Voices from the Occupation
After 18 long years, two of the men responsible for the murder of Stephen Lawrence have been found guilty of the crime, and sentenced. The reaction of both of Stephen’s parents, Doreen and Neville, was dignified and refreshingly candid. While the mainstream media crows over how this case changed the world, and transformed the Metropolitan Police into an equal opportunities zone – most people know that this is simply and sadly not the case. In this article, we examine some of the more heinous examples of corruption, racism and violence in the UK police force in the 18 years since the death of Stephen Lawrence.
I originally wrote the Injustice article in summer of 2010. I will retell those stories with updates and also extend the cases we’ve seen since. Warning – there are explicit photos and film in this article which may cause upset.
The Death of Stephen Lawrence
While waiting at a bus stop in his hometown of Eltham, south east London 22nd April 1993
, Stephen Lawrence and his friend Duwayne Brooks were approached suddenly by a gang of white men of the same age.
They were called racist names.
Duwayne turned and ran, assuming Stephen was behind him.
Stephen had already been stabbed twice.
The event was over as soon as it began.
Despite enormous internal injuries from being stabbed twice through the upper torse, Stephen managed to run after Duwayne for 119m. While the attackers scarpered, Duwayne tuened to his friend as he bled out and died in the street at 18 years old.
What followed was a farcical police investigation, which demonstrated as no previous personal testimony could, the state of the UK police force and ta two tier justice system, based on race. Stephen Lawrence was killed by racist thugs, because he was black. This was not an avenue the police investigation chose to follow. It must have been gang related. Despite Stephen Lawrence being an A-Level student of good nature and no criminal record, he was black and therefore it was most likely he’d got himself into some trouble. Due to this critical mistake, the investigation lost the opportunity to make interviews and collect forensic evidence in those first 72 hours.
Years later, in 1999 the then Home Secretary Jack Straw commissioned the McPherson Inquiry into issues of racism related to the Stephen Lawrence case.
The Inquiry report found that “the original Metropolitan Police Service investigation had been incompetent and that officers had committed fundamental errors, including: failing to give first aid
when they reached the scene; failing to follow obvious leads during their investigation; and failing to arrest suspects. The report found that there had been a failure of leadership by senior MPS officers and that recommendations of the 1981 Scarman Report
, compiled following race-related riots
, had been ignored”.
However, the only police officer to face any sanction for their misconduct was second in command Detective Inspector Ben Bullock. In response to Doreen Lawrence’s complaint to the Police Complaints Authority in 1997, in 1999 Bullock was found guilty of neglect of duty, failing to fully brief his officers, and failing to report the submission of a note in evidence. Conveniently, Bullock retired the day after the findings, on full pension, rendering this finding a mere slap on the wrist.
In short, having 3 eye witnesses, multiple statements, anonymous calls and notes tipping them off about the killer gang – the Metropolitan Police, through its own inaction and refusal to honour evidence over opinion – lost the chance to prosecute and guilty men continued to walk the streets. In fact, had it not been for the courageous persistence of Stephen’s parents and their advocates, challenging the Police, taking their case to civil trial, maintain media pressure, this case would have joined the litany of dead black men ignored and unresolved.
And still, only two of the gang have been brought to justice – the others remain free and dangerous.
Stephen Lawrence, sadly, is not alone.
Eight years after Stephen Lawrence died, Jean Charles de Menezes walked into Southall tube station to catch a train to work. Instead, he while sitting on the train reading his Metro, police boarded and shot him 7 times, killing him instantly in front of his fellow passengers. The police were under the impression De Menezes was a suicide bomber. The picture below is De Menezes shortly after the shooting.
Police on the scene knew fairly quickly they had made a mistake.
However, they issued a statement to the media that the man was of Arabic decent, wearing a backpack, had run from police into the carriage and the police had no choice but to shoot him.
Later, we find he is Brazilian, no police chase occurred, in fact de Menezes wasn’t aware he was being followed until after he had taken his seat on the tube, and he had stopped to pick up a Metro as he ambled through the station to the train as CCTV footage later showed. There was also no rucksack. Police had also followed De Menzes for some considerable time through the streets from his home, and could have stopped him before entering the tube station. Bottom line – they chose to shoot him, and they chose wrong.
Once again, no criminal charges of personal culpability were ever made against police officers involved in the incident despite eleven shots being fired in 30 seconds, seven of which hit him in the head, one in the shoulder.
What strikes me about this case is not only that no Asian looking man can board a tube safely wearing a back pack. But the general acceptance of collective punishment and racial profiling that was totted out in the media. There was an appeal to us, the public, to understand the pressure the police were under. I don’t doubt the pressure the police were under, but that’s why we have police and not vigilante justice, exactly this; so scared people don’t go round making extra-judicial killings based on paltry information and blind prejudice.
Whatever Happened to Faisal al-Ani?
In the same year, 43 year old Faisal al-Ani was arrested in Southend on Sea town centre while suffering from an acute psychotic illness. Hours later, he was dead.
Police stated he had collapsed and died after walking into the station. However, CCTV footage
of the arrest showed Mr al-Ani being taken to the ground in a major struggle involving multiple officers, being pinned to the floor for five minutes with a number of officers on his back and a foot in his neck, and later footage showed him being carried unconscious into the police station, not walking.
Despite all of this, after referral to the CPS, no charges were to be brought against any officer involved. This is all the more bizarre considering they found that:
“Medical reports indicate that Mr Al-Ani died as the result of a combination of factors, principally an underlying heart problem associated with a struggle and restraint.”
Therefore one could surely conclude that had Mr al-Ani been treated as a mental patient and not a criminal he may well have not died that day. The jury at Inquest felt differently, and Faisal al-Ani received no justice for dying during what is clearly a mental health episode.
And Then There was Sean Rigg
On 21st August 2008, a mentally ill man named Sean Rigg
suffered a breakdown at his supported hostel in Brixton. Sean was 40 years old and physically fit despite his mental health problems. He had been taken into mental care by police officers before and was known as vulnerable.
He was a musician and artists, dealing with Schizophrenia. He had been doing well, but then something went wrong. He left the hostel in an emotionally disturbed state and members of the hostel made 6 calls to 999 in a bid to raise the alarm and have Sean transported to the nearest hospital for treatment. A member of the public also dialled 999 after seeing Sean in such a state. At about 7pm, Sean was picked up by police, charged with a public order offense, handcuffed and taken to the station in a bobby van. The van arrived at the station at 7.30pm, Sean was taken, semi clothed, to a cage outside of the station and locked in. He was pronounced dead at hospital in the following hours.
An inquest, an appeal to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), House of commons questions by MP Sadiq Khan and tireless efforts later….no result , no prosecution, not even so much as a cause of death for the family and friends of Sean Rigg.
Furthermore, the family of Sean Rigg have been fed a string of conflicting reports on the nature of Sean’s death. One of the sinister aspects of the case was the absence of any CCTV footage from the station.
Initially, the police denied that there were any cameras on the premises pointed at the cage Sean was detained in.
Then once the family had been to the station and seen the two cameras overlooking the cage where Sean died, the station announced that the cameras hadn’t worked for some time.
Later, once referred to the IPCC, it was discovered that there were both CCTV and audio taken of Sean’s arrest and arrival at Brixton police station.
The family recorded a conversation with ChiefInspector Suzanne Wallace
stating clearly that the CCTV was working and that the tapes had been supplied to the IPCC.
The IPCC however, never seized the tapes.
After months of investigation it was concluded that there was no obvious cause of injury leading to Sean’s death.
Unfortunately, now at the beginning of 2012 –there is still no further information on how Sean Rigg died and who is responsible.
Once more, a man who should have been taken for mental health treatment was treated as a criminal. No one knows what happened to kill and young man in his physical prime that night, but we do know he died on the concrete floor of a cage, in a police yard, in the middle of a psychotic episode. His family remain committed to finding out what on earth happened to Sean.
Progress – by 2009, you Don’t Even Need to be Black or Asian to be Killed by the Police
On 1st April 2009,during the G20 protests Ian Tomlinson was returning home from his days work as a newspaper seller. he was attempting to make his way out of a kettle imposed by the police on protestors. En route, he was knocked to the floor by a police officer. Minutes later he collapsed and died. The incident was caught on camera. 16 months later, after an extensive investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service announced the case would not be put forward for criminal prosecution. As a family grieved, a country looked on astonished.
No one, not even the police, is denying that Ian Tomlinson:
a) Was entirely innocent and no part of the G20 protests that day
b) Presented no threat to the police or anyone
c) Was knocked violently to the ground by PC Simon Harwood of Scotland Yard’s Territorial Support team
Again, immediately following the incident the media was told and promptly parroted the police story that first Ian was a protestor, then that he had died of heart attack as a result of his alcoholism. As a result of police testimony and the coroner’s report, the case was dropped.
Since my original article, the report of coroner responsible, Freddy Patel (already under inspection by the GMC for four botched autopsies – and stuck off the Home Office approved list BEFORE the Ian Tomlinson autopsy) has been refuted by a second and third independent autopsy. Both found that Ian Tomlinson did die of internal injuries caused by blunt force trauma in conjunction with liver cirrhosis.
PC Simon Harwood
has been put forward for trial and will face the UK courts in June 2012.
This is great news for justice, that a police officer can be held accountable for their actions.
The facts of the case are: Ian Tomlinson was struck with such force by PC Simon Harwood that he flew through the air and landed several feet away.
Within 45 minutes he had died of internal injuries.
Anyone Remember Mark Duggan?
One might think that people had a feeling of déjà vous on 4th
August 2011, when Mark Duggan
was shot dead by police in a taxi in Tottenham.
Police intercepted Duggan while on a journey by minicab; Duggan was shot twice and killed by a shot to the chest.
Once again, police issued statements reporting that Duggan had shot at police, a police officer surviving only because the bullet wedged in his radio, and Duggan’s illegal firearm was found at the scene.
However, again on closer investigation a ballistics report
demonstrated the ‘jacketed round’ embedded in the radio was police issue, fired by a police issue gun and most likely rebounded after fired by the officers at the scene.
Furthermore, the gun which Duggan has purchased earlier that day
,had not been fired, and was wrapped in a sock inside a cardboard box metres away from the minicab.
This is not to say that Duggan should not have been arrested, interviewed and charged if necessary. But he certainly did not need to be shot dead.
The Sorry State of Affairs Continues
There have been 749 deaths in police custody
since 1993, the year of Stephen Lawrence’s death.
Not one officer yet tried and found guilty of a single death.
Sadly, it is not so easy to track the number of black and ethnic minority victims of crime who have received little or no justice due to the actions of the police.
Since Stephen Lawrence’s death, Jean Charles de Menezes, Faisal al-Ani, Sean Rigg, Ian Tomlinson, Mark Duggan and countless others have died at the hands of police.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan and other police forces have been accused of releasing the details, including mobile phone numbers, of victims of crime, to the media which then hacked the voicemails.
Today, a police report
condemns behaviour, including flirting and drinking resulting in ‘loose tongues’ but once more holds no one to account and promises lessons learned will be implemented in future.
This is our Time to Make a Change
There are people working tirelessly to hold to account the people responsible for the deaths of not only Ian Tomlinson, Sean Rigg, Faisal al-Ani, Jean Charles de Menezes but all the others. The important thing in most of these cases is that the police officers are human beings.
Where a genuine mistake has been made, the person needs to be held to account under their responsibility as a police officer. That responsibility should be accepted and administered with proportionality and understanding.
Where an act of brutality has taken place, the same responsibility must be administered with a large audience so people know they are safe and that when the police pick them up, in error or otherwise, that they are not inherently at risk of death.
These cases need to come before the courts of the law, not police inquiries and internal disciplinary proceedings. If I shot someone, I wouldn’t go through a grievance procedure, I’d go to court. Same deal for the police when they cross the line.
Public trust in the police is critical. We are the police’s number one source of crime prevention. If we can’t feel safe, and on the same team, there is something fundamentally missing and we are all less safe.
At this time in history, as the Occupy Movement expands around the globe we are asking so many questions. What kind of government could we create? What sort of economy could we create? What education system could we create? All on the basis of a world of social, political and economic equality, in harmony with the planet. A key part of that debate is what kind of police force we have. Our police force is broken, just as our economy is broken, our government is broken and our media is broken. Impunity ends here for the bankrupt institutions that fail us. A new world is possible. As we move forward, we can take this opportunity to address issues of race, among with the other iniquities we seek to dissapear from our society.
And ofcourse…..COME JOIN THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT!