Families demand no more deaths in custody

by New Worker correspondent

HUNDREDS of members of families who have lost a close relative through a death in custody gathered on a corner of Trafalgar Square last Saturday with banners, placards and leaflets to commemorate their loved ones, and to demand an end to deaths in custody.

Since 1990 a total of 1,518 people have died in custody and their families are demanding justice.

Some died in police stations, police vans, prisons and secure mental hospitals. All had died needlessly; but in every case the killers have not been brought to justice.

The victims included: Sean Rigg, Seni Lewis, Jimmy Mubenga, Roger Sylvester, Shehu Bayoh, Rebecca Overy, Ricky Bishop, Jason Thomson, Paul Coker, Thomas Orchard, Joy Gardener, Kingsley Burrell and many, many more.

Jimmy Mubenga died on a plane as he resisted a forced deportation, Roger Sylvester died in a police van after being arrested when he accidentally shut himself out of his home while naked.

Rebecca Overy, aged 18, killed herself in an adult mental health secure unit, where she had been transferred suddenly and without warning.

Rebecca had been in a secure adolescent psychiatric unit from the age of 13 years, where she had an established network of support and friends of her own age. Her mother described her as being a bubbly teenager. She had posters in her room and enjoyed making jewellery. She had enrolled in an animal care course and had planned to do some voluntary work.

Her doctors were very encouraging and led her to believe that she had a future. Rebecca believed that she would be returning back home after she turned 18. Instead, a day after she turned 18, she was moved to an adult mental health facility. Her mother said that her spark disappeared and she became despondent.

Sean Rigg suffered mental health problems and members of the public called the police when he was acting strangely. Four police officers chased Rigg, who was handcuffed and restrained in a prone, face down position as officers leant on him for eight minutes.

Arrested for assaulting a police officer, public disorder and theft of a passport — which was actually his own — he was then placed face-down with his legs bent behind him in the caged rear section of a police van and transported to Brixton police station. During the journey “his mental and physical health deteriorated”, and he was “extremely unwell and not fully conscious” when eventually taken out of the van.

One of the arresting officers was captured on the police station’s CCTV claiming that Rigg was “faking it”.

Sheku Bayou, an engineering student from Sierra Leone living in Kirkcaldy, Fife, died in police custody last May. Police gave the family five different versions of how he died on the same day.

His body was covered in injuries from a very violent assault and he is believed to have died of asphyxiation.

The demonstrators marched slowly and with dignity from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street, where six bereaved family members delivered a letter on behalf of the United Families campaign.

Amongst them was Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson who had travelled from the United States to be there, commemorating his nephew, Oscar Grant, who was shot by police in Oakland in 2009.

He said: “I’ve been asked this question: ‘why come and stand with United Families and Friends?’ A black life murdered in Oakland is no different from a black life murdered in London. Black lives matter everywhere.”

He added: “It’s going to take a mass movement to make change across the world — in London and in the United States.”