Taking the struggle forward

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From Oakland’s Oscar Grant Plaza to the LA Convention Centre, through neighbourhoods all across California, the #CaravanForJustice and its UK Justice Team developed the links and relationships necessary for international solidarity around the issue of state violence. Each stop brought the experiences of family members who have had loved ones die at the hands of police in England together with communities that have long suffered state violence in the US.

Activists working across various organisations – including #BlackLivesMatter chapters, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union – are engaging in their communities in California to mobilise justice teams that will hold law enforcement to account. Patrisse Cullors and Taina Vargas-Edmond of the Ella Baker Center are heading up a ‘truth and reinvestment’ program that encourages a collective recognition of historic and contemporary racism whilst also divesting from those state resources, such as police and prisons, which perpetuate this racism and violence institutionally.

Families and campaigners from the UK have also long made demands of the state for truth and reinvestment, specifically around the issue of deaths in custody. The United Families and Friends Campaign calls for (amongst other things):

▪   Officers involved in custody deaths to be suspended until investigations are completed

▪  That officers should not be allowed to collude in writing their statements of fact

▪   Prosecutions to automatically follow ‘unlawful killing’ verdicts

▪   Police forces to be made accountable to the communities they serve

▪   Legal Aid and full disclosure of information to be automatically made available to the relatives of victims

▪   Officers responsible for deaths should face criminal charges, even if retired

With Theresa May’s announcement today of an independent review into deaths in custody chaired by Dame Elish Angiolini, those still campaigning for justice want to highlight these demands which are yet to be implemented despite decades of recommendations.

Having returned, the delegation that took part in the #CaravanForJustice tour through California is now mobilising for the annual UFFC procession on October 31st – from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street. The procession each year acts as a memorial to those who have died in custody as well as a reminder of these deaths to those empowered by the state to bring an end to them.

The uncle of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old shot dead by police in Oakland on New Years Day 2009, Cephus ‘Uncle Bobby’ Johnson will be flying from Oakland to London in support of the march along with Beatrice Ann ‘Aunty B’ Johnson. The UK justice team (including Kadisha Brown-Burrell, Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett, Marcia Rigg and Shaun Hall) met Uncle Bobby and Aunty B at the first rally of the tour in Oakland.

Marcia Rigg, co-chair of UFFC and the eldest sister of Sean Rigg said of the meeting that it “was truly powerful. Uncle Bobby inspired us with his family’s victory in having the state bring a successful prosecution against the officer that shot Oscar that night – a first in California’s history.”

Uncle Bobby noted about the prospect of joining with UFFC ‘The Love Not Blood Campaign is coming to London to bridge the gap and unite the fight against police terrorism from Oakland to Florida to New York to Cleveland to Texas; from every state in the USA fighting against police terrorism to London and those fighting against police terrorism there. This is because Black Lives Matter everywhere and police accountability is a human right. Our vision is a world where no one has the right to take the life of another and be protected from the consequences of doing so by a system of structural racism, obfuscation and propaganda.”

The UFFC procession will be the first in a number of opportunities to bridge this gap between the fight for justice in the US, UK and hopefully beyond.

UFFC and supporters have also organised a screening (and Q&A session with Uncle Bobby) of the film Fruitvale Station, which dramatizes the last day of Oscar Grant’s life. An evening of celebration and performance, including Akala, will also follow the UFFC march on October 31st.