We Demand Justice – A week of action

We Demand Justice strap

This week, there are events every day around the country that highlight death in police custody, from meetings at Westminster, community events, conferences in universities, film screenings and a publication launch. The week culminates in the peaceful annual remembrance procession march on 31 October fronted by the United Families and Friends Campaign from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street, where a petition will be handed in to demand justice for those who have died in state custody in suspicious and controversial circumstances.

It is the final week of Black History Month – a month of celebration. This is not the history we want to ‘celebrate.’

EVENTS:

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Fruitvale Station Film Screening Q and A with Cephus ‘Uncle Bobby’ Johnson – Oscar Grant’s Uncle

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Fruitvale Station is based on the events leading to the murder of Oscar Grant, a young man who was killed on New Years day 2009 by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Station in Oakland, California.

Thousands took to the streets in protest at Oscar’s murder – occupying the turnstiles of Fruitvale station – and a determined campaign led to the first prosecution of an officer in California’s history. During a recent UK-US justice tour across California, families in the UK met Oscar’s Uncle – Cephus ‘Uncle Bobby’ Johnson – who dedicated himself to fighting for justice for Oscar and is now building a network of families demanding an end to deaths and police brutality across the US.

Uncle Bobby said of his visit to London “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 USA fighting against police terrorism to London and every boroughs of London fighting against police terrorism, because Black Lives Matter everywhere and that police accountability is a Human Right. We demand justice and police accountability everywhere. Our vision is a world where no one has the right to take the life of another and be protected/ insulated from the consequences of doing so by a system of structural racism, obfuscation and propaganda.” Cephus ‘Uncle Bobby’ Johnson – Oscar Grant’s Uncle

Uncle Bobby will also be joining the United Families and Friends memorial procession on Sat 31st Oct, assemble 12 noon Trafalgar Square

Screening event details

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.

Riverside update

Vigil

During our trip it has become clear at each stop that everyone in marginalised communities have stories of state violence to tell. Usually at least one personal or second hand story about police abuse, but often people can list off a whole host of instances where they or others in their community faced racialist violence by law enforcement.

In Riverside, Inland Empire – a community in California divided racially and economically, including both affluent and poor neighbourhoods – a young man named Terrance Stewart told the gathered rally of instances where friends of his were subject to horrendous violent and lethal abuse at the hands of the police. While he was growing up in LA officers killed three of his close friends. He spoke of Jermaine Lamonte Love, Dra’ane Desmond Jenkins and Betty Cass. The latter had been under the influence of a drug; he jumped out of a window, injuring himself severely. Not only did police refuse to assist him because they wouldn’t risk coming into contact with his blood, but they used a Taser on him, killing him.

Terrance also noted the death of his friend Ian McCloud, a white man who was also Tasered by police on his testicles. Ian was called a ‘n****r lover’ by the police that killed him.

These are not names of people whose deaths have become infamous. They were simply murdered in their communities by law enforcement who are waging a war on them. Their cases are spoken of almost as if they were everyday because in the US such police violence really is everyday. This means people fear for their lives. Terrance admitted that he feared for his life, and how could he not? The police are out to get people like himself, and they make that known very well. For example officers stopped him and asked if he was on probation or parole, racially profiling him. When he told them he wasn’t on either their response was ‘not yet. We’ll get you and you will be.’

Yet through all this he is still able to say ‘the power is in the people. The power of the people is more powerful than the people in power.’

The local #BlackLivesMatter chapter are using that power in setting up a local justice team with the Ella Baker Centre for Human Rights. Their first action will be to rapidly respond to the very recent killing of a black man, Isaac Kelly, a nurse who had just come off a shift, who was shot dead by an armed security guard in his own apartment complex on 3rd October.

This rally emphasised the level of the task ahead, but also the willingness of the community to carry out that task. The mood and calls to action echoed the words of Assata Shakur that we have used to end each of our rallies and teach-ins. In Riverside we were able to do this around the statue of Martin Luther King in the cities eponymous square.

‘It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect one another. We have nothing to loose but our chains.’

Mobile Justice California

The #CaravanForJustice isn’t just about sharing stories, exposing truths and shifting hearts; it’s about movement, and movements require engagement, action and tools.

One tool is Mobile Justice CA, a smartphone application that helps people assert their constitutional right to film law enforcement activity and keep officers accountable.  

The app has three main functions: Record, Report and Witness.

  • Record. Users can film an encounter with law enforcement. Once the recording has ended, a copy is delivered to a secure database maintained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and a copy is also saved to the user’s phone.
  • Report. The report is a direct channel to the ACLU’s legal team. Users are encouraged to fill the report survey with important details like the officer’s name and badge number, location and a full description of the incident.
  • Witness. If a user enables their GPS in the phone’s settings, other app users within a 3-mile radius will be notified when and where recording is in progress. 

The app also features the ACLU’s full library of Know Your Rights information including rights of students, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants and more, as well as an Alerts tab that notifies app users of timely actions, petitions and events in the region. 

Developed by the ACLU of California, Mobile Justice CA has reached over 160,000 users since its launch last May. The app is available free in English and Spanish, on iOS and Android phones. 

By Marcus Benigno, @mfbenigno

Marcus Benigno is new media strategist at the ACLU of Southern California in Los Angeles. The ACLU of California is a sponsor of the #CaravanForJustice.

Stockton and Salinas update

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The #CaravanForJustice has brought UK activists into contact with those working in their communities to heal from the effects of state violence and brutality. Today included a teach-in at the Fathers and Families empowerment centre in Stockton, San Joaquin County and rally at Salinas, Monterey County.

Fathers and Families San Joaquin addresses critical problems such as institutional inequity, fatherless homes, wide spread poverty, employment disparities, inadequate access to public health services, community re-entry and youth on youth violence. Our tour was invited into their centre to share experiences from the United Kingdom whilst learning about their struggle against the detrimental effects of the punitive state.

In Stockton, where the school officer arrest policy was implemented in 1991, and San Bernardino, which implemented the policy in 1997, school officers have arrested 34,368 and 59,290 students under age 18, respectively, on criminal charges through 2013. More than 1,800 of those arrested students were under age 10-1,590 in Stockton and 247 in San Bernardino. Stockton Police Department and Stockton Unified School District officers arrest children under age 10 at levels 15 times higher than in Bakersfield, 24 times higher than in Fresno, and 38 times higher than in Sacramento.

With this sort of attack on the youngest of their loved ones, communities hIMG_0263 2ave had to organise to rebuild from the wreckage that is left in the wake of state abuses. Remembrance of those who have been lost and cherishing those still with us has become a big part of the struggle for justice.

The family of Frank Alvarados Jr, murdered by Salinas police in 2014, shared his horrific case at the second event of the day. Frank had been to prison and on release campaigned for reinvestment in his community. He was shot dead by police who claim to have confused his cell phone for a weapon.

Angelica Garza, Frank’s sister described that ‘[her] brother had a cell phone in his hands, he was shot many many times with a hand gun and about 16 times with a high powered rifle’. Her brother is one of five people killed over the last year in their town: Angel Ruiz, Osmar Hernandez, Carlos Mejia, Jaime Garcia and Frank Alvarado Jr.

Far too often the school to prison pipeline ends in tragic deaths caused by a system that fights accountability at every turn. In Salinas their mayor is a former police officer, the current chief of police killed someone and got away with it and, in a town that is 75% Latino, the DA is a white man. The whole damn system is guilty as hell.

Sacramento update

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Sacramentan’s welcomed families from the UK to a rally outside their state Capitol building today. Protestors from across the state had been camping outside the Capitol in order to place pressure on Governor Jerry Brown to sign AB 953, a piece of legislation that forces law enforcement to record stops, including information on race and gender. Yesterday Governor Brown signed this legislation into law, giving campaigners a victory to celebrate with the #CaravanForJustice.

‘Folks from the UK are part of my family now, we always say it’s not a family you want to be in, but welcome,’ said Christina Arechiga. Her cousin Ernest Duenez was horrifically shot dead by police officers and she has been a campaigner for justice ever since. Their family took the difficult decision to make the video of Ernest being killed public in order to share his story. After hearing stories that family representatives on the #CaravanForJustice had to tell a collective recognition of the common fight for justice against state brutality began to come into focus. Christina continued, ‘we will not forget the stories you’ve told we will tell them along with our stories, you’re making our fight stronger.’

Marcia Rigg and Kadisha Brown-Burrell both highlighted the strong failings around mental health that led to their brothers’ deaths. Elizabeth Henning-Adam drew on this same concern in sharing the case of her son Bobby Henning, murdered execution style by police during a mental health episode.

She noted about all killings ‘I don’t care if you robbed something. I don’t care if you were drunk in the street. I don’t care if you were high. I don’t care if you were mentally ill. I don’t care what the reasons are, there is no reason to shoot and kill unarmed people in the USA or anywhere in the world. There is no excuse for that.’

We are learning that activists in the US have built a close community of solidarity and support, allowing space to share experiences of police brutality. This trip not only allows us to hear of their struggles, but has shown people in the US how far the issue of state violence extends.

The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment were partners for this rally