Over 500 people defied police intimidation as they marched to Downing Street in London last Saturday, calling on the government to take action over deaths in custody.
The march, organised by the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC), was led by family members of those who have died, and who still seek justice for their loved ones.
Marcia Rigg, whose brother Sean Rigg died in Brixton police station in 2008, spoke to Socialist Worker.
“This is the 13th annual march to Downing Street, and the 13th year a letter has been delivered to the prime minister outlining our concerns,” she said. “But they've never engaged meaningfully with the families.
“In light of the recent shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, and the following community unrest, it's now imperative that the issue of deaths in custody is put at the top of the political agenda. It's institutionalised and, I'd suggest, it's embarrassing for them.”
The demonstrators set off from Trafalgar Square in a silent procession down Whitehall. The marchers wore black, and took around an hour to reach Downing Street down the short stretch of road.
The march was larger than the previous year. This is partly because of the growing concern over the issue, but also, tragically, because more people die each year after police contact.
Kadisha Brown-Burrell is the sister of Kingsley Burrell, who died in March after he was detained by police. His body was later shown to be covered with massive injuries.
“All these families are here to support each other,” she told Socialist Worker. “We're all going through the grieving process and still need answers.”
The family has still not been able to bury Kingsley's body as the long battle for justice continues.
Matilda MacAttram, the director of Black Mental Health UK, was on the demonstration. She thought that the issue of deaths in custody was now becoming a wider concern for people. “This has gone from being an issue concerning the few to an issue for all black Britain,” she told Socialist Worker.
There was a noisy rally opposite Downing Street when the march finished, punctuated with shouts of “No justice, no peace” and “murderers!”.
Carole Duggan, Mark Duggan's aunt, told the crowd, “We'll be here every year until we get justice.
“This is all about class. We're being blamed for being working class.”
Floyd Jarrett, the son of Cynthia Jarrett, who died in Tottenham in 1985, sparking the Broadwater Farm riots there, shouted towards Downing Street, “You can't beat me, your walls will fall. You talk about Gaddafi, what about you?
“We shall rise, and when we rise your system will fall!”
After the speeches, several family members and supporters sat in the road outside Downing Street and blocked the traffic. Among them were Josette Fraser, the mother of Demetre Fraser who died in Birmingham in May, and Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennet, whose twin brother Leon Patterson died in custody in 1992.
“All I want to know is what happened to my twin,” Stephanie shouted at police as they came to try to move them. “I want to know what happened to him in that cell that made him look like a man I couldn't recognise!”
At this point, around 100 police officers seemed to appear from nowhere. They marched towards the protest and started to push the protesters. This caused the sit-down protest to swell in numbers to around 100 people.
Merlin Emmanuel, nephew of Smiley Culture, shouted at the police through a megaphone, “We're not criminals! We're voicing our concerns!”
Then the police appeared to attempt to kettle those there, before resorting instead to dragging, pushing and pulling people, including family members, from the road.
Protesters responded by loudly chanting, “Who let the dogs out?”
One man was arrested, but later released without charge.
Afterwards, Josette Fraser spoke to Socialist Worker.
“I sat down in the road for my son and all the others too,” she said. “Their law is corrupted, why should we keep to it? I put my pain aside and put forward my son's voice from beyond the grave.”
Over 340 people have died in police custody since 1998. No officer has been brought to justice for any of the deaths.