Resisting Police & State Violence

By Kwadwo Arbah

 

Imagine the scene, it is a warm summer Sunday afternoon, you plan to meet with a friend but your phone is dead. So you decide to use the nearest phone box. After ending the call when you turn around, two police officers face you saying that you were acting suspiciously and they now want to stop and search you.

 

This happened in South London to Jason, a man of African heritage in his thirties, incredulous with the assumption that he was a drug dealer because he used a phone box. He, without any aggression, refused to be stopped and searched. The female officer responded to his protest by using CS spray into his eyes. As Jason then screamed for help, the male officer then punched him in the face, and a litany of blows to his neck, 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 with 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 this year.

We help people respond to attacks by police and other state authorities from destroying their lives. We provide court support when they have been wrongly prosecuted by Crown Prosecution Service. We assist in gathering evidence for formal complaints and in civil lawsuits against the offending authority. 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 turn up to testify in court. Another case we are supporting involved a young British-Ghanaian man from West London who when asking why his friend was stopped and searched a police officer pushed him repeatedly until he fell through a barbershop window. He luckily had no serious injuries nor was charged.

Most of the cases we have supported so far, are not as random and unfortunate as one would assume. Consider that from Ministry of Justice Data recorded in 2010 shows that 91% of stop and searches in England and Wales do not lead to an arrest. Jason’s experience was would be among the 9% that do and even fewer arrests, around less than 10% of that 9% result in a conviction. It is well known that people of colour, people of African and Asian descent are grossly disproportionately subjected to this humiliating invasion of privacy.

LCAPSV are developing ways of being proactive against particularly police 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 for stop and search.

The pretext for a lot of these stop and searches is drug policing. Police officers appear to have a bias where they believe drug users and dealers are mostly black males aged between 10 and 60 years old. 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 much likely to use or have taken 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. Also this racial bias is amplified in arrests, even more in convictions and also sentencing where black people have the highest average custodial sentence (20 months). It is almost like we live in a racist society that uses state power to structurally discriminate and imprison against people of colour.

In our short existence, we have recognised this pattern not only in drug policing but also in counter-terrorism policing too. 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 then their heads. Asanti suffered severe head injuries that he is only now fully 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 has received extensive dental work and attests to being tasered several times, was then arrested on minor drug charges but no terrorist charges.
 
When finding out why they were targeted, an officer explained that the vehicle that they were driving was registered to their mother who allegedly knew the mother of one of the Lee Rigby suspects. That was it. Perhaps also the unsaid reason that they were two black men driving in South East London in broad daylight. The Williams brothers endured the trauma of intense racist violence apparently because they were deemed terrorists by weak association. LCAPSV’s support for them is ongoing. Racial bias in these miscarriages of “law enforcement” particularly in counter-terrorism policing appears systemic, from Jean Charles De Menezes and the 2006 Forest Gate shooting, to the extradition of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan. When even the secretary of state 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 Monday, 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.
By Kwadwo Arbah
Twitter: @LCAPSV