Race Matters

Organising resistance to racialized police violence

Imagine the scene, it is a warm summer Sunday afternoon, you are planning to meet a friend but your phone is dead. You decide to use the nearest phone box. The phone takes your pound before allowing you to make the call and when you turn around in frustration there are two police officers stood in front of you. They say that you are acting suspiciously in a drug dealing area and they want to stop and search you.

This happened in South London to Jason, a man of African heritage in his thirties. He could not believe that the police had assumed that he was a drug dealer because he used a phone box. He, without any aggression, refused to be stopped and searched. The male officer responded to his protest by using CS spray into his eyes, while the female officer dragged him out of the phone box. As Jason screamed for help, the male officer punched him in the face. A litany of blows to his neck and back followed as other officers came to wrestle him to the ground. Jason was taken into the police station and searched. Nothing was found but he was later charged with 'obstructing the police'.

Jason and his mother made a call for solidarity, he had been attacked by the police in the past but now being charged for the privilege was a step too far. This is how the London Campaign Against Police & State Violence (LCAPSV) began in July of 2013.

We help people respond to attacks by police and other state authorities who have subjected them to violence that could potentially destroy their lives. We provide court support when they have been wrongly prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service. We assist in gathering evidence for formal complaints and in civil lawsuits against the offending authority.

We have dealt with several cases, including one where a security guard pushed a terminally ill black man out of a wheelchair and possibly hastened his death. His friend, a dreadlocked Rastafarian in his 50s, was charged with assault on the security guard. The case dropped when the security guard didn’t bother to turn up to testify in court. Another case we are supporting involves a young British-Ghanaian man from West London who after asking a police officer why his friend was stopped and searched, was pushed by the officer until he fell through a barbershop window.

Most of the cases we have supported so far, are not as random and unfortunate as one would assume. The Ministry of Justice’s 2010 figures shows that 91% of stop and searches in England and Wales do not lead to an arrest. Jason’s experience would be among the 9% that lead to arrests. In addition, it is well known that black people and Asian people are much more likely to be exposed to this humiliating invasion of privacy than white people.

LCAPSV are developing ways of being proactive against institutional police racism and violence. With the experience and support of the anti-racist organisation, Newham Monitoring Project, we are devising 'Stop & Search Know Your Rights' workshops, which we plan to run on high streets to reach young people where they are.

We have found out that in Camberwell, South London the police are now targeting significant numbers of 10-12 year olds in stop and search. The pretext for a lot of these stop and searches is drug policing. It would appear that the belief that drug users and dealers are black males aged between 10 and 60 years old has become an accepted wisdom.

However, this bias is based on false evidence. Release, the drugs and Human Rights charity recently did a study into drug policing. It found that people who identified as 'white' were twice as likely to use or have used drugs than people of African heritage, however in London, people described as 'black' were 6 times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs. This racial bias is amplified in arrests, convictions and sentencing where black people have the highest average custodial sentence (20 months).

In our short existence, we have seen a pattern of discrimination against minority ethnic groups in both drug and counter-terrorism policing. One week after the death of Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks, Husani and Asanti Williams were shot at in their car by armed counter-terrorism officers, who proceeded to smash their car windows and their heads. Asanti suffered severe head injuries that he is only now recovering from. He recalls the racist abuse that streamed from the all-white officers as they delivered blows to his head and body with the butts of their automatic rifles. Husani, who had to receive extensive dental work after the incident, attests to being tasered several times. He was then arrested on minor drug charges but no terrorist charges.

When finding out why they were targeted, an officer explained that the vehicle they were driving was allegedly linked to an address associated with the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby, which had occurred the previous week. That was it. Perhaps another unsaid reason was that they were two black men driving in South East London in broad daylight. The Williams brothers endured the trauma of intense racist violence because they were deemed terrorists by weak association. LCAPSV’s support for them is ongoing.

Racial bias in miscarriages of “law enforcement” in counter-terrorism policing is systemic, from Jean Charles De Menezes and the 2006 Forest Gate shooting, to the extradition of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan. When even the home secretary cannot hide her racial bias when considering extradition requests for Gary McKinnon and Talha Ahsan, what hope can we have for the ordinary armed response unit officer?

On 2 December 2013, after listening to the two arresting police officers, a magistrate threw Jason’s “Police Obstruction” case out of court. LCAPSV members were there both outside court and in the public gallery supporting Jason. Now that the criminal case has finally been done with, we will support him in pursuing justice and an apology from the police. Hopefully this will be the beginning of many small victories against the state.

Find the London Campaign Against Police & State Violence on Twitter @LCAPSV and on Facebook.
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