Black lives do matter

YET ANOTHER black man has died at the hands of the police. This time it was former Aston Villa football star Dalian Atkinson, who died after being tasered by police outside his father’s home in Telford, Shropshire. According to first reports it seems he had been behaving strangely and aggressively towards his father.

Then accounts of the event came from a neighbour, Paula Quinn, a white working class woman with no motive for bending the truth. She was interviewed on camera by the BBC’s Sian Lloyd. She told Lloyd that Atkinson had been stumbling towards the police in a disturbed but non-aggressive way. They told him to stop and threatened to Taser him. He stumbled, seemingly oblivious, and they tasered him. Quinn said he fell to the ground “like a lead balloon”.

That use of the Taser might just have been justified if the police had thought they were in danger from Atkinson — though they are trained to subdue people in that state without recourse to tasering.

Everything that followed, as described by Quinn, was not justified. She said that whilst he lay helpless on the ground: “They were shouting and kicking so much all I could hear were the boots hitting him. And then the officer who released the Taser stepped back while the other officer still continued to kick and then I could hear him shout to the other officer that was still kicking, ‘Back off, back off, back off.’ “And then the officer with the Taser asked the gentleman to put his hands behind his back [so they could handcuff him] and did so probably two or three times and reactivated the Taser another four or five times after that.”

Since it was first shown the BBC has edited Quinn’s interview to cut out most of her statement.

The death has, of course, been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). This has a double effect — it gags witness statements pending the outcome of the IPCC inquiry and it pushes the whole issue out of the news, and, they hope, out of the public mind, for a very long time. It rarely produces a result that satisfies the needs of the bereaved family to know exactly what happened and why.

This is a story repeated too often and shows that our police force remains as institutionally racist as ever. This does not mean all police officers are racist. It does mean that whenever a black person comes into contact with the law for any reason they are three times as likely to have a seriously bad outcome.

Doreen Lawrence, in the late 1990s, just after the end of the inquiry into the police failures in investigating the racist murder of her son, Stephen Lawrence, expressed fears that the promised changes to the police force would be superficial and that in 20 years’ time the same stories of police racism would be hitting the headlines.

A few years later Dev Barrah, who worked for the Greenwich Council for Racial Equality (GCRE) fighting race crime, told the New Worker that although the GCRE had worked with local police, raising race awareness, a lot of officers treated it as just another tick box on their way to promotion. And even when he had succeeded in making an impression, they would be posted away elsewhere, to be replaced by a new squad full of racist ideas, and the process had to begin all over again. Since then the GCRE has lost its funding in the austerity cuts.

As Marxist-Leninists we have to see the police force as part of the state machinery that exists to suppress the working class and to keep it divided. The average constable on the beat is unaware of this but the job attracts those who like wearing uniforms, bossing other people about and are racist. That is why the police are often more racist than the general population.

But we cannot take the defeatist line that nothing can be done about it until after we have socialism. American Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael once said that racism is a product of capitalism and that every anti-racist, whether or not they realise it, is also an anti-capitalist. When we challenge the state’s racism we also challenge the system that produces it.

As always, our slogan must remain: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” We must join our fellow workers in fighting this horror that oppresses black workers, and intimidates and diminishes their lives — because those lives do matter, to all of us. They make up a fair chunk of the working class here and we cannot win the class struggle without them.