Rev Jesse Jackson, a veteran US civil rights activist has publicly backed the call for an independent judicial inquiry into the deaths in police custody in the UK.
On 15th December 2011 Rev Jackson joined campaigners in London who have come together to stand with the families affected by these tragedies.
“I believe in human rights for all human beings,” Rev Jackson said.
He observed that when faced with the trappings of slavery, people have two options, to either adjust or resist. “Too many people adjust to the oppression,” he said, adding that they don’t protest but simply accept pain.
Rev Jackson warned against adjusting to oppression, saying that it is not an option. “Sometimes it takes the death of a loved one to wake us up,” to resist and fight back, he said.
The meeting highlighted the widespread distrust that the recent spate of deaths of Mark Duggan, Kingsley Burrell Brown, Demetre Faser and Jacob Michael, at the hands of the police has caused.
Speakers stressed the need for establishment of an independent judicial public inquiry to ensure there is accountability when deaths in custody occur.
“I think it’s important to say clearly that deaths in custody are really a human rights issue because what we are talking about is the discrimination, the inhuman and degrading treatment that are meted out to men and women and children,” said Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST. “And of course it’s also a human rights issue because of the right to life and the fact that the deaths expose our failure to protect the right to life.”
In the UK last year there was a 164% increase in the rate of stop and searches targeting back people. This helps explain why fatalities are disproportionately higher among the UK’s African Caribbean communities.
Government data shows that in the past 12 months alone black men have made up 20% of the deaths in police custody, despite coming from a community that are just 2% of the population.
Disturbingly mental health service users make up 61% of all deaths in custody. More work therefore needs to be done to prevent further fatalities amongst this vulnerable group.
Lee Jasper, Chair of London Race & Criminal Justice Consortium & Executive member of Operation Hope and Recovery, said: “Suspicious deaths in police custody represent the critical fault line in police and community relationships. This past year has seen a disturbing increase in the number of black men who have lost their lives whilst in police custody. Had the Government heeded the warning signs about this issue, the August riots could have been avoided.
“In the wake of this summer’s unrest, the controversy over the Independent Police Complaints Commissions (IPCC) investigations has destroyed the community’s confidence in the current investigative process. The families of those who have died whilst in custody deserve a public inquiry and the nation’s best interests would be best served by such an inquiry.”
Matilda MacAttram, Director of Black Mental Health UK cited government figures showing that black men and users of mental health services are the most likely to lose their lives while in custody. “The tragic cases of Kingsley Burrell-Brown, Smiley Culture and Mark Duggan make it clear that this problem will not go away by itself.”
The issue must be made a political agenda in order to bring about reform “so that there is both accountability and transparency in the way these cases are dealt with,” Ms. MacAttram said.