#BlackLivesMatter movement in the UK will put pressure on deaths in custody review

On Wednesday Theresa May announced that Dame Elish Angiolini would chair an independent review into the issue of deaths in custody. In announcing this review the government accepts it’s own failings and those of law enforcement over decades.

This comes a week after the return of a UK delegation to the California #CaravanForJustice[1], which sparked new experiences and plans for turning up pressure on government to address deaths in custody. Since 1990 there have been 1518 deaths in police custody or following police contact. Despite these epidemic level figures not a single police officer has been convicted.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement in the United States has been historic in drawing attention to the issue of law enforcement violence. Activists from the UK travelled there to forge links that would allow for a similar seismic change to begin here.

Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett, Kadisha Brown-Burrell, Shaun Hall, Marcia Rigg[2] and activists from the NUS Black Students Campaign[3] and Defend the Right to Protest[4] worked with #BlackLivesMatter movement co-founder Patrisse Cullors to both raise awareness of deaths in custody in the United Kingdom and highlight the importance of ‘truth and reinvestment’ for communities impacted by state violence. The #CaravanForJustice called for law enforcement accountability and reinvestment of police and prison resources into community controlled resources.

Families and campaigners from the UK demand of the state the same truth and reinvestment that US activists are campaigning for. 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 be made available to the relatives of victims

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

These demands are not new and have been reiterated by families and charities such as INQUEST[5] for a long time. Historic reviews and inquiries into deaths in custody have also made similar recommendations. Any findings or recommendations that come out of Dame Elith’s review must include the demands of families if this is not to be another white wash of tragic deaths in state custody.

In order to continue to draw links between the popular US #BlackLivesMatter movement and the struggle in the UK UFFC, DtRtP and NUS BSC have invited Cephus ‘Uncle Bobby’ Johnson, the uncle of Oscar Grant (a 22-year-old shot dead by police in Oakland on New Years Day 2009) to join this year’s memorial march to Downing Street.

Uncle Bobby will also participate in a screening of the critically acclaimed film about the day leading up to his nephew’s death, Fruitvale Station. The multi-award winning film will screen in Brixton, a community well aware of the issues of police violence, where Uncle Bobby will take part in a Q&A alongside effected family members.

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 “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 of a number of opportunities to bridge this gap between the fight for justice in the US, UK and hopefully beyond.

An evening of celebration and performance will follow the UFFC march on October 31st.


[1] The #CaravanForJustice made eight stops across California between 3rd and 10th October. Full details can be found at the website: fergusonsolidaritytour.com

[2] Families’ stories and quotes in tour press release: https://fergusonsolidaritytour.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/uk-us-trip-press-release.pdf

[3] http://www.nus.org.uk/en/who-we-are/how-we-work/black-students/

[4] http://www.defendtherighttoprotest.org/

[5] http://www.inquest.org.uk/