On Saturday 27 October, over 500 people gathered to march from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street for the annual United Families and Friends Campaign remembrance procession for those that have died in state custody.
The march made its way slowly down Whitehall, led by the sons, daughters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews of those that have died. A symbolic coffin on which was written all the names of the deceased was carried. The march was joined this year by new families as well as those veterans that have marched each of the last fourteen years that the commemorative march has been held. Banners, placards and t-shirts recalled Mikey Powell, Roger Sylvester, Azelle Rodney Ricky Bishop, Sean Rigg, Jimmy Mubenga, Sarah Campbell, Christopher Alder, Anthony Grainger, Olaseni Lewis, Billy Spiller, Kingsley Burrell, Demetre Fraser, Philmore Mills, Paul Coker, Mark Duggan and Mark Nunes.
This year, a number of other groups and campaigners also concerned about the extension and abuse of state powers, marched in solidarity with the families. These included Hamja Ahsan (Free Talha Ahsan Campaign), Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA), INQUEST, the London Guantánamo Campaign, the Save Shaker Aamer campaign, Defend the Right to Protest, Black Mental Health UK, anti-fascists, members of the Public and Commercial Services union and Rail and Maritime and Transport union members. As the procession reached Downing Street the chants began: ‘No Justice, No Peace’, ‘Who are murderers? Police are the murderers’, ‘What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now!’.
A letter handed in at Downing Street by the families of Sean Rigg, Mark Duggan, Anthony Grainger, Kingsley Burrell and Olaseni Lewis said: ‘We believe it is essential that the police (the least reformed of all public services) be scrutinised and urgently reformed, and that state officials are subject to the same judicial system as any ordinary member of the public.’ It goes on to demand:
- Fundamental reform of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to ensure open robust transparent and thorough investigations;
- Officers and officials directly involved in custody deaths be suspended until investigations are completed;
- Immediate interviewing of officers and all officials concerned with the death;
- Full disclosure of information to families;
- Prosecutions should automatically follow ‘unlawful killing’ verdicts at Inquests and officers responsible for those deaths should face criminal charges, even if retired;
- The end of means testing of families for legal aid.
You can the read the letter in full here.
Despite attempts by English Defence League (EDL) members to disrupt the rally and march, it went ahead easily and many moving and emotional speeches were made. Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett, the twin sister of Leon Patterson, who died in November 1992 after spending a week in custody Stockport police station, told those gathered: ‘A lot of you recognise me. I’ve been making this journey for fourteen years and every year I have seen a new family …. I can’t take it any more, seeing these fresh faces … The sad children the sad mothers … United we stand divided we fall… Every man has an equal right to live to matter what race colour or class. We are all united in this, death has no preference of colour.’
Samantha Patterson, sister of Jason McPherson, who died in January 2007 after being arrested and taken to Notting Hill police station after a stop and search, said: ‘We need to make sure when they make Rule 43 reports that what they actually say is implemented. Because it never ever is. They don’t learn from their mistakes. If they had’ve learned from their mistakes my brother would never have died in Notting hill police station. Sean Rigg would never have died. Mark Duggan would never have died. All the names, all the people you are here for today would not have died if they listened fourteen years ago … Nothing ever happens … We don’t want the IPCC taken away, we want them to fix-up because if we start from scratch each time, it will be another disaster and we will be here fifteen years from now shouting and chanting about the same things.’
Patricia Coker, mother of Paul Coker who died in August 2005 after being arrested by police at his home and being taken to Plumstead police station, said: ‘As my son lay dying, he was denied medical access to a doctor. A police officer kicked his leg and stepped over him as he lay on the floor. That was in 2005. Shortly after that we became part of the United Families and Friends movement. A great movement. Stay strong. Stay together …The pain and the grief unites us. But our determination and strength to continue fighting against the injustices in the criminal justice system must remain. The government was to be tough on crime and punishment. I tell them today, they need to be tough, TOUGH, on the injustices within the criminal justice system and make a real change … Men women and children are dying at the hands of the functionaries of the state.’
Janet Alder, the sister of Christopher who died on the floor of Queens Street police station in Hull, said: ‘In 1998 Christopher Alder was murdered by Humberside police. Nothing has changed. Nothing at all. They are still getting away with murder. They are trying to put it down to neglect. These men are dying violent deaths at the hands of the British state. You’ve got the British government, which is well aware and is protecting those police officers that are responsible. We have a right to justice.’
Read an IRR News story: ‘Until you fight, change never happens’
View a Demotix picture story here