Posts Tagged ‘Deaths in Police custody’

Mark-Duggan-Inquest-

On Wednesday January 8th 2014, the jury at the High Court in London found the Police officer who shot Mark Duggan dead in the streets of Tottenham in 2011, not guilty of unlawful killing. How, some asked, could the Police shoot an unarmed man and it be considered ‘lawful’?  Some commentators described the verdict as ‘strange’ or ‘surprising’, but I for one was not surprised.  This is business as usual for the Criminal Justice system in Britain.  The Police are NEVER convicted of unlawful killing, unless there is video evidence which can prove it – and even then, it’s an uphill struggle.

The presumption of the ‘Great-British-Public’ and the ‘Main-Stream-Media’ is that if the Police use force, then that force must be warranted.  If the Police use deadly force, then they must have considered themselves or the public to be in mortal danger.  In this case the deadly force was justified because the Police THOUGHT that Duggan had a gun and was aiming to shoot.  The fact that he didn’t is just a tragic mistake.

mark duggan

Mark Duggan was shot dead in the street in broad daylight – lawfully?

The officers had been surveilling Duggan for some time, and knew that he had obtained a gun earlier that day.  So naturally, the Police argued, when they performed a ‘hard stop’ on the minicab he was travelling in, Duggan was preparing himself for an armed shoot-out with the officers who had surrounded him, and so they reacted accordingly. The jury believed that version of events. A version by officers so confident of their story, that they refused to be interviewed by the IPCC and instead gave written statements after colluding.

Despite the fact that other eye-witness say that when Duggan left the cab, his hands were up and he was in fact holding a phone.  Despite the fact that the gun in question was found some 20 feet away from the body, on a grass verge, on the other side of  6 foot fence. Despite the facts that Duggan’s fingerprints were not even on it.

Sadly the jury were unwilling to believe that the Police could have shot an unarmed man, and then planted the gun there themselves to cover their tracks. Because the Police are all honest law-abiding citizens and Duggan was a convicted criminal. A notorious international gangster no less. Perception is everything.

But this Duggan shooting is no isolated incident. To put this case in perspective, let’s have a quick review of the Police’s treatment of Black Britons over the last 30 years.

In 1985 Cherry Groce was hit by a police bullet when the police conducted an armed search of her home seeking her son (an injury which left her paralysed from the waist down). The police officer who shot Mrs. Groce, Inspector Douglas Lovelock, was prosecuted but eventually acquitted of malicious wounding.

Joy Garner's five year old son watched her die.

Joy Gardner’s five year old son watched her die.

In 1993 Joy Gardner fell into a coma after struggling with Police when they and an immigration officer arrived at her home to serve a deportation notice. She later died in hospital. The three police officers involved were found not guilty of manslaughter in 1995.

A similar fate befell Roger Sylvester when he was taken into Police custody in 1999.  He sustained numerous injuries in his struggle with the officers and remained in a coma at the Whittington hospital for seven days until his life support machine was switched off.

Or there’s Frank Ogburo who was arrested in 2006.  Eye-witnesses saw a struggle between the officers and Frank which resulted in him being sprayed with CS Gas, being handcuffed and brought to the floor. CCTV footage captured several more officers joining in the restraint and striking Frank to subdue him. His death according to the jury at the inquest was as a “consequence of restraint”.

More recently in 2011 we are meant to believe that David Emmanuel, aka reggae artist Smiley Culture stabbed himself in the chest whilst Police conducted a search of his house. An investigation into the Police operation conducted by the IPCC found no evidence that a crime had been committed, and no misconduct by Police officers.

-SmileyCultureRip1sml

I bring up these historical cases to illustrate that the Police have form when it comes to killing Black people and getting away with it. So no, I was not surprised at the Duggan verdict. I gave up being surprised after the four police officers involved in the beating of Black motorist Rodney King were found not guilty, despite being caught on camera.

But that was the past.  As we all know, since Obama became President, things are so much better.  We now live in a post-racial society where racism is illegal.  But even if that were true, guess what?  Sometimes the Police fit up white people too!  Look at the behaviour of Police in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster. The Hillsborough Independent Panel in 2012 found that police had deliberately altered more than 160 witness statements in an attempt to blame Liverpool fans for the fatal crush, and deflect blame from their own inadequate crowd control.

It has long been known by those in the Black community that the Police sometimes lie in court and fabricate evidence in order to get a conviction.  This is a fact that the majority of the UK’s citizens (outside of Liverpool) were unwilling to believe.  That was until in the ‘Plebgate’ affair in 2012.  If the Police can lie to discredit a respected member of the Government,  how much more likely that they will do so to cover their own crimes and discredit a convicted criminal? And most importantly,  how much more likely that a jury will believe them?

The police are not above 'fitting up' even a government minister

The police are not above ‘fitting up’ even a government minister

I don’t know exactly what happened on that day in Tottenham 2011.  I wasn’t there.  I don’t know what was in that Police officer’s mind as he pulled the trigger – twice. But I know my history.  I know that when Black people die in Police custody nobody is ever held accountable.  I also know that sometimes the Police kill people unlawfully and lie and collude and fabricate evidence to cover it up. I know that sometimes innocent people go jail because of a forced Police confession (Cardiff Three); and sometimes guilty people get away scot-free because the Police aren’t motivated to pursue them thoroughly. (Stephen Lawrence)

And what I also know, is that it’s as hard for a Black man to get justice in this country today, as it’s always been.

footnotes

1.  Background to the police shooting of Mark Duggan can be found here

2.  There have been 10 unlawful killing verdicts at inquests or inquiries involving deaths in police custody or following police contact since 1990.  There have been eight attempts to prosecute police following a death in police custody or following contact in the same period, none of which have been successful.

Lee Pinkerton

Ends

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“ ‘Not Guilty?’ the filthy devils tried to kill me/  When the news gets to the hood the niggas will be/ Hotter than cayenne pepper/  Cuss, buss, kicking up dust is a must.”
Ice Cube – ‘We Had to Tear This MF Up’

The’ Not Guilty’ verdict for George Zimmerman, the killer of  Black teenager Trayvon Martin,  confirms a fact that all Black men know, but hoped had changed.  The fact that many white people view us as a threat.

Zimmerman claimed he was in fear of his life from a 17 year old boy

Zimmerman claimed he was in fear of his life from a 17 year old boy

It doesn’t matter if the Black man in question is well educated and softly spoken. It doesn’t matter if he has not even finished puberty. We are seen as a threat that must be contained. Trayvon was an unarmed teenager, and George Zimmerman was an heavily set 29 year old with an obvious weight advantage, who also happened to be packing a gun.  But still Zimmerman felt that he was the one who’s life was in danger, which could only be preserved by use of lethal force with a deadly weapon.  Even though casual observers can see nonsense of this, the Police could see Zimmerman viewpoint, as they released him without charge on the night of the murder.  A year later in the calm light of day, the six women of the jury could also see the logic of his viewpoint, as they acquitted him of all charges. They too could see how being faced with a young Black male wearing a hoody could put one in fear of their life.

Let’s drop the façade that these trials by jury are about legal argument or points of law.  Let’s be honest, they hinge on the prejudices of the members of the jury. That is why such a big deal is made of jury selection – because the defence know that the most significant factor that influences a jury’s decision, is not be the evidence put before them during the trial, but rather the prejudices they walked into the courtroom with.  The reason that Black celebrity OJ Simpson was found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole, was not because of the clever legal arguments of his defence team. It was because the Black women of the jury were well aware of the history of violence and lynchings visited on Black men in America, and were not going to send a Black man to jail for killing a white woman, where there was any sliver of doubt.

Is there a 'raging Hulk' inside every Black man?

Is there a ‘raging Hulk’ inside every Black man?

I am not for one minute suggesting that the members of that jury in Florida are all racists that think that all Black men should be put to death.  I’m not even arguing that George Zimmerman thinks that.  But what Zimmerman and those jury members, and so many white people share is the ‘Fear of the Black Man’.  We are viewed like Dr Bruce Banner – the mild mannered character from Marvel comics who, when put under stress will metamorphosis into an uncontrollable beast with super-human strength.

It was a similar thought process held by the Los Angeles police officers who were caught on camera viciously beating Black motorist Rodney King back in 1991.  It took four grown men with night sticks to keep him at bay, and if they were to ease up their beating for just a moment, no doubt King would have risen to his feet, and Lord only knows what kind of violent revenge he would have visited upon them.  The members of the jury at the trial in Simi Valley saw it that way too, when they found the four officers not guilty of using unreasonable force – a verdict which sparked the LA Riots.

Even though the cops who beat Rodney King were caught on camera, they were still found not guilty

Even though the cops who beat Rodney King were caught on camera, they were still found not guilty.

But this ‘Fear of the Black Man’ is not just something felt in America.  Many white people in Britain feel it too. Maybe the Metropolitan police officers who shot to death Azelle Rodney in 2005, and Mark Duggan in 2011 felt that same fear.  Maybe they thought that to alert these Black men of the presence of Police officers would be putting their own lives in danger.  Maybe they thought that attempting an arrest of the suspects would be too risky, and it would be simpler and safer to simply shoot them dead in the street, and worry about issues of due process later.

Maybe it was fear for their lives that the four Police officers who forcibly restrained the mentally unwell Sean Rigg were feeling, until he fell unconscious and died in 2008.

The Police restraint of Sean Rigg resulted in his death

The Police restraint of Sean Rigg resulted in his death.

Maybe that’s what the three G4S officers who were restraining Jimmy Mubenga on board a British Airways flight bound for Angola in 2010 were thinking.  No doubt those security guards felt that his pleas for help and cries that he couldn’t breathe were just a ruse, so that they would loosen their grip and he could break free of his shackles and attack them.  Until he stopped breathing that is.

And God only knows what was in the minds of the Police officers who visited Smiley Culture in his home in 2011, only for the visit to end with a knife in his chest!

This ‘Fear of the Black Man’ can also carry over to ‘Fear of Black Women’.  Maybe that’s what the Police who went to Joy Gardener’s house 20 years ago felt.  In 1993 an immigration officer and police officers arrived at her home to serve a deportation notice, and when Gardner refused them entry, the police entered by force and struggled and fought with her. The officers gagged and restrained Gardner using a body belt and wrapped 13 ft of tape around her head, which they later claimed was to prevent her biting them. Gardner suffocated and subsequently fell into a coma, later dying in hospital. The three police officers involved were found not guilty of manslaughter in 1995. Clearly all concerned thought that 13ft of gaffer tape was a reasonable precaution to take when dealing with an ‘angry Black woman’.

Police were fearful that Joy Gardner would bite them

Police were fearful that Joy Gardner would bite them

All of these examples are of confrontations between law enforcement officers and Black people suspected of a crime.  This naturally heightens the tensions and raises the stakes for all concerned.  But this ‘Fear of the Black Man’ is also something that ordinary brothers face on a daily basis.  This was brought home to me when a friend related an experience he had in his work place.  During a meeting with his white colleagues, this professional Black man was involved in a full and frank exchange of views.  After the meeting had ended, one of his female colleagues pulled him aside and asked if he had calmed down. When he confirmed that he had, she expressed her relief, confiding that back in the meeting she feared that ‘he might stab somebody’.  This white woman who had worked with my friend for years, feared that if he lost his temper he might erupt into murderous violence against his work-mates! If she can fear this from one of her work colleagues who she knows well, then how much more does she fear from a Black man whom she has never met?  How much more from a Black youth she encounters on the street who is wearing a hoody?

The great irony is, as I hope I have shown, that it is us who has more to fear from them, than they do from us. But Black men, since this is what we are facing, how can we protect ourselves and stay safe?  Here’s some tips to remember in your interactions with white people.

1)      Best not to wear a hoody.

2)      Never ever raise your voice or gesticulate wildly.  Although this is the way people of colour naturally communicate, it makes white people nervous, and could escalate any conflict to dangerous proportions.

3)      If you are unfortunate enough to have prolonged contact with the Police or other authority figures, then surreptitious audio and video recording devices, and/or eye witness are recommended. (The come in very handy at the trial).

4)      In interactions with the Police, never argue, resist arrest or make any quick movements, or you could end up dead.

5)      If you’re an immigrant, never overstay your visa, because if they come to deport you, you could end up dead.

6)      If you’re mentally ill, make sure you always take your medication, because if you relapse, and have a psychotic episode that results in the Police being called, you could end up dead.

In summary, just tread very carefully, or you could turn up missing, and judging from past evidence, no one will be convicted of your murder.

RIP,  Smiley Culture, Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg, Jimmy Mubenga, Azelle Rodney, Stephen Lawrence,  Joy Gardener, Rodney King and Trayvon Martin.

trayvon-martin