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Blacks in UK call for independent policing to prevent deaths in custody

By Trevon Muhammad -UK Correspondent- | Last updated: Mar 6, 2014 - 6:11:27 PM

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LONDON - Deaths in police custody have long been a serious concern for Britain’s Black community.

From Joy Gardner, whose face was wrapped in 13 feet of adhesive tape to stop her from screaming during a police deportation witnessed by her five-year-old son in 1993 to Christopher Alder, who choked to death on his own blood and vomit on the floor of a police station, with his trousers around his ankles as officers looked on in 1998, Black men and women have died in horrific circumstances in police custody across the United Kingdom. Yet no police officer has been successfully prosecuted for a death in custody since 1969.

With the number of Black fatalities increasing, concerned Black leaders and community members came together for Community Question Time, a forum to discuss this issue.

Hilary Muhammad, the UK representative of Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, chaired the debate at the Nation headquarters in Brixton, South London after police pressure made two venues refuse to house the public discussion. Both the Park View Learning Center and Chestnut Community Center canceled bookings following interactions with the police highlighting the importance of Black owned buildings for many community members.

Lee Jasper, a renowned politician and panelist, said the development of “economic and political” power is the only way to overcome the lack of justice afforded to the Black community in particular throughout the UK.

Black people account for 20 percent of deaths in detention despite being only 3.5 percent of the UK population. Official police figures suggest Black people are disproportionately subjected to violent treatment by police officers, with half of all people tazered in London coming of Black heritage in 2012.

“If we don’t have economic and political power then we’re always going to be subject to the vagaries of these people.” Mr. Jasper said.

As an example of low-esteem in which the Black community is held, Mr. Jasper recounted the 2011 deaths of two police dogs left in a vehicle for six hours on the hottest day of that year by a police officer. Though the officer avoided jail, he was banned from handling dogs for three years and ordered to pay a fine to the RSPCCA, the UK’s leading animal welfare charity. The Metropolitan Police commissioner also expressed sincere remorse over the deaths.

Meanwhile the shooting of Mark Duggan saw the IPCC, the police watchdog agency, falsely claim Mr. Duggan had shot at police and the officer who killed Mr. Duggan was cleared to return to duty despite severe inconsistencies in his testimony, said Mr. Jasper. Following the Mark Duggan inquest, many felt police officials did more to justify the fatal operation than to apologies for killing an unarmed Black man.

“It appears the commissioner can apologize for the death of a dog but he can’t apologize for the death of a Black man,” Mr. Jasper said.

Stronger community and police relations are often touted as essential in the ongoing battle for justice but many attendees voiced frustration over unproductive meetings between police representatives and the Black community.

Veteran community activist Minkah Adolfo told the audience nothing had changed in his nearly 40 years of campaigning for justice on behalf of those who die in official custody. Fellow panelist Myrna Simpson, the mother of Joy Gardner, shared a similar view. With an inquest into her daughter’s death never completed and three officers acquitted of manslaughter, Ms. Simpson called on the community to work together in the ongoing struggle for justice.

“We as Blacks have too much talk and not enough action!” she said. “We must unite!”

Isis Amlak, a legal consultant and community advocate, said years of sitting on police advisory boards led her to conclude that the Black community needs to take responsibility for itself if real progress is to be made.

“We deal with the Police on their terms and it’s a complete waste of time,” she said. “We sit there smiling and talking to very sensible senior officers who then tick some boxes and kill our young people in the street. We need to have our own systems of engagement or non-engagement.”

Critically acclaimed hip-hop artist Akala called for the community to start policing itself by employing members to patrol Black neighborhoods. This would help bring an end to deaths in custody, Black on Black violence and racially biased stop and searches in Black communities, he argued.

“Talking is over, we need to put our money where our mouth is or keep quiet and let them keep killing our children,” said Akala.

His idea received widespread approval and Minister Muhammad announced a follow-up meeting to work towards implementing the initiative, which reflects approaches long advocated by Minister Farrakhan.

Concluding the meeting, Minister Muhammad told attendees the underlying solution to the continuing suffering of the Black community was not violence against the state but unity across political, religious and organizational lines.

“It’s important to understand events like these are not opportunities for us to express our pent-up anger and misdirect people. These are forums for us to consciously and deliberately make conscious steps forward,” he said. “All God wants us to do is the one thing we haven’t done which is to put our pettiness aside and understand that our unity is more powerful than nuclear bombs.”