UK Report Black Lives Matter national shutdown

The Black Lives Matter UK movement is protesting racist state violence that's every bit as horrific as the killings making headlines abroad, UK reporter Rory MacKinnon writes.

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play Black Lives Matter protesters in the USA (File/Creative Commons )
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OPINION It's said that the English pride themselves on two things: queuing, and feeling smugly superior to Americans. So imagine the uproar last week when a throng of black activists blockaded traffic outside London's Heathrow Airport to protest racist state violence here that's every bit as horrific as the killings making headlines abroad.

As padlocked demonstrators spread themselves before honking buses and taxis, chanting "hands up, don't shoot", they and their counterparts in Birmingham and Nottingham risked 19 arrests to bring those cities' centres to a similar standstill -- all part of a national action under the banner of Black Lives Matter UK.

Writer and activist Wail Qasim was part of the Heathrow protest. In his own words, to Huck magazine:

"We saw that for decades families have had to struggle long and hard to get justice for their loved ones killed in state custody and that largely these battles are unknown and unsupported.

"In England and Wales 1563 people have died in police custody or following contact with the police since 1990. Not a single officer has been convicted in any of these cases. That is the equivalent of a death every six days."

The case for racial bias in policing is overwhelming: black men and women made up seven percent of the deaths but account for less than three percent of the general population. Meanwhile black men constitute around 10 percent of the prison population across England and Wales and nearly 40 percent of prisoners in youth jails.

Those are the numbers, but it's the names of the dead that ring out from the crowds: Sheku Bayoh, Sean Rigg, Smiley Culture. But last week's demonstration recalled one death in particular, with young black bodies sprawled on the asphalt exactly five years to the day since father of six Mark Duggan was shot to death during a traffic stop in North London - a flashpoint which triggered a week of civil unrest and looting in multicultural cities across England.

Police insisted they had pulled Duggan over because they suspected him of gun-running for a local gang and contrived to suggest Duggan had been armed and ready to fire. But subsequent forensics revealed that the gun recovered from the crimescene and attributed to Duggan was found wrapped in a sock over a low wall more than 10 feet away. Neither the gun nor the sock bore Duggan's DNA or fingerprints. Meanwhile more than 30 officers involved in the surveillance operation simply refused to be interviewed.

The riots began in darkness three days later, after hundreds from Duggan's neighbourhood marched on the local police station to demand a response from the commanding officer. In spite of all existing police guidelines, the force had not supplied a family liaison officer and had not even contacted Duggan’s parents to inform them of their son’s death. Many were angered further when their six-hour vigil was greeted with a literal wall of silence in the form of armoured riot cops ringing the station steps. The symbolism of officers closing ranks against a largely black community was lost on no-one.

Five years on, the smoke has cleared and the insurers have paid out, and the riots rarely merit a mention in polite society. But the struggle goes on because of activists and organisers like Qasim. Long may it continue.

By Rory MacKinnon, for Pulse Ghana. Rory is a UK-based journalist and activist.

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