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So this is how the US revolution will unfold

12th November 2016

Police station burned down in another night of protests in Minneapolis

Rebels burn down Minneapolis police station following the murder of George Floyd, May 2020

In late 2012, Peter Turchin, a professor at the University of Connecticut, made a startling claim, based on an analysis of revolutionary upheavals across history.

 

He found there are three social conditions in place shortly before all major outbreaks of social violence: an increase in the elite population; a decrease in the living standards of the masses; and huge levels of government indebtedness.

The statistical model his team developed suggested that, on this basis, a major wave of social upheaval and revolutionary violence is set to take place in the US in 2020. His model had no way to predict who would lead the charge; but this week’s election gives an indication of how it is likely to unfold.

Let’s take the first condition, which Turchin calls “elite overproduction,” defined as “an increased number of aspirants for the limited supply of elite positions.” The US has clearly been heading in this direction for some time, with the number of billionaires increasing more than tenfold from 1987 (41 billionaires) to 2012 (425 billionaires). But the ruling class split between, for example, industrialists and financiers, has apparently reached fever pitch with Trump vs. Clinton.

As Turchin explains, “increased intra-elite competition leads to the formation of rival patronage networks vying for state rewards. As a result, elites become riven by increasing rivalry and factionalism.” Indeed, based on analysis of thousands of incidents of civil violence across world history, Turchin concluded that “the most reliable predictor of state collapse and high political instability was elite overproduction.”

The second condition, popular immiseration, is also well advanced. 46 million US citizens live in poverty (defined as receiving an income less than is required to cover their basic needs), while over 12 million US households are now considered food insecure. While this figure has been coming down consistently since 2011 (when it reached over 15 million), it remains above its pre-recession (per-2007) levels.

Trump’s policies are likely to sharply reverse this decrease. Trump’s second promise in his ‘contract with voters’ is a “hiring freeze on all federal employees,” amounting to a new onslaught on public sector jobs. This is in addition to what seems to be a promise to end the direct funding of state education (to, in his words, “redirect education dollars to…parents”), and to end all federal funding to so-called ‘sanctuary cities’, that is cities which do not order the state harassment of immigrants or force employers to reveal the nationalities of their workers. These cities are some of the most populated in the country, including NYC, LA, Dallas, Minneapolis and over two dozen others.

In concert with his avowed intention to lower taxes on the wealthy, including slashing business tax from 35 to 15 percent; to smash hard fought workers’ rights (under the mantra of ‘deregulation’); and to scrap what little access to healthcare was made available to the poor through Obamacare – not to mention his threat to start a trade war with China – poverty looks set to skyrocket. It is not hard to see how social unrest will follow.

As for the third condition – government indebtedness – it is hard to see how the massive tax breaks Trump has proposed can lead to anything else.

Turchin writes that “As all these trends intensify, the end result is state fiscal crisis and bankruptcy and consequent loss of military control; elite movements of regional and national rebellion; and a combination of elite-mobilized and popular uprisings that manifest the breakdown of central authority.”

But Trump is also preparing for that. Exempt from his public spending cuts, of course, are police and military budgets, both of which he promises to increase. And when questioned on the issue of police brutality last year, Trump said he wanted to see the police be given more powers. In other words, the tacit impunity which currently exists for police violence looks set to be legalized. And history shows that there is nothing like police impunity to spark a riot.

Meanwhile, as his policies fail to deliver the land of milk and honey he has promised, the demonization of scapegoats will continue. Having already vowed to round up and deport two million immigrants, and to ban Muslims from entering the US, it is already clear who these scapegoats will be. However, as well as migrants, popular anger will also be directed toward whatever namby-pamby liberals have blocked him from waging his promised war against them: be it Congressmen, judges, trade unions, pressure groups, or whoever. A combination of increased executive powers plus the use of his newly mobilized mass constituency will be directed toward purging these ‘enemies within’.

“My model suggests that the next [peak in violence] will be worse than the one in 1970” says Turchin, “because demographic variables such as wages, standards of living and a number of measures of intra-elite confrontation are all much worse this time”. All that remains to be seen is – who will win.

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Decolonising Education: Rhodes Must Fall

Take it down!': Rhodes Must Fall campaign marches through Oxford ...

The world needs to “move on” from slavery and colonialism, David Cameron declared during his visit to Jamaica earlier this year. He went on to casually dismiss demands for either reparations or even an apology for the systematic kidnapping and enslavement of Africans which laid the basis of both of the wealth of his own country (and indeed his own family) and the poverty of the nation hosting his visit. What he meant by “move on”, of course, was simple: forget it ever happened and ignore its continuing legacy.

Last week, in Oxford, a demonstration of around 200 students were also demanding that Britain ‘move on’ from its colonial past – not by forgetting about it, but precisely the opposite – by acknowledging the damage done (and still being done) and atoning for it.

The Rhodes Must Fall movement began in South Africa this year, demanding an end to the veneration of ‘colonial murderers’ like Cecil Rhodes, but has since spread to Oxford, where Rhodes’ alma mater, Oriel College, still displays a huge statue in his honor. Rhodes’ statue at Cape Town University was eventually removed after protests, and the Oxford campaign hopes to repeat the success here.

RT

Cecil Rhodes was the archetypal British imperialist – a tyrannical stealer of land, ruthless exploiter of labor and rabid butcher of men, women and children. By the 1890s, he had conquered around one million square miles of territory (including modern day Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia) and laid waste to its inhabitants, using the newly invented Maxim gun to massacre all those who stood in his way and forcing many of the rest into the living graves that were his company’s diamond mines.

As Prime Minister of Britain’s Cape Colony, his policies laid the basis for what became the apartheid system, as he forced Africans onto reserves, introduced segregation and forced labor, and systematically excluded Africans from voting, explaining to the Cape Assembly in 1887 that “the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa.”

What exactly this meant was spelt out in one of his more prosaic pronouncements: “one should kill as many n*ggers as possible.” The question is not so much why there is a campaign to have his statue removed as why on earth it is still there. It says a lot about just how little Britain has ‘moved on’ from its imperial past when the leader of the Zimbabwean liberation struggle, Robert Mugabe, is one of the most demonized figures in the British media – whilst the architect of that country’s subjugation, Cecil Rhodes, remains a ubiquitous and venerated presence in Britain’s most hallowed academic institution.

But the campaign is about much more than statues; as the press release for the event noted, “Our call for the statue to fall is but the first step. What we stand for is something much greater: the transformation of the university in its physical and intellectual spaces, its colleges and its curricula.” Indeed, Rhodes Must Fall is part of a much broader global movement that has emerged in recent years, based around the demand to decolonize academia.

As Maori anthropologist and activist Linda Tuhiwai Smith has put it, “decolonization, once viewed as the formal process of handing over the instruments of government, is now recognized as a long term process involving the bureaucratic, cultural, linguistic and psychological divesting of colonial power.”

Western academia is in particular and urgent need of such a decolonizing process as it so clearly continues to reproduce Eurocentric fallacies and omissions in manifold ways.

One way is through its erasure of the crime of colonialism; that is, its tendency to overlook – or, worse, deem as irrelevant – the sheer scale of human suffering caused by European colonialism.

Surinamese scholar Sandew Hira, for example, notes how the typical figure given for enslaved Africans in Western histories is around 12 million. But this figure neglects both those killed in the process of capture in Africa, and those enslaved at birth in the Americas. Once these two groups are added, the true figure rises to between 236 and 432 million – that is at least twenty times higher than the standard Western statistic.

Hira has also made a calculation of the reparations owed by European colonial powers to those they colonized based on the value of goods stolen, unpaid rent and labor, and compensation for human suffering, plus a very reasonable three percent compound interest on the debt (half the rate charged to Haiti on the ‘reparations’ imposed by France for the crime of abolishing slavery). The estimated total comes to $321 quadrillion, demonstrating “the inconceivable damage that colonization has caused upon the colonized and the unimaginable debt that rests of the shoulders of the colonizer.”

Little of this is recognized in mainstream Western historical accounts of the rise of Europe, which still tend to treat colonialism either as a mixed blessing for the colonized or a net drain – that is, effectively an act of benevolence – for the colonizing powers. This ‘weighing up’ of supposed ‘positive and negative’ aspects of colonialism would never be accepted for other acts of mass murder, such as the Hitlerite atrocities – yet are apparently perfectly valid for colonialism.

As Rhodes Must Fall activist Chi Chi put it at the Oxford event – “You cannot reconcile ‘but what about the railways?’ with genocide.” Except that, apparently, you can, and those who do, such as empire cheerleader Niall Ferguson, are handsomely rewarded with research grants, media accolades and seemingly endless commissions by the BBC.

But it is not only the crimes of empire that are erased in Western academia – so too is the non-European contribution to European civilization itself. As JM Blaut has analyzed in depth in The Colonizers’ Model of the World, ‘Greater Europe’ is still depicted by the majority of European historians as “the perpetual fountainhead of history” based on what he calls the ‘diffusionist’ notion that “the world as a whole has one permanent center from which culture-changing ideas tend to originate, and a vast periphery that changes as a result.” This unique capacity for progress, in this view, is based on Europe’s supposedly superior and self-generated ‘value system’.

Hand in hand with the notion that all that is good in the world flows from ‘Inside’ (Europe) to ‘Outside’ is its inevitable corollary of a “counter-diffusion of evil and savagery and disease from outside to Inside.” The supposed knowledge about the non-European world, on which such ideas are based, was, of course, produced in the process of colonialism, reflecting the biases – and interests – of the colonizer.

As Blaut writes, “the plain fact is that theories constructed from this information – and this includes the great bulk of nineteenth century anthropological, geographic, and politico-economic theories about non-Europeans – are systematically distorted” as not only were they based on information reflecting the bias of the colonialists who collected it, but also involved “shaping knowledge into theories that would prove useful for colonialism.”

It hardly needs stating that the ‘diffusionist’ theories produced by such methods are completely false. As John M Hobson has outlined in great detail in his magisterial The Eastern Origins of Western Civilization, far from being the passive recipient of Western innovation, Africa and Asia largely provided the technological and institutional ‘portfolios’ (not to mention the labor power and resources) that enabled both the European industrial revolution and the ‘voyages of discovery’ that preceded it Vasco Da Gama’s travel round the Cape, for example, was not the unprecedented triumph it is still depicted as in Eurocentric history; in fact the voyage had already been accomplished 20-50 years earlier by the Islamic navigator Ahmad ibn-Majid, whilst “the Javanese, Indians and Chinese had all made it across to the Cape many decades, if not centuries, before Da Gama” (who, incidentally, relied on a Gujarati Muslim pilot as his guide).

Similarly, Hobson shows how non-European societies had a major influence on all the major turning points in European history, with, for example, Chinese technological innovations and ideas underpinning both the industrial revolution and the European Enlightenment, and Afro-Asian trading circuits originating a millennia and a half ago laying the foundation of the global trading system of today.

But it is not only history that continues to reproduce colonial theories; as Hobson has argued elsewhere, Eurocentrism thoroughly permeates fields such as international relations as well: “international theory does not so much explain international politics in an objective, positivist and universalist manner but seeks, rather, to parochially celebrate and defend or promote the West as the proactive subject of, and as the highest or ideal normative referent in world politics.”

In philosophy, too, only European philosophy is typically taught, with non-European philosophy consigned to anthropology – to be studied as the quaint beliefs of irrational societies. At the same time, the racism of the European philosophers under discussion are buried or ignored. As Charles W. Mills points out in The Racial Contract, there is a “uniformity of opinion” on the inferiority of non-Europeans amongst pretty much all major European thinkers from the Enlightenment onwards: he cites, for example, “Hume, who denies that any race other than the white one has produced a civilization; the utilitarian Mill, who denies the applicability of the anti-paternalist ‘harm principle’ to ‘barbarians’ and maintains that they need European colonial despotism; [and] the historicist GWF Hegel, who denies that Africa has any history and suggests that blacks were morally improved through being enslaved.” None of this will typically be mentioned on undergraduate philosophy courses.

Underlying all of this is what decolonial scholar Ramon Grosfoguel calls “epistemic racism”. Seventeenth century Europe saw a revolution in epistemology, epitomized by Rene Descartes’ idea of mind-body dualism. By separating the mind from the body, Descartes was able to posit the idea of a completely objective system of knowledge, unbounded by the limitations of societal specificity. This afforded the subject – the privileged male Western subject, that is – a ‘God’s eye’ universal view of the world, superior to all other epistemologies. Such a claim to perfect, godlike, knowledge, would have been treated as idolatry in other cosmologies; and for decolonial scholars, all knowledge is “bio-graphically and geo-historically located,” to use Walter Mignolo’s terminology.

But Western epistemology has, by sheer force of arms, been able to impose itself on the rest of the world, presenting itself as the one true and valid system of knowledge production; it is no coincidence that the epistemological revolution overlaps with the era of colonialism. As Enrique Dussel argues, it is not so much that “I think, therefore I am” as “I conquer, therefore I am.”

And academia still bears the birthmarks of its colonial genesis. Grosfoguel points out that this is the case to such an extent that supposedly “universal knowledge” is still based on “the socio-historical experience of just five countries” – Italy, Germany, Britain, France and the USA, comprising between them a mere 12 percent of the world’s population, but virtually 100 percent of the reading material of almost every academic social science course in the western world. Knowledge produced in all other parts of the world is interiorized.

Oxford was, and is, central to both this inferiorization of non-European knowledge, and the conquests and exterminations that allowed this process to develop. I asked Ciaran Walsh, radical Labor historian at Ruskin College, who runs the excellent Radical Oxford walking tour, about the university’s role in colonialism: “The ideologues who justified the creation of first the English and then the British Empire came from Oxford, and generations of imperial administrators were educated at Oxford under the banner of the civilizing mission. But this mission was a cover for the expansion of European political forms, structures, property relations and all the oppression, dislocation and death that flowed with that. Imperialism and capital accumulation have been co-emergent in the modern era and Oxford’s played a key role in this whole process in Britain and globally.”

Places like Oxford’s Indian Institute – founded after the first war of Indian independence in 1857 had shaken the foundations of the British Empire – were created as what Walsh calls “centers of orientalism,” designed to study non-European cosmologies, legal systems, institutions and social structures the better to dominate them. Walsh explains that William Jones, the first European to study Sanskrit, was a product of Oxford, who went on to study Indian law in order to allow “a more workable system of European property relations to be imposed. This is the instrumental nature of orientalism.”

And still today, as Mignolo notes, “seldom, if ever, are intellectual debates in the regions being reported taken into account…very much like natural resources, Third World ideas are processed in European intellectual factories.” Thus, as Kiran Benipal put it on the demonstration, “Rhodes legacy is alive and well, and runs through the blood of this institution.”

And Oxford continues to produce the modern-day Rhodes’ who are his worthy successors in British colonial barbarism in Africa and beyond. Oxford graduate, Tony Blair, was involved in plans to follow directly in Rhodes’ footsteps and invade Zimbabwe; it was only the steadfastness of Mbeki’s ANC government in South Africa that prevented this from taking place and subsequently exposed the plot. Likewise, David Cameron, a graduate of Brasenose College, did his bit to stymie African development; his blitzkrieg destruction of Libya paved the way for a bloodbath that has already enveloped Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Syria and continues to grow.

So Rhodes’ legacy continues not only through the manifold monuments, buildings and institutions that bear his name, not only through the European supremacist foundations of academia, but also through British policies that continue to brutalize and subjugate Africa, Asia and South America. The British state cannot bear to see anti-colonial resistance movements in power anywhere, and have still not reconciled themselves to the reality that the movements that led the fight for independence remain in government across much of Southern Africa. Rhodes will fall. But it will require constant vigilance – and we must never forget that the enemy today is the same as it was then – British imperialism.

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The Police Murder of Habib Ullah

Habib Ullah: Family outcry as CPS declines to charge police ...

11th May 2015

The killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray triggered protests not just in their home states but worldwide, with the campaign group Black Lives Matter emerging to protest the ongoing deaths at the hands of US police. The Oxford Union hosted a packed debate on whether the US is “institutionally racist”earlier this year, and the deaths, protests and trials resulting from the killings have all made regular headline news.

What has received far less attention has been the continued deaths at the hands of UK state officials. In March, the Institute for Race Relations published an in-depth report on 509 people of color who died in suspicious circumstances between 1991 and 2014 whilst in the custody of police, prison or immigration officers. Their analysis of these deaths – which averaged almost one per fortnight over the period covered – showed that a large number occurred after excessive use of force by the authorities, and an even larger number involved a culpable lack of care. Perhaps even more damning, the report concluded that “lessons are not being learnt; people die in similar ways year on year.”

But the big difference that emerges from the US is the handling of the officers involved. Officers stood trial following all three of the big recent cases from the US – even if, infamously, they have all so far been found not guilty. In the 509 cases examine by the IRR, however, a mere five cases – less than 1 percent – led to prosecutions – with not a single conviction. This is despite inquests recording verdicts of unlawful killing in over a dozen cases. Indeed, of the thousands of deaths in custody that have occurred since the late 1960s (current levels are around 600 per year), only one single case, that of David Oluwale in 1969, has resulted in the conviction of an officer.

One case which clearly illustrates the difficulties faced by families of the victims in their struggle for justice is that of Habib “Paps” Ullah.

Image from justice4paps.wordpress.com

Habib and two of his friends were pulled over by police in High Wycombe, near London, on July 3, 2008. Habib was peaceful and compliant with the police, who he allowed to search him. However, when he was asked to open his mouth, he turned his back on them. That was the trigger for a vicious assault. Without warning, one officer, DS Liles, punched him in the back with maximum force, at which point four officers set upon him. Over the course of the next 10 minutes, Habib was subjected to further blows, knee strikes, a finger in his eye socket, the squeezing of his throat, and the full bodyweight of an officer on top of him whilst face down on the ground, along with a variety of “pain compliance” techniques. At one stage, DS Liles shouted to his colleagues: “Break his arm.”

Witnesses were screaming at the officers that they were strangling him, with another witness describing it as like something from a horror film. By the end of the assault, Habib had lost consciousness, with officers noting that his arm dropped to the floor when released, and that his eyes were motionless when his eyelids pulled back. Nevertheless, the police waited a further 10 minutes before calling an ambulance. Witnesses spoke of the police “standing around”; no CPR or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was given to Habib, he was not put into a full recovery position, and his pulse was not taken: the officers all claimed that they believed Habib had been “faking it.” When an ambulance was finally called, the police gave the code B1, for a non-life threatening situation; by the time it arrived, witnesses – including the officers themselves – had confirmed Habib had been making very strange coughing sounds with his face turning first blue and then grey. Those sounds, it now seems clear, were almost certainly his death rattle. The small wrap of drugs which Habib had in his mouth had got lodged in his throat during the attack which, combined with likely “positional asphyxia” caused by the restraint, had caused him to suffocate.

The family have had to wait seven years until the inquest was finally held in February this year for this account of Habib’s death to finally emerge. Yet the initial police statements, written by the five officers involved immediately after Habib’s death, had pretty much admitted the full story. So what happened in the intervening seven years?

Last few days of inquest & legal submissions going in before Coroner sums up & gives directions tmrw #7YearsNoJusticepic.twitter.com/tg84X6Z2gO

— Justice4Paps (@Justice4Paps) 24 февраля 2015

Following Habib’s death being confirmed in the hospital, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was brought in to conduct an investigation, as is the usual practice following a death in custody. But those initial statements made by the officers were not the ones that were handed to the IPCC.

Rather, what happened is that senior police officers, members of the Police Federation, and a police solicitor oversaw a process in which the officers were instructed to rewrite their statements. References to the compliance of Habib and his friends; to the amount of force used by the police; to Habib’s condition (including his going limp and his strange breathing); to warnings from witnesses that Habib was being strangled and even to the presence of some of the witnesses were all removed from the final statements. It is entirely clear that senior officers, the Police Federation and the police solicitor were actively instigating a cover-up, in which the IPCC was being deliberately misled as to what was done to Habib, the warning signs about his condition, and even as to who witnessed the event.

At first, the cover-up worked. The IPCC investigation exonerated all the officers involved and concluded that no wrongdoing had taken place (none that is except for failing to inform Habib’s family of his death promptly enough, exhibiting a disregard for the family’s welfare that seems to be disgracefully common in such cases). Two years later, however, when the inquest began, the truth about the redacting of the statements began to emerge. Under cross-examination – when asked why so many relevant details now coming out were not included in the initial statements – one of the officers gave the game away. The inquest was suspended whilst the IPCC re-opened their investigation. The new investigation was to look into not only whether the original findings were affected by the new evidence, but also into whether the rewriting of the statements itself constituted wrongdoing.

Image from justice4paps.wordpress.com

This new investigation, amazingly, took the IPCC a full three years. The final report – which has still not been published – concluded that the case should be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (the CPS) for criminal prosecution of the officers involved; charges to be considered included misconduct in public office, assault, intention to pervert the course of justice and perjury. Months passed – until, in August 2014, the CPS announced that it did not intend to prosecute a single one of the officers involved.

But that was not the end of the matter. An inquest had still to take place, and it was announced that this would be held in February 2015. If this inquest resulted in a verdict of unlawful killing, the potential for a criminal prosecution would be reopened.

As the inquest unfolded, the likelihood of this outcome seemed to grow. One expert witness after another concluded that the officers’ “restraint” significantly contributed to Habib’s death. Under cross-examination, even the police’s own preferred specialist – the appropriately named Dr Bleetman – eventually had to accept this (a finding he had denied in his initial report). Police trainers testified that many of the strikes and “compliance techniques” used by the officers were not approved, and even those that were should not have been administered in those circumstances – that is, without warning against a passive victim. It was revealed that, despite officers’ claims to be trying to open Habib’s mouth, some of the techniques used are actually deigned to close the mouth. The evidence of the inquest revealed, overwhelmingly, that the assault had been unlawful and had, in part at the very least, led to Habib’s death.

After a month taking evidence, the jury deliberated. Their highly critical narrative concluded: “Several officers recognised some signs associated with abnormal breathing but no practical assistance was offered. Valuable time was lost due to the fact that the officers believed him to be feigning unconsciousness. Once Mr Ullah was unconscious rigorous monitoring should have been undertaken. The jury believes that the level of monitoring was inadequate. Furthermore the jury considered that the incident was poorly managed. In particular the lack of communication and clear commands by a leading officer resulted in an uncoordinated and ineffective restraint.” Yet they did not reach a verdict of unlawful killing; rather they recorded “death by misadventure.” The last chance for a criminal prosecution was over; the officers who had just been shown to have launched an unprovoked attack on Habib and then left him to die would walk free.

Image from justice4paps.wordpress.com

These are the battles which families of victims face in case after case in this country: uphill struggles even just to find out what happened, endless delays, and then total lack of accountability or justice at the end of it all. The whole labyrinthine system is a masterclass in obfuscation and the perversion of justice under the guise of bureaucratic procedures. And every step of the way, the institutions involved emerge complicit in protecting the impunity of the police.

Firstly, the police themselves and the Police Federation. It was senior police officers and Police Federation members who stepped in to ensure that the original police statements were doctored to protect the officers. Yet they have never been called to account for their actions.

Secondly, the IPCC. Established in 2004 to replace the entirely discredited Police Complaints Commission, the IPCC was supposed to be an independent body which could be relied on to impartially investigate the police. Paps’ case shows how far this is from the truth. The senior officers and Police Federation members who instigated the cover-up were never the subject of the IPCC’s investigations, which focused solely on the officers involved in the death – despite the fact that the second investigation had a remit to specifically investigate that cover-up.

Furthermore, the fact that the scene was not treated as a crime scene, and that the officers were interviewed not as suspects but as witnesses is indicative of the bias that is at the very heart of the IPCC. These decisions – which are standard practice when investigating custody deaths – reveal that, from the very outset, the IPCC’s assumption is that no crime has been committed, and the idea that the officers involved might be responsible for the death is not even a possibility. Deaths in custody are treated not as crimes, but, at worst, as tragic accidents. This goes beyond the concept of “innocent until proven guilty”; the IPCC, begins by assuming there is not even anything to be guilty of. And inasmuch as there is any case to answer, it is only ever for the officers on the ground to answer – never their superiors.

None of this should be surprising, however, given the composition of the IPCC: eight out of its nine most senior members are themselves former police officers. Some independence. In 2012, the IPCC was even threatened with contempt of court proceedings by a coroner following its refusal to hand over key evidence during the Mark Duggan case. The IPCC is clearly unable to act as the independent watchdog it proclaims to be; indeed, in 2013 a parliamentary inquiry concluded that the IPCC “has neither the powers nor the resources that it needs to get to the truth when the integrity of the police is in doubt.”

Thirdly, the CPS. The decision not to prosecute the officers – after the IPCC had handed them detailed evidence of assault, perjury, and intent to pervert the course of justice – can only be understood in terms of an institutional determination to protect the police from prosecution at all costs. The evidence to mount a prosecution clearly was there. Even the police officers themselves admitted that the passages they removed from their statements were relevant and should have been included. Yet, as one officer noted at the inquest: “The Crown Prosecution Service concluded we were looking to make the evidence more accurate and not wishing to mislead people.” Given what was removed – details of the assault, details about Habib’s condition, details of other witnesses – even the IPCC concluded there was no way that making these omissions could have made the evidence ‘more accurate’.

But again, the CPS have form in this regard. In 1999, a government inquiry conducted by Gerald Butler was highly critical of the CPS’s reluctance to prosecute police officers involved in custody deaths. Since then, little has changed. In 2011, Janet Alder made history as the first person ever to take the CPS to court. Janet’s brother had died in police custody in Hull in 1998 and, as ever, the CPS refused to prosecute the officers involved. Four years later, after massive campaigning and evidence-gathering by the family, the CPS did eventually bring a case against five of the officers – but, it seems, deliberately bungled the case. Key pieces of evidence were not submitted, and others were conflated and thrown out. As Janet Alder said: “I don’t think it’s incompetence, because they’ve been prosecuting cases for hundreds of years… I think the CPS from the beginning had absolutely no intention whatsoever of prosecuting these officers. They’d proved that for four years. ”

Image from justice4paps.wordpress.com

Between them, these institutions – the Police Federation, the IPCC (and its predecessor) and the CPS – have shielded the police from justice for decades. This shielding has allowed a culture of impunity to persist and grow where officers believe they will never be held to account for their actions. What was particularly revealing about Habib’s inquest was that the more senior the officers involved, the more brazen and vicious were their actions.

The most senior officer, DS Liles, with eighteen years experience, was the one who initiated and led the attack itself, but also who showed the least remorse and the most arrogance subsequently, telling the jurors he would act in just the same way again. His younger colleagues, in contrast, were clearly worried about what had happened: one, PC Pomery, confessed to a colleague that he was worried he had gripped Habib’s throat too hard, for example. Liles clearly knew, however, that they had nothing to worry about. He knew they would be protected.

Their victim was well chosen. Many of the suspicious deaths in custody involve members of vulnerable groups who are already treated with contempt by society. Victims often have mental health problems; in Habib’s case, he was a drug user (a point which the officers never failed to mention in their testimonies at the inquest). The officers knew, it seems, that such a character – and a Muslim to boot – could hope for little sympathy from the jury. They may not have expected him to die from the attack – but the point is, they knew they could attack him with impunity, breaking every rule in the book. And those who had been there the longest, knew this the most clearly.

But for the family of Habib “Paps” Ullah – and for many others – the struggle for justice continues. The police’s internal gross misconduct case is due to take place in June; it will be one of the first ever to be held in public. In addition, the family have instigated a civil claim against Thames Valley Police on the basis of assault and breaches of the Human Rights Act Article 2, the Right to Life.

Over the past year, Prime Minister David Cameron has constantly declared his undying commitment to the “rule of law.” Yet while his own police force retain the level of impunity they currently enjoy, the notion remains a total fiction.

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How Humberside police, CPS & UK govt conspired to cover up racist killing of Christopher Alder

Justice for Christopher Alder – The Justice Gap

2nd August 2015

When a family member is killed, it is devastating for anyone. When that family member dies at the hands of the police, it is also likely to be the start of an overwhelming struggle to establish the truth.

Every obstacle will be put in the way of a successful outcome of this struggle, and those who seek justice are likely to find themselves subject to a vindictive campaign by the police. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than Janet Alder’s almost two-decade long campaign to establish what happened to her brother Christopher.

On April 1, 1998, Christopher Alder was on a night out in Hull. The 37-year-old was a former paratrooper who had served in the Falklands and Northern Ireland, and had been decorated for his service; he had two children, and was in training for a new career in computer programming. Later that night, however, outside the Waterfront nightclub, he got into a fight. After being punched in the face, Christopher was briefly knocked unconscious and lost a tooth. An ambulance was called, and Christopher was taken to Hull Royal Infirmary, accompanied by police officers. His injuries were not deemed life-threatening, and he was discharged, after which the police drove him to the police station.

Exactly what happened in that police van during the short one-mile journey remains shrouded in mystery; indeed it has never properly been investigated. What we do know is that by the time he arrived in the police station, he was unconscious again, had lost another tooth, and had received two additional injuries (a cut to the lip and a cut above the eye). He was then dragged into the custody suite with his trousers round his ankles and his belt missing, and left face down and handcuffed on the floor. No attempt was made to put him into the recovery position, and CCTV footage shows officers standing around chatting as he gasps for breath, still unconscious. Within 12 minutes he would be dead, with officers making racist comments and monkey noises over his corpse. It was a level of contempt that has characterized the state’s attitude towards Christopher and his family ever since.

Christopher’s sister Janet began campaigning for justice for her brother just three months after his death. Her tireless efforts have served to keep the case in the public eye, thwarting the police’s attempts to brush it under the carpet, and have resulted in some astounding revelations and admissions. Yet, to date, justice has still not been done; the police who caused his death have never been properly held to account or punished for their actions, whilst Janet has borne the brunt of a vindictive campaign against both her and her brother’s memory which continues to this day – but which began immediately after his death.

In the days following Christopher’s death, six officers raided his flat. The flat was then sealed off for two weeks whilst the police laboriously itemized and mapped out every item in the home. Needless to say this is not usual procedure for dealing with a possible murder victim; indeed, an official report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (the IPCC) later noted that it was “more in keeping with what might be expected if Mr Alder were a suspect rather than a victim.” What seems likely is that this raid, far from having anything to do with investigating Christopher’s death, was rather a desperate attempt to find something – anything – that could be used to smear his name. For this is usual procedure: one only has to recall the lies that were put out following the executions of Mark Duggan and Jean Charles de Menezes to realize that the smearing by police of their victims following a death in custody is standard practice.

The raid, however, turned up nothing.

So the next step, it seems, was to smear his family. An investigation by the IPCC in 2006 revealed that following Christopher’s death, Humberside Police had dredged up social service records dating back to the births of all the Alder children – Christopher, Richard, Emmanuel, Stephen, and Janet, who were brought up in care. The IPCC report noted that the records “did not seem to have any relevance” to the case; it did not speculate on what the real purpose of obtaining the records might have been.

So the police were certainly busy in the aftermath of Christopher’s death. What they were not busy doing, however, was investigating the actual circumstances of his death.

Given that Christopher died at the hands of Humberside police, the investigation into their role in his death was carried out by West Yorkshire police. However, they proved unable – or more likely unwilling – to follow even the most routine of procedures. Whether he had been assaulted by any of the officers he encountered that night was never investigated. Worse, all the evidence which would help to establish this was allowed to be destroyed. The police van was cleaned, blood samples and clothing – both Christopher’s and the officers’ – were destroyed without being tested, and CS gas canisters from the police van were disposed of. Christopher’s missing belt and tooth were never located.

Humberside police, meanwhile, were mounting a prosecution of their own. Jason Paul had been involved in the fight with Christopher that night; initially trying to break it up, he ended up punching Christopher after receiving blows himself. Yet despite the pathologist’s conclusion that this punch had played no role in Christopher’s death, when Jason went to the police station to assist with the inquiry the following day he was arrested on suspicion of murder. He was eventually charged with “GBH with intent.” It would not be until three months later that the spurious charges were finally dropped. Jason Paul eventually mounted a successful civil court case against the police, which found that he had been falsely imprisoned and the prosecution had been malicious. The jury unanimously agreed that it was “more likely than not that the police charged [Mr Paul] with causing GBH with intent to deflect potential criticism of the [actual] circumstances of Christopher Alder’s death.” Police were ordered to pay £30,000 damages.

Whilst the police were busy destroying evidence, pursuing their scapegoat, and digging for dirt on their victim, the work of actually investigating Christopher’s death was, from the start, left entirely to his family and their supporters.

An early victory for the family, however, came in 2000 at the inquest into Christopher’s death. Despite the refusal of any of the officers involved to answer questions, and despite the forensic experts’ work being severely hampered by the police’s destruction of crucial evidence, the jury concluded that Christopher died from “positional asphyxia” due to neglect – that is, his death was directly caused by the position he was left in by the police. The result was a unanimous verdict of unlawful killing. Such verdicts are extremely uncommon. Of 509 suspicious deaths in custody between 1991 and 2014 investigated by the Institute for Race Relations, only 12 resulted in verdicts of unlawful killing; often, the coroner will not even allow such a verdict to be considered. So this was, in the words of Janet Alder’s lawyer Ruth Bundey, a “high point” in the campaign – and it paved the way for a prosecution of the five officers involved in Christopher’s death. But the trial would prove to be a travesty.

Prosecutions are even more uncommon than unlawful killing verdicts; indeed, the Butler report, published just a year after Christopher’s death, had explicitly criticized the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for their reluctance to prosecute police officers. What Christopher’s case seems to demonstrate, however, is their absolute determination that when prosecutions that do go ahead will have no chance of a successful conviction. As Janet said of the case, “The CPS did the job of the defense – they eradicated any evidence of police wrongdoing.”

The trial began in 2002, four years after Christopher’s death. The officers were charged with gross negligence, manslaughter and misconduct in high office. But as Janet explained to me in 2011, “I’d wanted [the CPS] to investigate why he’d received additional injuries and lost an additional tooth on transit to the police station; why his belt was missing and his trousers were down; why their van had been cleaned, their clothes dry-cleaned, and CS gas canisters destroyed. But on all those things, the CPS totally ignored me…They had never ever even considered whether an assault by the police officers could have caused Christopher’s additional injuries. I was very very shocked at that.”

It got worse: “The evidence that incriminated these police officers was not even put into the case.” The audio of the monkey noises, for example, was never presented in court. But that was not where the problems ended. Even where evidence was submitted, it was submitted in a way that ensured it could not be used: “When it came to the medical evidence for gross negligence and manslaughter, they conflicted the evidence. The evidence to suggest that Christopher would have died [even if his injuries had been treated] was put together with the evidence collected by the family to say that he would have survived.

With the evidence conflicted in this way, the judge concluded he had no choice but to throw it out. The trial had collapsed before it ever really got under way, as a direct result of the CPS’s handling of the evidence – and all five officers were acquitted. As Janet put it: “I always felt, from the beginning, that this case was set to fail. It basically proved me right. And because this case didn’t get past the halfway stage – which I believe the CPS were well aware it would not – the police officers once again were able to evade answering any questions whatsoever.

The following year, an internal disciplinary hearing was held – the police investigating themselves once again. All five were cleared of any wrongdoing and allowed to take early retirement. Despite the inquest’s ruling that the police had unlawfully killed Christopher, all involved had walked free, without ever having had to answer questions about their conduct except in private to their own colleagues. As Janet told me, “There is absolutely no disciplinary system for when somebody dies at their hands – no accountability whatsoever.”

Janet was undeterred. Together with lawyer Ruth Bundey, she mounted two further court cases: one at the European Court of Human Rights, and a civil case against the CPS for their mishandling of the prosecution. Then in 2004, the Home Office ordered the IPCC to conduct a review of the whole investigation into Christopher’s death. Its findings, published in 2006, were damning, highlighting “serious failings” in three areas: “i) the individual conduct of four of the police officers involved, which amounted to serious neglect of duty; ii) subsequent mistakes by senior police officers in their response to investigating a death in custody; and iii) major systemic failures including the presence of negative racial stereotyping in the treatment of Mr Alder, the poor level of working practices between police and medical staff regarding transfers of responsibility for care, and failings in the police disciplinary system.”

Thus the IPCC had not only reiterated the inquest finding that the officers’ neglect had directly caused Christopher’s death, but also slammed the investigation and effectively rendered the verdict of the internal disciplinary hearing null and void. Yet, bizarrely, other than recommending an “unreserved apology” to the family, the report suggested that no further action be taken against the police.

A full five years later, Judge Penelope Belcher finally heard the civil case Janet had brought against the CPS. This case proved what Janet had always suspected – that the CPS had never bothered investigating what happened to Christopher in the police van. As Janet explained, “In the civil case, I asked the CPS whether an additional assault could have caused the additional injuries, and they said yes. So I asked them if they had investigated this, and they said no. I asked why not, and they said they thought the investigating officer was going to ask those questions.

In other words, even when collecting evidence for a prosecution the CPS were scared to step on the toes of the very police they were supposed to be prosecuting, preferring to leave the “difficult questions” for the police to ask themselves. In her summing up, the judge concluded that she shared “Miss Alder’s concerns as to the possibility that racial discrimination played some part in the actions of the police officers on the night that Christopher Alder died” as well as “her concerns as to the standard of the investigation undertaken by West Yorkshire Police into the actions of the Humberside officers.”

Once again, officialdom had admitted that racism played a part in Christopher’s death and that the death itself was never properly investigated. But there was still no suggestion that the perpetrators of any of this should actually be brought to justice.

Then, eight months later, in November 2011, Janet’s case was finally due at the European Court, eight years after she had first lodged it. The British government had fought tooth and nail against the case being heard. But then, on the eve of the case commencing, the government issued an extraordinary statement admitting that the police had breached articles 2,3 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights in their treatment of Christopher – that is, they had breached his right to life, to freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment and to freedom from discrimination. The British government was effectively admitting its own police were guilty of a racist killing, and that this had never been properly investigated. One might have thought such an admission would be the trigger for a proper investigation to actually be finally carried out. It was not. Once again, despite what was now a fourth official admission of wrongdoing, killing and cover-up, no action was taken.

But the full scale of the police’s contempt for the Alder family was still to be revealed.

In 1999, Nigerian-born Grace Kamara died in Hull of natural causes. Immediately, her close friend Christine Omoregie began the laborious process of applying for visas for Grace’s family in Nigeria to attend the funeral. Inexplicably, the visas were subjected to endless delays. “I spent about £3,000 trying to get relatives over,” Christine later told BBC News, “and waited a decade for a visa to be granted.” It was not until 2011 that Grace Kamara’s relatives finally had their visa approved. Twelve years after her death, her family prepared for the burial, scheduled for November 4, 2011.

Grace’s body was to be buried in an open casket; it is part of Nigerian custom that the family see the body at the funeral. After initially attempting to frustrate the family’s requests to see the body, however, the Council eventually made a terrible admission. Grace’s body was not, in fact, in the mortuary where it was supposed to be. It had been buried in Christopher Alder’s grave: back in 2000, the Alder family had been given the body of 77 year old Grace Kamara and told it was Christopher; and they had buried her in his place. The Home Office, it seems, had collaborated in covering this up ever since with their interminable visa delays, presumably in the hope that Kamara’s family would either die off, or accept a closed-casket funeral after so much time had passed. Indeed, when Alan Johnson – Home Secretary during the repeated visa denials – was interviewed about the affair on ITN, his usual unflappably slick and confident persona was transformed into a twitchy and defensive bundle of nerves. Every fiber of his body screamed: “Rumbled.”

A criminal investigation was ordered, to be carried out this time by South Yorkshire police. It concluded in May 2013 that mortuary workers did indeed have a “case to answer,” and had missed at least 10 opportunities to report what had happened. But in October that year, the CPS announced it would not be prosecuting anyone. A review of the decision was ordered: so the CPS dutifully “reviewed” the decision, only to repeat their original conclusion in March 2014.

Coverage of the scandal at the time tended to describe it as a “mix-up” and a “mistake,” which only came to light when Christopher’s body was “discovered” in the mortuary in November 2011. We now know this is false. Once again, it fell to the family to discover the truth. A Freedom of Information request to the Human Tissue Authority, lodged by Janet Alder, revealed that Christopher Alder’s body had the correct documentation attached to it all along; it was even signed off under his name when it had been moved to another mortuary in 2005. It had not been mysteriously “discovered” in 2011; the authorities had known exactly where he was from the start. Janet has her own explanation: as she told Press TV last year, “I don’t believe it was a mistake. I believe it was a punishment to me personally for fighting against the system.”

It is a harsh verdict, but one that is supported by further revelations over what exactly had been happening to Christopher’s body all this time. In August 2014, Humberside police took the unusual step of referring itself to the IPCC when a number of officers claimed Alder’s body had been used for some form of police training. Further investigation revealed that 59 officers may have been shown Christopher’s frozen body during the time he was in the mortuary. The IPCC declined to investigate, saying it was a matter for Humberside police themselves to investigate. The same force, that is, that killed Christopher in the first place and then spent years gloating over his dead body.

For Janet, however, there was more to come. In 2013, it emerged that the Metropolitan police had kept the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence under illegal surveillance. In response to the scandal, all police forces were ordered to check their records for evidence of surveillance relating to the investigation. That was when it emerged that Humberside police had been illegally spying on both Janet Alder and her lawyer. This, however, was not a shock for Janet so much as a confirmation of what she had always suspected.

The IPCC this time did deign to investigate, and issued their findings to the CPS in May. It is now in the hands of the CPS whether to prosecute. Don’t hold your breath. As Janet told me: “I don’t expect anything from these people now. All I want is to expose them.

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Tasered Nine Times: Justice for Darren Cumberbatch

Darren Cumberbatch death: Probation staff to get extra training ...

8th August 2017

Darren Cumberbatch was fit and healthy at 32-years-old when he left his family home on the evening of Sunday 9th July to return to the bail hostel where he was staying in Nuneaton. For reasons which remain unclear, however, police arrived at the hostel later that night, during which time, say the police, Darren ‘became unwell’ in their presence. This is putting it mildly. By the time they dropped him off at hospital later that night, he was covered in bruises and burns, later telling a friend he had been tasered nine times. Ten days later he died from his injuries. He was the third young black man to die in UK police custody or ‘following police contact’ in as many weeks.

A justice campaign has been established by Darren’s friends and family to pressure the authorities to reveal what happened and to hold those responsible to account. Their first public meeting was held on Wednesday 27th July, which was attended by around 500 people. The meeting led to calls from the community for the immediate suspension of the officers involved, and for an immediate suspension of the use of tasers, which are thought to have played a role in Darren’s death. Dan Glazebrook interviews one of the campaign organizers, Desmond Jaddoo.

Well, what we know is this. After leaving the family home on the 9th of July, he returned to the hostel at some point. And we know overnight, either the late hours of 9th July or the early hours of the 10th July, the police were called to the hostel; for what reason, we’re unaware. Contact then took place with the police which ended up with Darren being arrested; but when he was placed in the back of a police van, instead of them taking him to custody, the police took him to the George Eliot hospital. They never told his sister Carla, who is his next of kin, that he was hospitalised until the Wednesday, which was the 12th of July. That day, the family went down there, and he had a lot of unexplained injuries: he was battered and bruised, he had burn marks on his feet, parts of his body were swollen, he had various cuts and abrasions that were all unexplained. Then on the 19th of July his injuries were insurmountable and his life support machine was switched off, so he sadly passed away. So what we know in a nutshell is that he was fit and healthy when he left the family home on the Sunday, and then between Sunday night and Monday morning he had sustained several injuries following police contact whereby he ended up in hospital. And that ultimately led to him losing his life.

Now, it’s our understanding that force was used when the police attended. It’s our understanding that a baton was used, that CS spray was used, and that a taser was used. And it’s our understanding as well that Darren told a friend – because he was still communicating then – that he was tasered up to nine times. Now that’s overly excessive because it’s known that people [are lucky to] survive being tasered three times or more. Now the important thing is this: this was what’s called a ‘serious injury event’. This means that Warwickshire police should have reported this to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) on the 10th of July because clearly this man had been hospitalised with serious injuries. However, it was not reported to the IPCC until the 19th of July when he died. So that’s an inexcusable delay.

And what do we know about the IPCC investigation? Do we know, for example, is the IPCC treating Macintyre house [where the initial contact between Darren and the police took place] as a crime scene? Is it interviewing the police as suspects or as witnesses?

At the moment, it’s not a criminal investigation. It’s an IPCC independent investigation. However, based on the evidence gathering they can review that at any time. So right now the terms of reference have been agreed, and they’re anticipating between six and nine months for an investigation. But in terms of a criminal investigation, the door on that has not been closed, thankfully.

In previous cases like these, the police have gone to great lengths to cover up what they’ve done. For example Habs Ullah, who died on the 3rd of July 2008 just 90 minutes after being stopped by police officers, police statements were doctored at the behest of the Police Federation; in the case of Christopher Alder who died in police custody in 1998, crucial evidence like gas cylinders and police clothing was destroyed. Can a campaign like this one put pressure on the IPCC to make sure these kinds of things aren’t taking place right now?

Well, I will tell you this – we are holding the IPCC to account. And the idea today, that we’ve tried to show at our demonstrations, is that there’s strength in numbers: to send a clear message that this is a serious campaign; there is serious support for the family and that support can only grow. But importantly, what it signifies is that people want answers – and we want the truth.

The purpose of last week’s march was also to pay our respects to Darren where he fell, by lighting candles outside Macintyre house. But it also shows that we’re good people: it was a well behaved march and one of the things we have to show is that we are better than what we’re stereotyped to be. We don’t need no special treatment, and the most important thing, which I said outside the police station, was this – it is no longer open season on the black community. Because the special treatment sometimes that is dished out to the black community is just totally unacceptable. It’s ungodly as well.

The campaign can be contacted via the Justice4Daz Facebook page or via Twitter: #Justice4Daz

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Deaths in Custody: Theresa May’s Reforms Are More Guff: What is Needed is for the Law to be applied to Murdering Police

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12th October 2015

The movement against police brutality in the US has been making serious waves. Uprisings across Baltimore and Ferguson in particular have made global headlines, and a new movement, dubbed ‘Black Lives Matter’, has seared itself onto public consciousness. Revolutionaries within the movement have been calling for Black Community Control of the police, under their modified slogan Black Power Matters, and the movement as a whole has succeeded in making police brutality a live issue across the US which no politician can afford to ignore.

It is perhaps with an eye to averting such an outcome in Britain that British Home Secretary Theresa May announced in March that she would be launching the first ever public inquiry into deaths in police custody. Though receiving far less coverage, deaths ‘following police contact’ are a major issue in this country as well, with 1,433 taking place in England and Wales between 1990 and 2012, according to campaigning group Inquest. However, not a single police officer was convicted over any of these deaths.

Names such as Christopher Alder, Azelle Rodney, Sean Rigg, Kingsley Burrell and many others have become synonymous with police violence, racism, cover-up – and impunity. This year has seen a number of bitterly disappointing legal verdicts for the families and campaign groups which have been fighting for truth and justice for their loved ones and, with anger growing, the government will not have forgotten that it was precisely such a case – the police execution of Mark Duggan, and particularly the contempt with which his family was treated after the killing – that triggered a youth insurgency across inner-city England in August 2011.

So far, exact details of the inquiry have yet to emerge. And while May has expressed her desire to tackle a number of issues around deaths in custody, no concrete changes have emerged yet.

Deborah Coles, Director of Inquest – a support group providing legal advice to families of those who have died in state custody – gives me her response to the proposed inquiry. ‘We have given it a guarded welcome,’ she says, ‘but there are 2 issues for me. One is that there has been no consultation with the families or with Inquest about the terms of reference, and the terms of reference are going to be critical. But there is also that sense of déjà vu. In 30 years of our organization’s existence, there has been review after review, and there is a whole wealth of evidence out there about what the problems are. The key issue is the fact that recommendations are not implemented.’

Harmit Athwal, who co-authored ‘Dying for Justice’, an Institute of Race Relations report into deaths in custody last year, agrees with Coles. ‘In terms of the IPCC [the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which investigate deaths in police custody], you see the same mistakes being made again and again: investigations take an incredibly long time, a failure to recommend prosecutions and then, when a case gets to an inquest and there’s a critical verdict, it’s coming out about officers conferring,’ explains Athwal.

The end result from all these inquiries is huge documents that take months and years to come out and don’t really have any effect in terms of the numbers of deaths

Ken Fero, whose 2001 film Injustice was critical in bringing deaths in police custody into the public consciousness, is even more unequivocal: ‘It’s another public inquiry. It won’t be effective in terms of preventing police officers killing people. It’s just repeating what we’ve had before in terms of investigations – inquiries into the IPCC, inquiries into the police investigation system, judicial inquiries into the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service]. The end result from all these inquiries is huge documents that take months and years to come out and don’t really have any effect in terms of the numbers of deaths.’

So what will have an effect? What is necessary to bring about justice for those who have died at the hands of the police? Ken Fero is emphatic that ‘there is no need for any new legislation. There is the law of murder and manslaughter and these need to be implemented for police officers. It’s as simple as that. The only change there needs to be is in the determination of the CPS to actually prosecute and the determination of the IPCC to investigate.’

This reluctance of the CPS and the IPCC to rigorously investigate and prosecute is one raised time and again by campaigners on the issue. As Deborah Coles outlines it, ‘One of the problems with the whole investigation process has been the reluctance to approach deaths in police custody as if a potential crime has been committed. We’ve seen a number of cases where we would have expected that successful prosecutions would have been brought.’

Cole specifically mentions Azelle Rodney, whose death triggered a public inquiry which concluded that there was no lawful justification for his killing, and Jimmy Mubenga, suffocated during an illegal chokehold by officers from the private security company G4S. ‘And you have to ask how it is,’ she continues, ‘that there has never been a successful prosecution of a police officer for murder or manslaughter in the last 50 years. Because that does not reflect the evidence that has come out during the investigation and inquest process into these deaths, particularly following the use of force or gross neglect. And that begs very important questions about policing in a democracy – that people can die in really disturbing circumstances and nobody is held to account.’ Athwal agrees, explaining that the IPCC issues critical reports, ‘but that it is then incumbent on the CPS to act upon them – and in 99 per cent of cases, they say there is not enough evidence to prosecute.’

No new inquiry is needed to reveal these CPS failures. The Butler Review had explicitly criticized them back in 1999. But, as Lee Bridges has noted, ‘the report of this review published in 2003 is notable more for the proposed reforms that it rejected than the changes in CPS practices which it introduced.’

Will any real change result from this inquiry? Time will tell. But the signs are not good

So one concern is clearly whether this inquiry will be any different from its predecessors in terms of its recommendations actually being carried out. But Harmit Athwal points to another worrying aspect: ‘One of the issues for us is that it doesn’t plan to look at old or current cases; so I am wondering how it can examine the issue in any thoroughness.’ Ken Fero agrees: ‘One of the caveats is that this inquiry won’t look at previous cases. So the question is – why not, if Theresa May is really concerned about what’s been going on? The only way you can stop the culture of impunity is by looking at the roots of it.’

Indeed, Fero argues that this will fatally undermine the entire inquiry: ‘What’s going to prevent officers killing is the realistic likelihood that they are going to go to jail. So the fact that she’s not willing to reopen cases – because there are cases where we have had undeniable evidence that officers have committed manslaughter and, in a few cases, murder – means that all the changes to the system for the future won’t make any difference to the culture of impunity that the police hold.’

Will any real change result from this inquiry? Time will tell. But the signs are not good.

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Home Secretary Theresa May: Saviour or Executioner of Black People?

Theresa May accuses Police Federation of 'scaremongering' over ...
30th August 2015
Over the last three months, I have been writing a short series of articles on some of the horrific deaths in police custody that have taken place in Britain in recent years and the fight for justice waged by the families of the victims and their supporters. Each story is unique, but there are certain similarities, depressingly familiar to those who have followed such cases over the years.

These include: the brutal use of force by police – even once victims are incapacitated; neglect of their victims when they are clearly in need of medical attention; omissions, lies and cover-ups over what actually happened; and an absolute refusal to administer justice by all the various state agencies tasked with doing so. All of it together amounts to one thing – the effective impunity of the British police. And, no surprise, Britain’s Asian and, particularly, African-Caribbean communities are bearing the brunt of it.

Enter British Home Secretary Theresa May, who is apparently promising to change all this, portraying herself as all but the saviour of the black community, fearlessly taking on the police in a battle to reign in their abuses. She has addressed a community meeting in Brixton, met with the families of two of those who have died in custody (Sean Rigg and Olaseni Lewis), and written an Op-Ed for The Voice, Britain’s largest-circulation black newspaper. She has even done something which no Home Secretary – perhaps even no British government official – has apparently done before: admit that deaths occurring in custody is a problem, and that the families campaigning for justice have been denied it. Specifically, last month, she acknowledged the “pain and suffering of families still looking for answers, who have encountered not compassion and redress from the authorities, but what they feel as evasiveness and obstruction.”

May has made no bones about the failings of the police. Her speech to the Police Federation last year was unequivocal, beginning with a roll-call of some of the latest scandals to embroil the force: “In the last few years, we have seen the Leveson Inquiry. The appalling conclusions of the Hillsborough independent panel. The death of Ian Tomlinson and the sacking of PC Harwood. The ongoing inquiry by an independent panel into the murder of Daniel Morgan. The first sacking of a chief constable for gross misconduct in modern times. The investigation of more than ten senior officers for acts of alleged misconduct and corruption. Allegations of rigged recorded crime statistics. The sacking of PCs Keith Wallis, James Glanville and Gillian Weatherley after Plebgate. Worrying reports by the inspectorate about stop and search and domestic violence…”

Then came the stern warning: “Make no mistake. If you do not make significant progress towards the implementation of the Normington reforms [36 reforms proposed by a review led by David Normington in January 2014], if the Federation does not start to turn itself around, you must not be under the impression that the government will let things remain as they are…”

Back in 2011, May had ordered a review of the police’s use of stop and search, which, she subsequently pointed out, is “excessive and inappropriate” and disproportionately targeted at Black and Asian people. The review revealed that over a quarter of the million or so stop and searches conducted that year may have been carried out illegally.

In April last year, she threatened the police with a barrage of statutory reforms to the practice unless the police improved their performance: “I want to make myself absolutely clear:” she told the House of Commons, “if the numbers do not come down, if stop and search does not become more targeted, if those stop-to-arrest ratios do not improve considerably, the government will return with primary legislation to make those things happen.”

The following August, all 43 police forces in England and Wales voluntarily signed up to her reform program, which included restrictions on the use of “no suspicion” searches, the recording of the outcome of every stop and search, and the involvement of community groups in observing searches being carried out and triggering action against their misuse. As from this month, details of stop and searches carried out by every force – including age, ethnicity, and outcome of each search – will be published on the national police website.

Now Theresa May has turned to deaths in custody. In October 2014, at a conference part-organised by Black Mental Health UK, she announced a number of measures she claimed would tackle the problem. Specifically, she promised to create more alternatives to police custody for those with mental health difficulties, and more transparency in the use of restraint and tasering.

A number of explanations are possible. The most obvious is the quest for the “black vote.” At the Tories’ 2002 annual conference, Theresa May famously lambasted her party for having an appeal and popular base that was “too narrow.” “You know what some people call us,” she said, “The Nasty Party.” If they wanted to get reelected, she argued, they would have to “diversify” their support base – and with the Tories’ current wafer-thin majority, this remains as true as ever. With almost two thirds of African-Caribbeans seeing the police as systematic liars, taking on the police could be a smart electoral move – especially taking them on in the areas in which police racism most visibly manifests itself: stop and search, and deaths in custody.

An editorial in The Voice in summer 2013 suggested this was already paying dividends, with May’s work on stop and search specifically identified as a sign that the Conservatives were gaining ground from Labour in terms of appealing to black and minority voters. With the non-white population growing – and May widely seen to be positioning herself as a future party leader – this could all be a very astute attempt to build up a solid base of support.

However, there is almost certainly more to it than that. For the Tory party’s battles with the police go far beyond the issues outlined here; indeed, ever since coming to power in 2010, the party has been involved in more or less open war with the Police Federation (the closest thing the police are allowed to have to a trade union) over the austerity agenda.

Thatcher had been very careful to exempt police from the attacks to which the rest of the workforce were subjected – even significantly increasing their pay (not to mention providing lucrative overtime opportunities during the miners’ strike) whilst everyone else was seeing theirs cut. Cameron’s party have not gone down this road, arguing instead that the crisis today is so deep that no one (no workers, anyway) should be exempt. And this attempt to push cuts and privatization onto the police has sparked fierce opposition from within the police force, with a 30,000 strong demo by the police held in 2012 quite possibly the biggest political action by the police since they went on strike in 1919 (when the government genuinely feared revolution). Given that Theresa May has so far threatened a lot more than she has actually delivered in terms of statutory reform, could it be that she is simply using the threat of removing the police’s time-honored impunity as leverage to drive through the cuts agenda?

Personally, I am both not as cynical as this – but also much more so. Although it remains to be proven, I believe Theresa May could well be genuine about her desire to tackle black deaths in custody – not, however, because she wants to see fewer black people killed, but more – far more – and not because she wants to move us away from being a police state, but ever further toward it.

Let me explain. We are living through times of an unprecedented emerging crisis of the capitalist world system, both economically and militarily. Economically, the world system is tipping once again into a classic overproduction crisis, of a type endemic to capitalism: a crisis which re-emerges with greater force and destructive potential each time around. Within capitalism, overall demand is never enough to consume all the goods that are produced – because people, as a whole, are not paid the full value of their labor. For some time, this crisis was staved off with the “credit trick”: artificially boosting demand by lending people money to buy things they could not afford – but this collapsed in 2007-8. Capital, desperate for profitable sources of investment, then flooded into property, “commodities” and government bonds, sparking price bubbles in each one. One by one, these bubbles are now bursting.

The day of reckoning – the day, that is, when banks suddenly realize their “assets” are only worth half, or a third, or a quarter, of what they had previously been valued at, and their cash machines stop giving out money – is drawing near.

The Conservatives understand this very well, better perhaps than most of the left; after all, they have had more experience of navigating this system than probably anyone else in the world. So they are preparing for this future. One way they are preparing is through militarism: endless wars to destroy rival capital, and to create the basis for more profitable investment of their own. Libya was here a textbook case: a war costing barely £300 million produced investment opportunities (reserved, we now know, for the conquering forces) of £300 billion.

But this war was just the prelude to bigger conflicts, becoming a launchpad for proxy wars against Syria, Mali, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia. These in turn are laying the groundwork for yet more future wars, being prepared as we speak. People do, and will increasingly, flee these battlefields. Yet Europe would rather sink their boats than let them flee to Europe, and have already turned this desire into official policy. Economic crisis is leading increasingly to ever more desperate and depraved forms of warfare against the global South – that is, against the homelands of a large section of the British population.

Malcolm X said it clearly when he said, “You can’t understand what’s going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what’s going on in the Congo.” What he meant is that the lynchings and discrimination being experienced by African Americans were part and parcel of the US and Western Europe’s ongoing war against African liberation, and third world liberation as a whole; part of the colonizers’ permanent aggression against Africa, Asia and Latin America. He always fought for black and minority communities in North America to see themselves as part of this worldwide struggle, and to identify with the homelands in their struggle against such oppression.

It was for this reason that he was seen as such a threat by the authorities, and for this reason that the Black Panther Party, who continued to put this thinking into practice after this death, were identified by the FBI as the number one threat to US national security. The presence of black and Asian people in Europe and its extensions has always been seen as a threat precisely because of their potential allegiance to their homelands in the ongoing imperialist wars against them. They have always been seen as a potential “fifth column.”

Yet their treatment as a so-called fifth column, and the violence towards them this entails, has the effect of reinforcing their skepticism and hostility toward the state, and deepening their sympathies towards the anti-imperialist movements and states abroad. Racist state violence, then, creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: the state’s permanent suspicion about the loyalty of its black and Asian population creates a very real basis for disloyalty; by treating them as “prone to rebellion,” it prompts them to rebel.

Being subjected to racist violence by the British state automatically creates a kinship with those subjected to racist violence by that same state abroad, which is the victims of British wars and economic subjugation. If she is serious about dealing with racist police violence and impunity (which, I reiterate, remains to be seen) Theresa May could in fact be attempting nothing less than the final obliteration of any identification of its non-white population to their blitzed and besieged homelands.

Ultimately what is being attempted is a form of racist flattery: where once black people were effectively told “You’re no better than the n*****s in Africa,” Theresa May is now effectively telling them: “You’re nothing like those n*****s in Africa: they deserve to be drowned and droned and beheaded; but you are worth so much more’.” This is a bold new racism for the 21st century: all British citizens, no matter what their skin colour, should be able to support the drowning, strafing and droning of Arabs and Africans.

Yet just as violence and oppression is being ramped up abroad, so too at home. The combined reality of permanent mass unemployment and a benefits system unable to provide basic subsistence is leading to a growing underclass potentially drawn to revolt, and likely to be drawn into frequent contact with the police. The state’s response has been mass surveillance and, increasingly, mass incarceration.

The public have been led to accept this increasing intrusion of the state into their lives on the grounds of Islamophobic “anti-terrorist” propaganda and hate stories about “feral youth.” Yet police racism and police violence continue to be major fault lines in relations between police and a large section of the public, a major obstacle to the acquiescence of the black community in accepting this massively increased role for the police and security services in the governance of Britain. To co-opt black and Asian people into accepting the structural violence of mass poverty and incarceration requires a limitation on the arbitrary meting out of individual violence and persecution by racist officers. Remember that, against a backdrop of the massive use of racist stop and search, widespread unemployment and benefits cuts, it took the execution of Mark Duggan to actually trigger a riot.

Theresa May, then, is attempting to improve police relations with the black community for a very simple reason: to buy their acquiescence in her war against the poor at home and abroad. We should not be fooled. Through its war on both Libya and migrants in the Mediterranean, this government has facilitated a massive ramping up of violence against Africans, and is preparing the grounds for mass incarceration at home.

Nevertheless, even as we recognize this, and without any illusions, we must use this moment to push for an end to police impunity: to insist on an end to all the institutional practices that allow the police to escape accountability and to demand murdering officers are prosecuted. Genuine community control is the only way to ensure this happens. But we must never forget that it is not only police officers, but Theresa May too, who must be held to account for her crimes.

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The police killing of Kingsley Burrell: The only “lesson learned” is how to get away with it

Police officer guilty of gross misconduct over Kingsley Burrell's ...
12th June 2015
In March 2011, Kingsley Burrell called the police requesting help, fearing he and his son were at risk from an armed gang. By the end of the day, Burrell had been arrested, beaten and had his son taken from him. Four days later he was dead.

Since then, it has been a long, hard struggle by Kingsley’s family and friends to find out the truth about what happened – but last month, during an excruciating five-week inquest, that truth finally came out.

When they arrived on the scene and found no evidence of anyone threatening Kingsley, the police decided to arrest him under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act, claiming he was delusional. Both he and his son were taken away in an ambulance, where the police set upon Kingsley in an attempt to forcibly remove him from his son. During the inquest, it emerged that Kingsley had not been asked to relinquish his son before police attacked him. One officer admitted in typically guarded language: “I accept that to communicate to everybody, in an ideal situation, that would have been done.”

Kingsley was then driven to the Oleaster mental health unit of the local hospital and later transferred to another mental health facility, the Mary Seacole Unit. What exactly happened to him during this time is unclear, but his sister Kadisha visited him in the unit the following day, telling the inquest “Kingsley had three lumps, one on his forehead. I said to [his partner] Chantelle ‘take a photo of that’.”

“Kingsley said to me, ‘I can’t move’. He couldn’t move the upper part of his body… He couldn’t move his head, couldn’t move his body, couldn’t move his shoulders,” she said, adding he had deep marks around his wrists. She later discovered that her brother had been left handcuffed to the hospital floor for five or six hours, had not been allowed a drink of water or a visit to the toilet and was subsequently left to urinate on himself. He told her that after he requested the handcuffs be loosened the guards tightened them even more.

On March 30th, police were called back to the Mary Seacole Unit after staff there reported he was acting aggressively; when pressed for more detail in the inquest it transpired that he had been making ‘stabbing motions’ with his toothbrush.

This was apparently all the excuse the police needed to launch another blistering attack on the man they had left barely able to walk just three days previously. Kingsley over the course of the next two and half hours was again beaten, this time whilst sedated, handcuffed and in leg restraints. During this time, he was transferred by police to the Queen Elizabeth hospital, first to emergency to stitch up a head injury he had sustained during the course of the restraint, and then back to the Oleaster Unit of the hospital. During the ambulance journey, a towel was wrapped around Kingsley’s head; when asked why, it was explained that it was because he had been spitting. The restraints were finally removed on arrival at the Oleaster seclusion unit. A staff member present told the inquest that whilst removing the restraints, one officer “knelt on Kingsley’s back between his shoulder blades” whilst others punched his thighs “with a lot of force,” including with the butt of a police baton. He noted: “These were methods that I had never seen before—they were alarming and shocking.” He explained how the police then left Kingsley face down on the bed with the blanket still wrapped around his head. He was motionless.

During this time, Kingsley’s respiratory rate had been dropping; since he was coming out of sedation it should have been rising. The inquest revealed that this drop had been noted but not acted upon on several occasions. Even when it dropped to below half the usual rate, there was apparently “no urgency” about the situation.

Eventually, Kingsley went into cardiac arrest. Community activist Desmond Jaddoo’s blog of the inquest hearings records what happened next: “This afternoon we heard from the Doctor who was on call when Kingsley went into cardiac arrest and it was a complete case of confusion, as she claims that she was told to go to the wrong ward and when she arrived there, there were no compressions being done and they placed him on the floor for a solid surface for compressions. Furthermore, we went on to hear the wrong breathing mask was used initially, along with the defibrillator not having any pads and there was a delay whilst an alternative one was obtained from a different ward.”

Kingsley Burrell was pronounced dead the next day. Last month, the five-week inquest concluded that the police had used excessive force and contributed to his death, as did the covering left over his head, and the neglect he so clearly suffered. It was a damning indictment not only of the police, but also of the various mental health workers and ambulance staff who allowed the brutal treatment to continue, and of the Crown Prosecution Service who refused to prosecute anyone over the death. Had the coroner allowed ‘unlawful killing’ to be considered, it is quite possible the jury would have reached this verdict.

Following the verdict, the all-too-familiar refrain of “lessons learnt” began to emanate from all corners of officialdom. Coroner Louise Hunt pronounced: “The only consolation to family members is lessons can be learnt from such a tragedy.” West Midlands Police Assistant Chief Constable Garry Forsyth said, “Crucial lessons have been learned from this tragic case and how the force manages people who are detained with mental and physical health needs.” Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson told the press: “Clearly more lessons need to be learned by all the agencies involved so that these tragic incidents are not repeated.”

This is the same refrain that is churned out every time somebody dies while in police custody. Time and again, families are forced to battle for the truth, often for years, against all the odds – but when that truth is revealed, and the states’ culpability in the death of their loved ones is revealed, the state refuses to administer justice. Instead, it calls for ‘lessons to be learned,’ as if police officers beating a man to death is akin to a schoolboy failing a math test. As the chair of the Kingsley Burrell justice campaign Maxie Hayles commented, “We are constantly told that ‘lessons are being learned.’ The black community is totally fed up with hearing this rubbish. It’s almost like we are an experimental project.”

The truth of the matter is that, precisely because justice is never done, these ‘lessons’ are never actually learned. The Institute of Race Relations published a report into deaths in custody in March of this year, examining over 500 black and minority ethnic deaths in custody that have occurred in the UK since 1990. Their report noted that “despite narrative verdicts warning of dangerous procedures and the proliferation of guidelines, lessons are not being learnt: people die in similar ways year on year.”

Indeed, every aspect of the Kingsley Burrell case is depressingly familiar to campaigners on police brutality. Every single element of ‘what went wrong’ had already contributed to previous deaths on several occasions, and everyone has already, we have been told, resulted in ‘lessons being learnt,’ long before Kingsley’s fateful call to the police in 2011.

One such lesson is the lesson of ‘institutional racism’. This was the term used in the 1999 MacPherson report into the death of teenager Stephen Lawrence, which concluded that the police mishandling of that case was a result of the institutional racism of the Metropolitan Police. This racism results in the black community being “under-policed as victims and over-policed as suspects” in the memorable words of campaigner Stafford Scott, with racial stereotyping leading both to the excessive use of force against black people and an assumption that they are deviant.

Despite the ‘lessons learnt’ from the Lawrence case, both factors clearly played a role in Kingsley’s death. PC Shorthouse, a six-foot-four tall police officer involved in Kingsley’s death, told the inquest that his “knees were knocking together” in fear of dealing with Kingsley, prompting the family’s lawyer to ask him: “Are you sure you were not applying the stereotype of Kingsley being mad, black and dangerous?” “No, not at all,” Shorthouse replied. “He was the strongest, most aggressive person I have ever met in my career as a police officer.” Perhaps. But one wonders how much aggression Kingsley was meting out whilst sedated with his arms and legs strapped down, or whilst being beaten face down and motionless on a hospital bed.

Another explanation for the incident was put forth by the Institute of Race Relations in their examination of similar cases: “Black men, especially young black men, acting erratically or even asking for help, are stereotyped first and foremost as bad, mad, and, being black, likely to be involved in drugs and/or violent – so they are met with violence.”

Even when victims display clear warning signs of being in serious danger, police often ignore them on the grounds they believe their victims are “faking it.” As Shorthouse told the inquest, he assumed that Kingsley pleading with him that he couldn’t breathe was “tactical.” Such assumptions were also fatal in the cases of Sean Rigg, Christopher Alder and Habib Ullah, as well as many others.

Yet this ‘lesson’ – that institutional racism and racial stereotyping is dangerous and can even be fatal – is one that had supposedly already been learnt from the MacPherson report in 1999. Just for good measure, it was ‘learnt’ again in 2006 when an IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) report concluded that “unwitting racism” contributed to the death of Christopher Alder – a very generous finding given CCTV footage appeared to show the officers standing around making monkey noises whilst he lay dying – and that four of the officers present when Alder died were guilty of the “most serious neglect of duty.”

Another lesson not being learnt is that, when it comes to holding the state to account, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is not fit for purpose. In 1999, the Butler Report – an official government inquiry into deaths in custody – was seriously critical of the CPS’s obvious unwillingness to prosecute police officers. Yet given the behavior of the CPS in subsequent years, the report may as well have never been written. Even when verdicts of unlawful killing are reached, as the IRR has noted, “there has still been a marked reluctance to prosecute those implicated.” The number of prosecutions resulting from the 509 suspicious custody deaths detailed in their report can literally be counted on one hand – and even where prosecutions are brought, they are not done so effectively.

Following years of campaigning by Alder’s sister, Janet, the CPS did eventually bring a prosecution of the officers involved in Christopher Alder’s death.

However, the CPS then conflicted much of the evidence, meaning the judge had to throw it out, with the most damning evidence – the CCTV footage – never presented to the jury. Janet then brought a civil case against the CPS, in which the judge concluded that she shared Janet’s concerns “as to the standard of the investigation undertaken by West Yorkshire Police into the actions of the Humberside officers.” No surprise then, that the CPS decided last August not to prosecute the police officers implicated in Kingsley Burrell’s death, leading to a protest by the Burrell family and their supporters outside its Birmingham headquarters. Lessons learnt?

The list of lessons that should already have been learnt is endless. Another lesson concerns “positional asphyxia” – suffocation due to a person’s body position blocking their airways. The IRR report shows there have been at least nine cases of deaths in police custody where ‘positional asphyxia’ was identified as a cause of death since 1990. ACPO guidance, says the IRR, already “makes clear that placing suspects in a prone position….gives rise to the risk of death by positional asphyxia and the prone position must be avoided if possible, and minimized if unavoidable. It also recommends that body weight should not be used on the upper body (ie sitting on a suspect) to hold down a person.” This lesson was supposedly ‘learnt’ in the 1990s. Yet it did not stop the officers involved in Burrell’s case from ignoring the advice, putting him in prone position and leaning on his chest, causing the positional asphyxia which led to his cardiac arrest – just as predicted by ACPO’s guidelines. If the British state really is being ‘taught lessons,’ it must be a seriously retarded pupil.

Another lesson that should by now be well understood is that “excited delirium” is a medically dubious diagnosis routinely wheeled out by dodgy police pathologists desperate to avoid verdicts of positional asphyxia at inquests. Refuted by the vast majority of medical experts, this did not stop police pathologists bringing it up both at Kingsley’s inquest, and at the inquest of Habib Ullah earlier this year.

At least the pathologists are giving distorted interpretations of the facts, however, rather than simply making them up. Another lesson is that it is not only racism that is apparently institutional in the police force – so too are cover-ups and lying. Last week, hearings for gross misconduct began against police officers involved in the death of Habib Ullah, all five of whom heavily doctored their witness statements to the IPCC about what happened, removing references to the use of force used, to other witnesses on the scene, to warning signs of his deteriorating condition and much else besides.

As Gerry Boyle, presenting the case against the officers, said: “The nature and extent of the deletions and amendments these five officers made were on a breathtaking scale, covering almost every single aspect of the incident.” (Needless to say, the CPS dismissed the IPCC’s suggestion that those involved be charged with perjury and various other charges). At Kingsley’s inquest, a similar pattern emerged. The testimony of PC Adey and ambulance driver Mr MacDonald-Booth were particularly shameless. Various witnesses had testified that, after his restraints were taken off, Kingsley’s arms dropped to his sides and he never moved again. “I know what I saw” PC Adey said, “he raised his head.” Incredulous, the coroner replied: “I suggest you are wrong, officer.”

In an earlier statement, Adey said he had seen this through a window in the door. But it emerged in the inquest that this window was covered by a locked hatch to which only nurses had the key. Adey also insisted that Kingsley’s face was uncovered, contradicting evidence from six other witnesses that his face was covered with a towel or sheet. “How can they all be wrong, officer?” asked the coroner, showing him CCTV photographs of Kingsley’s head covered. He said he wasn’t looking at him at the time. Adey also denied kneeling on Kingsley’s back, as had been described by two other witnesses.

The coroner, Louise Hunt, also became exasperated with Mr Macdonald-Booth, the ambulance driver, whose testimony in the inquest directly contradicted his own earlier statements. Mr MacDonald-Booth, it turns out, had only recently joined the ambulance service, having previously been – any guesses? – a police officer.

We were told ‘lessons had been learnt’ from the Hillsborough disaster, where police had systematically lied about the 96 football fans killed as a result of poor policing in 1989; we were told the same about the miners’ strike – where police had systematically lied about those they arrested at Orgreave; and again after “Plebgate”, when police officers had lied about what they heard Andrew Mitchell say in Downing St. Lessons learnt? Kingsley’s inquest suggests otherwise.

Yet lessons are being learnt. The real lesson – being taught again and again – is that impunity prevails; that, if you are an agent of the British state, you can falsify your evidence, you can lie in court, you can attack people from vulnerable or minority groups at will, and whatever happens – even if you kill them – that state will protect you. We don’t need any more lessons to be learnt; indeed we have had enough of this lesson being learnt. What we need is for justice to be done.

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The new war in Libya part 2: Is Haftar doing the West’s dirty work? 

19th September 2019

Sources: Libya's Haftar to meet US President Trump at the White House

On April 4th 2019, the Libyan National Army (LNA), under the command of Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar, launched a new offensive on Tripoli. The move came just ten days before a major peace conference was due to take place, under the auspices of the UN, to flesh out an agreement between Haftar and his rival Serraj al-Fayez made a month earlier – and it appears to have been at the behest of – or at least given the green light by – Saudi Arabia. 

 

On March 28th, one week before Haftar launched his offensive, Haftar was in Riyadh meeting with the two most powerful men in the kingdom – King Salman and Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman. Senior advisors to the Saudi government told the Wall Street Journal that, at this meeting, Haftar was promised tens of millions of dollars to help pay for the operation. And once it was underway, Saudi-linked twitter accounts launched an “avalanche of tweets” in support of Haftar, according to journalist Mary Fitzgerald. 

 

But why would the Western world’s number one Arab ally be sponsoring an offensive against a government – the so-called Government of National Accord (GNA) – which was not only backed by, but in fact largely a creation of, the West itself? Are we seeing an unprecedented divergence between Saudi Arabia and its Anglo-American allies? Is this the beginning of the end of the Saudis’ long-established role of doing the West’s bidding in the region? Has Saudi Arabia gone rogue? Or is something else going on? 

 

Saudi Arabia has a long track record of doing the West’s dirty work, financing violence which the US and UK governments want carried out, but would prefer not to be directly associated with. The current pummelling of Yemen and the building up of Syrian anti-government death squads since 2011 are but the most recent examples; in the 1980s the Nicaraguan contras, UNITA rebels in Angola, the Lebanese Phalangists and the Afghan Mujahideen were all recipients of Saudi largesse; and in the 1970s, the House of Saud bankrolled King Hussein’s attack on the PLO in Jordan. In every case, Saudi Arabia was financing and equipping the enemies of governments and movements deemed undesirable by the CIA. Are we to believe that this mutually-serving relationship has now come to an end? 

 

There is, of course, another explanation: that the Libyan National Army’s attack on GNA-held Tripoli does, in fact, serve western goals just as surely as it serves those of the Saudis. For, whilst the GNA is indeed a creation of the West, it – like so many others before it – has increasingly come to see more of a future, economically at least, with China. 

 

In May last year, the GNA signed a major oil contract with PetroChina, paving the way for GNA’s decision to sign up to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – also known as ‘One Belt One Road’ – in July. Involving over $1trillion of Chinese infrastructure investment across 152 countries, the BRI is the most ambitious attempt to promote South-South relations and reduce trade dependence on the Western world since the end of the colonial era. Trump’s policy towards the BRI was neatly summed up by his former National Security Advisor Steve Bannon in just eight words “Let’s go screw up One Belt One Road”. Following the GNA’s momentous decision to be part of it, notes Samuel Ramani in The Diplomat, “the GNA’s diplomatic outreach toward China has intensified and broadened. In September 2018, al-Sarraj openly called for an expansion of Chinese investment in Libya, and at the February 2019 Munich Security Conference, GNA representatives lauded Libya as a potential gateway for Chinese economic influence in central Africa.” 

 

To those such as Trump, such statements are a red rag to a bull. Trump has made economic war on China a cornerstone of his foreign policy; for the GNA to openly tout Libya as a “gateway” for Chinese economic influence in Africa, then, is a major snub to their US overlords. And China has been receptive, too: continues Ramani, “ In response to these statements, Chinese Ambassador to Libya Li Zhiguo praised the GNA for improving Tripoli’s security situation and stated that China had plans for a swift expansion of its economic presence in Libya”. 

 

Is it so far-fetched to suspect that the US might have approved Haftar’s operation against the GNA in order to punish their insubordination over China – and to entrench their dependence on Western military support? 

 

There is much evidence that the West has indeed been ‘cooling’ in its attitude towards the Libyan government it created. Shortly after Haftar launched his latest offensive, GNA Prime Minister Al Serraj toured Europe’s capitals seeking public condemnations of the LNA advance. He did not receive them; instead, he was rebuffed by both French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel. Al Monitor comments, “By failing to explicitly support Sarraj’s demands, the UN Security Council and European nations appear more willing to forgive Hifter’s military advance than the GNA’s ongoing inadequacies as a functional government. Therefore, the GNA, a direct product of the international community, is now being abandoned by it.”  

 

Likewise, the International Crisis Group notes that to the extent that “escalation” – carefully worded to avoid singling out the aggressor – has been condemned by the US, UK, France, Italy and others, “none of these statements included the threat of sanctions and none made explicit mention of the need to support the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli.” They add thatTo many Libyans this suggests that foreign governments are tacitly backing Haftar in his ambition to seize the capital and power” 

 

The GNA even apparently feels let down by the UK, the power which arguably did the most to push for both the NATO destruction of the Jamihiriya in 2011, and for the installing of the GNA in Tripoli in 2016. Notes the BBC: “Militia leader and GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha accused the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, of abandoning Tripoli in its hour of need by withdrawing British military and embassy staff from the city when it came under attack. Relations between the countries had been “damaged” by this, he said, and it would be difficult to rebuild them in a short space of time.” The Foreign Office response to this was decidedly not to reassure the GNA that they had the full support of the UK, but merely to note that Britain is “in contact” with the GNA. The Guardian added that, according to then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, “The UK is not ruling out the warlord Khalifa Haftar from a role in a future Libyan government despite his attack on the capital.” Ahmed Maiteeq, Libya’s deputy prime minister, concluded that “Britain just left Libya behind.” 

 

France, meanwhile, has long had a relationship with the LNA and Haftar – who received emergency medical treatment in Paris in 2018 – with the depth of their involvement made public when three French soldiers were killed fighting alongside LNA units in Libya in 2016. Shortly after the advance on Tripoli began in April this year, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, explained that France backed Haftar because he had “fought terrorism in Benghazi and the south of Libya, and that’s in our interest.” The LNA victories in Southern Libya which preceded the attack on Tripoli had been “facilitated by French military operations” according to the intelligence analysts at Jamestown Foundation, whilst a high-ranking government official from the GNA’s Presidency Council has claimed that the French operate a drone control room at the Sidra oil terminal in northern Libya which they are using to attack GNA positions. In May the GNA decided to take revenge on French interests in Libya in May by suspending the operations of 40 French companies, including oil giant Total, who had been operating in the country. 

 

Then there is the US. Haftar was, of course, a Virginia-based CIA asset for decades before returning to Libya with NATO in 2011, and has, according to the New York Times, now allowed the CIA to establish a base in LNA-controlled Benghazi. Following the attack on Tripoli, the US threatened to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire, with the UN’s Libya envoy Ghassan Salame commenting “The American line was to say: no, give war a chance.” According to the Guardian, one US “diplomat said the US was more adamant in its opposition than Russia, which had asked for amendments to make the resolution more “balanced” and less explicitly anti-Haftar, but did not go so far as brandishing a security council veto.” US President Trump had apparently had a phone call with Haftar on 15th April, and had been impressed. 

 

Yet none of this necessarily means that the US and its European hangers-on actually seek an LNA/ Haftar victory. As I have argued elsewhere, the aim of Western policy towards the global South today appears to be the creation not of Cold War-style puppet regimes, but rather of ‘failed states’. Unable to compete with China financially, the old imperial powers understand that any stable regional power today – however capitalist, pro-western, or right wing – is far more likely to be drawn towards economic ties with China than the West, and that this threatens the entire edifice of South-to-North wealth-extraction that has been carefully crafted over hundreds of years. By this analysis, a stable Libya under either the GNA or the LNA is equally unwelcome to the West; far preferable is a Libya at war with itself: precisely the scenario, that is, that has been imposed on Libya by NATO ever since 2011. 

 

This makes the Saudi intervention just days before the April UN peace talks were due to begin much more comprehensible. Although it is easy to say in hindsight, of course, these talks did appear to have a much greater chance of success than previous attempts. The summer 2018 attack on GNA-controlled Tripoli by an alliance involving some of the powerful Misratan militias which had been sidelined by the GNA shocked Prime Minister Al-Serraj into incorporating some of them into his government. These militias in turn had a more open attitude towards dealing with Haftar’s LNA, and, on the eve of the planned UN peace conference in April, had succeeded in pushing the GNA towards a more conciliatory attitude. One former US official told Al-Monitor that Haftar was offered a “very generous” deal to join forces with the GNA, in which he would be head of the country’s united armed forces, subject to civilian oversight, but with the prime minister being  “hands off in terms of military operations”. Indeed, such an agreement had already been reached in principle between Serraj and Haftar during talks in the UAE in February. Had the West and its regional proxies at that point made their continued military and financial support for Haftar contingent on his cooperation with this process, he would have had little choice but to comply; instead, as we know, they did precisely the opposite, offering him millions of dollars to reject the talks and advance on Tripoli. 

 

Haftar, then, appears to have been pushed to launch a self-defeating war just when the western militias were ready to contemplate power-sharing. The result is both the weakening of the China-friendly GNA and the deepening of Libya’s civil war – exactly in accordance with western strategic aims. Bringing these two elements together is the fact that China had in fact been a key player pushing for peace. Notes Ramani, “In order to subtly advance the GNA’s position without jeopardizing its neutrality, China has actively supported a ceasefire in Libya, as the GNA has historically possessed an upper hand in peace negotiations, due to its status as Libya’s UN-recognized government.” He adds that “China’s adherence to strict multilateralism in Libya reflects its skeptical view of the ability of external stakeholders to constructively influence the situation in Libya” and that “China’s May 21 expression of support for an expansion of the African Union’s (AU) role in ending hostilities in Libya also aligns with these principles, as the AU has consistently called for a ceasefire in Libya without external interference.” All this has now been thrown into the fire. 

 

It is not simply guesswork to speculate that the Saudis and the West are aiming to keep Libya weak and warring, however: there are ample historical precedents.  In the 1980s, for example, the US and the Saudis ‘supported’ Iraq’s war with Iran with weapons and financial backing. Was this because they genuinely sought a strong, stable Iraq? Just to ask the question immediately exposes the idea as ridiculous. Before the war was even over, it was revealed that the CIA was secretly shipping weapons to Iran as well, whilst the war-wracked Iraqi economy came under concerted attack from US proxy Kuwait through the outright theft of its oil. The US then ultimately used the resulting Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which they had earlier greenlighted, as an excuse to rain hell on Iraq’s (retreating) army, as well as its civilian infrastructure. They then spent 12 years systematically rendering the Iraqi state defenceless before finally destroying it altogether. 

Likewise, the Vance-Owen Bosnian peace plan was, in 1992,  on the verge of acceptance by all sides, before the US pressed their proxies (namely the leader of the Bosnian Muslim faction, Izetbegovic) to reject the deal and keep fighting. Finally, after three more years of war, a virtually identical deal was signed up to by the mutually exhausted parties. 

In Libya today, just as in 1980s Iraq, the West’s proxies are again backing both sides, whilst, as in 1990s Bosnia, they are pushing their dependents into rejecting peace and stepping up their attacks. Meanwhile, the stream of weapons to both the LNA from NATO-allied Saudi Arabia and UAE, and to the GNA from NATO-allied Turkey and Qatar continues apace; there are UN sanctions against shipments, but, notes Bloomsberg, they “are among the world’s least enforced”. In fact, peace would be relatively easy to bring about, should the Western powers actually seek it; as Jason Pack points out in Al-Monitor, “If the main international players would look past their sunk costs and find a common interest in a stable Libya, they might see a fairly simple way out of the seemingly endless wars of post-Gadhafi succession: denying all sides access to external sources of funding and arms, while also forcing the Libyan central bank and the internationally recognized government to eliminate subsidies and cut salaries to militiamen on all sides.” 

Instead, through its proxies, the West continues to sponsor a mutually destructive war between the two rival governments its (repeated) intervention has spawned. 

Originally published in Counterpunch magazine

by

The Brexit Referendum: A Historic Moment in Europe’s Slide to Fascism

Originally posted 26th June 2016

Pro Brexit Rally, London UK, organised by UKIP with far right ...

This is indeed a ‘historic moment’, and will be seen as a key

date in future histories of Europe’s current descent into open

fascism. The Brexit movement was driven, first and foremost, by

hostility to foreigners (immigrants), supplemented on occasion

by some pseudo-leftist rhetoric, with an overall narrative

framework emphasizing the decline of national supremacy and

the need to reverse this. The three main elements, that is,

constituent of fascism.

 

Some of my leftist friends tell me this kind of

characterization of Brexit doesn’t help, that it puts the backs up

of sections of the white working class. But the requirements of

political activism cannot be privileged above those of intellectual

honesty; and any strategy lacking an honest assessment of the

real situation is doomed to failure anyhow, however politely we

put things.

 

This proto-fascist movement, then, as I shall continue to

call it, will provide – and clearly, judging by their elated

statements, has already provided – a major boost to all the far

right and proto-fascist forces on the continent. As these forces

are empowered ‘on the streets’ this will, obviously, increase the

physical threat already faced by immigrants and refugees across

the continent. At the same time, it will push European

governments, and the EU itself, in the direction of ever more

hostile policies towards immigrants and refugees, to show they

have ‘listened to’ and ‘understood’ the ‘message’ of the Brexit

vote. This trajectory already exists within the EU, as evident in

the rapid turnaround, under far right pressure, from the initial,

fairly humane, principle proposed by the EU in response to the

Syrian refugee crisis two years ago – to disperse refugees across

the continent according to a quota based on the wealth and

population of host countries – to the policy of allowing refugees

to drown, sinking their boats, or sending them back to Turkey.

All these tendencies will now be greatly strengthened.

 

On an ideological level, Brexit has deepened, legitimized

and popularized the scapegoating of immigrants for the

economic consequences of neoliberal capitalism. Poverty, low

wages, unemployment, and declining public services are all now

associated, in the public mind, with immigration. This

ideological work, of course, did not begin with Brexit, but has

been greatly boosted and developed by it. By drawing attention

away from failures of government policy and the economic

system – cuts to public services, housing and wage markets

heavily skewed in favour of powerful investors, anti-union laws,

failed and costly privatisations, and the unemployment-inducing

impact of technology under capitalism, for example – it actually

allows the further, unimpeded, development of the neoliberal

agenda. And whilst Jeremy Corbyn made a valiant effort at

refocusing attention on such policies every time he discussed the

issue, this narrative was completely overwhelmed by the deluge

of anti-immigrant analysis coming from every other quarter, the

Remain camp included. Intriguingly, he is now being hounded

from within his own party for being ‘too timid’ in his

campaigning: code for not lining up strongly enough with the

anti-immigration agenda in order to ‘show the grassroots he is

listening’. Unfortunately, centuries of colonial supremacist

brainwashing has taken its toll on the collective psyche of this

nation, and that worldview continues to be backed up by

material privileges accruing to the British section of the global

working class. Indeed, it is precisely the defence of declining

privileges which is the guiding principle of fascism (as opposed

to socialism, which advocates liberation of the entire proletariat,

rather than privileges for one section of it).

 

We are told this vote is the democratic will of the people.

Yet democracy, if it means anything, means that those affected

by political decisions are able to exert some influence over those

decisions. In this case, millions of those affected – indeed, the

most affected, EU immigrants themselves (British taxpayers, no

less) – were barred from voting. Their combined vote would

certainly have tipped the vote the other way, by quite a margin.

The vote itself was thus illegitimate and undemocratic, and it is

testament to just how fearful mainstream politicians are of

voicing ‘pro-migrant’ sentiment that no prominent remainer has

ever, to my knowledge, pointed this out.

 

We often hear the refrain that this was a ‘blow to the

establishment’. It was no such thing. The truth is, there was a

split in the establishment – a civil war in the Tory party, between

the centre right and the far right. The far right wing of the

establishment (led by a banker and two Etonian Cabinet

members no less) won by mobilising latent anti-immigrant

sentiment, peppered with the occasional pseudo-left policy

gimmick; again, straight out of the fascist playbook.

 

None of this, please note, is a defence of the EU. Most of

the ‘leftist’ arguments I have heard against the EU (ie, apart from

the anti-immigrant ones) have been essentially correct. It is

neoliberal, it is militarist, it is, yes, even fascist, at least in

elements of its foreign policy (drowning refugees, supporting

supremacist death squads in Libya and Ukraine). But this

trajectory will not be reversed by Brexit, either within the EU, or

within Britain. Brexit is a part of the same movement: capitalist

crisis driving a section of the establishment towards outright

fascism, mobilizing the alienated masses in the process. Brexit

will free the British ruling class to more avowedly discriminate

against immigrants, rip up (what remains of) workers rights and

environmental standards, avoid banking regulations, arm

proxies without worrying about EU arms embargoes, etc – which

will generate immense pressure for other member states be

given similar freedoms in order to bribe them to stay within the EU.

 

And the argument that the EU itself will be weakened also

seems to miss the point. The EU is merely the coordinated

actions of its members. There is no reason to think that, even if

it collapses entirely, its constituent elements will be any less

destructive. Historically, there is no basis for the belief that

fascism is any less warlike than ‘ordinary’ imperialism; quite the

contrary.

 

In its choice of question, the referendum was rigged. A

meaningful choice would have between three broad suggestions:

no change; a shift to the right; or shift to the left. Obviously this

one only included the first two. And who ever wants to vote for

the status quo? Certainly not those who have been battered by

an increasingly vicious economic system implemented by an

equally vicious political elite. The British working class have

been neglected, mocked, or demonized for years whilst their jobs

have disappeared, their wages stagnated and their public

services decimated. The tragedy is that the resulting anger has

been channelled towards the movement it has.

 

The most compelling argument I have heard in favour of

Brexit – the only potential silver lining, really – is that, by

providing new grounds for Scottish independence, it may lead to

the break-up of the UK. Such a turn of events would certainly be

welcome. But it is far from inevitable. If Scots did not vote for

independence in the middle of an oil price boom, it is unlikely

they will see independence as economically viable now prices are

barely a third of what they were then. And a new far right Brexit

government is likely to put the boot in even harder than last time

to prevent such an outcome.

 

It is time for socialists to give up on the illusion that a

genuinely internationalist socialist movement can ever take

power in the West under anything like the current conditions. It

is this illusion that leads them up such disastrous blind alleys as

supporting far right takeovers ‘just in case’ a socialist

government one day inexplicably comes about and uses that

newly found ‘sovereignty’ for something other than hounding

foreigners or granting impunity to financiers. Rather, we need to

organize a genuinely internationalist socialist movement that is

realistic about what it can and can’t achieve, and provides

whatever it can in the way of ideological resistance and practical

solidarity to those under attack – from either ‘wing’ of the ruling

class