Tag Archives: sean rigg

#BlackLivesMatter – SWP not welcome

On Friday evening a rally was held in Altab Ali park, Whitechapel, as part of the day-long launch of nationwide #Shutdown protests against prejudice, discrimination, and police killings, organised by the UKBLM movement.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

There were very moving accounts from various speakers whose families have been deeply affected by police killings and the institutional racism and self-preservation that invariably follows.

Among the string of speakers were Marcia Rigg, who spoke of her ongoing 8-year fight for justice for Sean Rigg, who died at Brixton police station in August 2008, and Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennet, who told of her unimaginable torment and the litany of appalling corruption, lies and cover-ups over the death of her twin brother Leon Patterson who died at the hands of Greater Manchester Police in 1992. She finally received the death certificate last week – her fight for truth and justice goes on.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

Marcia Rigg

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennet

There has been a distinct lack of diversity among a majority of protest movements in the UK for many years, despite the glaring truth that many social justice issues affect people of colour disproportionately. It also seemed for a while that young people were disengaged, perhaps after the violent quashing of the student fees protest movement in 2010.

However, it looks like this might be changing, as political mobilisation, especially among the young, is on the rise. The newly appointed president of the NUS, who also spoke at the rally, is Malia Bouattia, a black Muslim woman with a refreshingly uncompromising attitude. She spoke against the racist and divisive Prevent strategy, which criminalises thought, and also warned about the new Extremism Bill which attacks all of us who think a different world is urgently needed as well as possible!

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

Malia Bouattia

The exciting thing too, is that there seems to be more connections happening – student rights, economics, climate change, sexual politics and equality. While I’m not advocating diluting the BLM message, it was interesting to see visible support from many LGBTQ activists among the truly diverse crowd of several hundred attending. Sisters Uncut also supported the rally and the wider #Shutdown movement, recognising a common fight against racist state violence and police brutality.

The SWP were there of course, with a batch of their branded banners, and with plenty of newspapers to sell. A BLM speaker asked for people to sign up online to an email list (on their FB page), but suggested that ‘other groups’ in the park may also ask for email addresses, and to use discretion whether to do so – a reminder that not all groups shared the same clear agenda. Meanwhile, someone was quietly ripping the SWP branding off a stack of banners, something that I’d recommend as standard practice – it was great to see.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

A large purpose of the rally seemed to be to share experiences and to build and strengthen networks, so to this end, it split into four smaller groups for a while (based on North/South/East/West London), to facilitate communication and to discuss building a widening movement.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

Police ‘Liaison Officers’ prowled the park, listening in to these meetings, while a high-resolution police camera van surveilled the park from one of the entrances, collecting images of all involved.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

After a brief concluding statement from BLM activist Wail Quasim, the plan was for some #Shutdown direct action, but as a small group carrying a large ‘Stand Up To Racism’ banner led people out of the park, the SWP issue reached boiling point as female activists refused to march alongside SWP representatives, including Gary McFarlane, on account of the SWP’s mishandling, cover-up, apologism and sexism regarding rape allegations over several years.

McFarlane refused to step aside, and the banner was physically grappled over for a short while, but then, as knowledge of the issue spread, almost the entire crowd turned back into the park, refusing to follow the small group who took to the road, despite the initial plan for a mass #shutdown.

So while networking, communication and debate continued on the grass, and people began to drift away into the night, the banner group (no more than a couple of dozen, and not all of them SWP), caused havoc on Whitechapel High Street, eventually blocking the junction with Commercial Street and gridlocking traffic for the next 40 minutes.

Gary McFarlane on the megaphone

Gary McFarlane on the megaphone

Interestingly, the police were on clear instruction from above to avoid conflict at all costs – wish that it was ever so! Two blue-bibbed Liaison Officers watched protesters sit in front of vehicles and only occasionally engaged with irate motorists, telling them that the protest would probably move on in a while and to remain calm.

A white man on a moped, angry at first, argued and then debated with two female activists, who gradually persuaded him round to their view.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

Adding to the gridlock, first a coach took to the wrong side of the road at the bottom of Commercial Street, and then a delivery lorry travelling west, also drove on the wrong side of the road, hoping to turn right, but finding his path blocked by the coach. His lorry then effectively blocked the eastbound flow.

After around 30 minutes, a vanload of police arrived, and a further 3 TSG vans rushed through the junction and seemingly parked up nearby out of sight. I expected the familiar pushing to begin, but instead, the police facilitated the coach driver reversing back to his rightful place and then let the lorry through. This meant that a little traffic flow could begin.

Back at the park, people were beginning to disperse, and at the same time, the banner crew decided to head off up Commercial Street and apparently towards Tottenham, followed by hands-off police.

The solidarity in disassociating with SWP was novel and powerful, while the #shutdown itself showed what just a few people can achieve. Imagine a co-ordinated wave of small groups closing key junctions across London at the same time – with careful planning, a very powerful protest could be accomplished. The UK BLM movement is in its infancy and looks set to grow. With the protests at Heathrow and in Nottingham and Birmingham on Friday, they certainly made their mark. And with support and solidarity from other groups, who knows what changes are possible.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

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Mark Duggan vigil in Tottenham yesterday

Since 1990, more than 1400 people have died at the hands of the police. Despite several attempted private prosecutions, no police officer has ever been convicted in connection with these hundreds of deaths. And in that time, only 10 inquests or inquiries have even resulted in ‘unlawful killing’ verdicts.

During the inquest into Mark Duggan’s killing at the hands of the police, there emerged serious inconsistencies, and as new evidence cast doubt on previous statements, officers were recalled to reflect on and then even change their sworn testimonies.

On 6th Feb, a police officer may face jail as he is sentenced for misconduct in public office. Seven more metropolitan police officers are expecting disciplinary action, with four of them facing gross misconduct hearings in March. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has issued a statement that “It is completely unacceptable for a serving police officer to falsify an account of any incident”.

Unfortunately, this unusual public display of justice and indignation wasn’t about false statements over the death of a young black man, but over whether a middle-aged, white, mouthy and arrogant MP did or didn’t use the word ‘pleb’ while swearing at diplomatic police outside Downing Street. Meanwhile, the police have launched a judicial review to challenge the decision by the IPCC to re-investigate the conduct of three other officers involved in the cover-up. So business as usual there, as they continue to close ranks and protect their own.

In this context, yesterday’s vigil outside Tottenham police station was not just about Mark Duggan.

14th January was also the 15th anniversary of Roger Sylvester’s “unlawful killing” at the hands of police, in yet another case where the authorities issued false statements to an eager press who were all too willing to smear the victim – forensic pathologist Dr. Freddy Patel leaked medical information suggesting that Roger was a crack cocaine user – never substantiated. Despite later receiving a General Medical Council reprimand for this, Dr. Patel continued his career, and went on to conduct several questionable autopsies for the police and Home Office before they apparently ended his contract relating to suspicious deaths. Then mysteriously, he was selected by the coroner to conduct Ian Tomlinson’s autopsy, before finally being struck off after he was found to have disposed of key evidence in that case.

Roger’s’s father, Rupert, was among the many grieving speakers at yesterday’s peaceful and dignified gathering.

01 sylvester

He spoke about how the police appealed against the decision, on the basis that the jury had been “confused”. Mark Duggan’s family certainly believe the jury was confused in reaching their “perverse” finding at his inquest and are hoping to launch a judicial review.

Another of the speakers yesterday was Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennet, whose twin brother Leon Patterson died at the hands of Manchester police in 1992. She told how the first inquest was abandoned after she discovered the custody sergeant’s wife was on the jury, the second reached a decision of unlawful killing, but a third inquest, despite an admission by a toxicologist that he had fabricated evidence to support a police statement, then found that Leon’s death was caused by ‘hypomania’.

Friends and family members also reminded the crowd about Joy Gardiner, killed by police in 1993, and Leon Briggs, who died at Luton police station last November, and a representative of the United Friends and Families campaign group held up the list of 3120 names of people who have died in police custody since 1969.

02 list

Marcia Rigg, sister of Sean Rigg (killed in Brixton in 2008), gave some hope to the Duggans, telling them never to give up, as her family have just recently been told that the criminal investigation into Sean’s death will be reopened.

Becky Shah, from the Hillsborough Campaign, offered solidarity and spoke about how the police had lied and fabricated evidence about members of her family, killed at the football stadium, and again mentioned mainstream media collusion and the public smearing of victims.

03 shah

A speaker on behalf of the Kurdish-Turkish community told of 11,000 deaths in Turkey, and the corruption, cover-ups, and lies that obstruct justice for his people there, offering a hand of friendship and solidarity to the Duggan family in their struggle against powerful interests.

The whole afternoon was gently “compered” by Stafford Stott, who began by introducing Mark’s aunt, Carole Duggan.

04 carole

She thanked the bravery of the independent witnesses who had come forward with credible testimony that Mark was standing with his arms in the air, clearly holding a Blackberry phone, when he was executed by police. She berated the media for their sustained campaign of misinformation and smears, telling the crowd that the Duggans were not a gangster family as portrayed. And she called for people to come together and support each other to make a better life for our children.

Reverend Nims Obunge (who officiated at Mark’s funeral) ended proceedings with a plea for justice, peace, and truth, noting that it was clear that someone was lying about Duggan’s death, but also asking the Tottenham community to seek justice and peace among themselves, speaking out against gang crime, and youth-on-youth violence and killings. He then facilitated friends and families in the symbolic release of white doves, and introduced Mark’s mother, Pamela, to say a few final words, before calling for a peaceful end to the vigil.

05 doves

06 pamela

The press were there of course in large numbers, but the family asked them to respect the nature of the vigil and to remain in a packed ‘press pen’. There was open animosity towards them from some people in the crowd.

07 press

Police were there too, with intelligence units in their numbers, a couple of “Police Liaison Officers” fully wired for sound, and a very rare street appearance of a Police Commander.

Over the course of the afternoon numbers swelled to over a thousand, and it was great to see a very mixed crowd showing solidarity with the family.

08 crowd

One noteable absence was the local Labour MP, David Lammy, who despite being invited by the Duggans, excused himself on the basis he didn’t want to share a platform with “anarchists”. I don’t think that comment will have endeared him to many of his voters.