In London last November, thousands of Brits held a march to protest police brutality. It was a silent march, more like a funeral procession, really, with the aggrieved carrying wreaths and photographs of family members who had died as a result of contact with the police.
One protestor reportedly said: “If you want to be heard, sometimes it’s better to whisper than to shout.”
Apparently not many people heard it.
According to London’s Metropolitan Police Services (MPS), 226 people have died in police custody between 1998 and June this year. The protestors maintain that when you include those who died soon after being released by police — having been restrained by choke holds and the like — the number is closer to 400.
Of the 28 people who died in MPS custody from 2008-09, 13 were either black or Asian. Of the 24 who died the following year, 13 were black or Asian. Of the 31 who died from 2010 to June 2011, 16 were black or Asian.
In July, after three deaths during contact with police were reported in the span of a few weeks, protestors held another peaceful march. Not many people heard that, either.
On a Web site where citizens monitor MPS misbehavior, someone wrote: “This is seriously getting out of hand now...There must be something that can be done to let our voices be heard.”
Last week, MPS shot and killed Mark Duggan, an unarmed 29-year-old black man. Police had intitally claimed that Duggan was shot after firing at them. Indeed, somebody had shot a hole in one of their patrol cars. But it wasn’t Duggan. The bullet hole had come from a wild shot fired by the police themselves.
The family heard about it on television, not from police. So they held a protest vigil at a police station. There, a 16-year-old girl angrily confronted a police officer who responded by knocking her to the ground, according to witnesses. As word of the incident spread, riots erupted in London, Manchester, Salford, Liverpool, Nottingham and Birmingham.
That got some attention, even if it has not always led to an understanding of the problem. Many people still seem to feel that the upheavals were mostly over people being angry at the prospect of losing their welfare checks or who just wanted to steal some TVs.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, for instance, called the civil unrest “needless opportunistic theft and violence, nothing more, nothing less.”
For a more substanitive look at police brutality in London and the corruption scandals that have turned the department into a veritable rogue operation, see Amy Goodman’s recent interview on Democracy Now! with British journalist Darcus Howe and blogger Richard Seymour.
A lot of Brits could certainly use a shot of reality. A recent poll by the Sun newspapers found that one in three favor giving riot police “permission to use live ammo.” Had they been listening to the cries and whispers of the protestors over the past decade, they’d know the police don’t need permission.
Update, 3:30 p.m.: The Independent Police Complaints Commission said today (12 August), that it “may have inadvertently given misleading information to journalists” regarding the death of Mark Duggan, who was shot by Metropolitan Police officers last week. Today’s IPCC statement acknowledges that the IPCC “may have verbally led journalists to believe that shots were exchanged, as this was consistent with early information we received that an officer had been shot and taken to hospital. Any reference to an exchange of shots was not correct and did not feature in any of our formal statements, although an officer was taken to hospital after the incident.”
Meanwhile, the police who shot Duggan claim to have found a gun in the taxi where he was killed. But investigators are still trying to determine if the gun belonged to Duggan.