No silence on police violence!

The 2018 UFFC march

RCG comrades joined the weekend events called by the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) on 26 and 27 October in London. These consisted of a Conference entitled Interrogating State Violence: Custodial Deaths, Justice and Resistance, sponsored by Birkbeck Law department, 4WardEver, Migrant Media and Centre for Research on Race and Law, and the annual march to remember all those who have died in custody.

The UFFC was set up in 1997 by families and supporters of those who had died in custody at the hands of the state. It has held an annual walk of remembrance from Trafalgar Square to a rally in Downing Street for the past 20 years. The RCG has attended all of these events, often alongside families and campaigns who we have been working with, such as Pauline Campbell, whose daughter Sarah died in Styal prison in 2003, and who tirelessly carried out direct action protests outside women’s prisons until her own death in 2008.

The 2018 march was attended by many who, like Marcia Rigg, whose brother Sean died at the hands of Brixton police in August 2008, have been campaigning for many years, alongside new campaigns, reflecting the sharp rise in the numbers of deaths in custody over the previous year. A large group of young people from Camden, north London, were there to highlight the case of their friend Nuno Cardoso, who died in the back of a police van in Oxfordshire on 24 November 2017.

The use of force by the police has risen by 79% in the past year and includes stun guns, handcuffing, CS spray, batons and guns. The Guardian reports that on 39% of the occasions on which force was used by Metropolitan Police officers from April to August this year, it was used on black people, although they constitute approximately 13% of London’s population. At the rate of 270 violent arrests a day it is inevitable that the risk of death at the hands of the state is rising.

Families of victims of police violence spoke at the UFFC rally about the trauma of the killing and how it is compounded by the obstruction and hostility of the police that follows immediately. The character of the victim is usually slandered as soon as the news of the death appears in the media. The search for an account of what actually took place is made hard and painful. Bodies are often not released for years and dissections take place without permission. Furthermore, families are pressurised to remain silent because of impending inquest or other legal proceedings, which can take years to conclude. Becky Shah from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign told the rally that she had a pre-prepared speech but could not say more, nor could she say what she wanted to say, because of an impending court case.

The legal processes of reports, inquiries and recommendations often block what the families need most – to tell their stories to all who will listen – to match the media smears with their own accounts, to demonstrate and agitate against the injustice of it all.

Too often such ‘gagging’ is not only imposed from above in relation to legal proceedings, but is compounded by ‘support organisations’ which  provide aid to victims and survivors but which do so with an agenda of keeping things ‘respectable’ and passive, rather than angry, militant and on the streets. In our campaigning work against deaths in custody and more recently around the Grenfell Tower fire, we have too often experienced hostility from such charities and agencies. 

All of us are entitled to join in the call for justice and an end to police violence - this is not just a matter for lawyers and the courts. The RCG opposes all silence on state crimes. We support all efforts to publicise and speak out against state violence and call for the widest possible publicity and action.


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