody told of their Justice and Change Campaign, seeking justice for their brother. “In one church there’s three of us, so that shows you what an epidemic this is,” said Samantha Rigg-David.

Ms. MacAttram made a plea for people to understand the consequence of taking away a key figure in a child’s life.
The meeting was also addressed by a youth pastor Nathan John. Pastor John was seven years old when his father Orville Blackwood died in psychiatric custody in 1991. He grew up worrying whether he’d have mental health issues. “What was taken away from me is something that I think every child should have. It doesn’t matter who my father was, whether he was a good man or a bad man; I should have access to him.”

Mr. Ferro spoke about how he faced opposition making the film “Injustice”. He said: “We’ve had a few screenings where senior police officers have come down, and what they always say is: ‘we’re learning the lessons, we’re learning the lessons.’ Now then how stupid do you have to be to be engaged in a practice for 40, 50 years, before you learn the lessons?”

Mr. Ferro continued. “They’re not learning the lessons; they’re learning a practice of how to avoid getting criminally prosecuted. That’s what they’re learning all the time with everything they do and we do; they’re trying to get one step ahead.”

To find out more about the work of Black Mental Health UK, please log on to: www.blackmentalhealth.org.uk.
To order the “Injustice” DVD please log on to: www.injusticefilm.co.uk and for advice and support on black deaths in custody, please visit www.inquest.org.uk
 

By Chinwe Ojielo