Kingsley Burrell: British Justice?
The tragic death of Kingsley Burrell a young blackman a father, brother and son at the hands of West Midlands Police is profoundly resonant in some ways of the policing style of South African apartheid regime, the epitome of a racist police state.
The Boer police were notorious for the brutal way they killed innocent black South Africans in their droves. Under apartheid South Africa there was a formal process of police accountability and judicial inquiry into such deaths. Mired in racist practice, the police would usually provide an account stating that the detainee had " jumped out of a fifth storey window " or " fell down four flights of stairs". The judgement was always the same no one was ever held to account and most of those involved would be praised and promoted.
Of course we have never had that level of racist oppression here in the UK. However when it comes to black deaths in custody there remains a whiff of apartheid like racism and injustice to the routine explanations of the black deaths in custody. We no longer hear of the police excuse that "he banged his head in the van "or the classic "he tripped and fell Sarge"
Things have moved and now we see police brutality explained in medical terms such as suggesting that the suspect "superhuman", "suffering from a cannabis psychosis" requiring the use of overwhelming and deadly force. My own personal favourite is the clinically cleaned "positional asphyxia" which is a non existent medical condition that means you died as a consequence of being violently restrained leaving you unable to breathe. Roughly translated that means you had five police officers kneeling on your back forcing the air out of you lungs to the point where were unable to breath and you died.
Kingsley's death on the 27th March shook Birmingham and London to its core. Communities were brutally reminded that, when it comes to any form of statutory detention, as black people we are still not safe and secure either as suspects, victims or patients. Kingsley had called the police whilst out with his son. He took refuge in a shop after he recognised a local gang that was stalking him. Knowing the violent reputation of this gang Kingsley did what we would all do in those circumstances he rang the police. As he waited and he saw what he believed to be the gang "tooling up "and rang other emergency services in the hope that someone anyone would arrive quickly and deter the gang.
When the West Midlands Police arrived what then transpired was a travesty and a nightmare. Instead of assisting Kingsley and his son the Police forcibly arrested him and his child. He is alleged to have been beaten by the police in full view of his son an experience that will now leave that little boy with the kind of deep emotional and psychological scar that will last a life time. Along with one daughter, these children are now deprived of a loving father.
The Police then took Kingsley to a local mental health unit and three days later, after being transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital Kingsley Burrell was dead.
What is known is that Kingsley had no history of mental illness. What is known is Kingsley was not a violent man. What is known is that British Police officers are predisposed as a result of deeply held racial prejudices to treat black men in a much more violent and aggressive manner than white Britons.
So far there have been two initial coroners' hearings to try and indentify the cause of death and the circumstances surrounding his arrest and subsequent treatment. The West Midlands Police, the Crown Prosecution Service, Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and University Hospital, Birmingham are all in the dock. Meanwhile the Police Complaints Commission conducts an independent investigation.
The problem with these institutions that much like those of the apartheid era they do not enjoy the confidence of black and poor communities. Like them they can quote theoretical law and practice, point to a lack of evidence and arrive at similar conclusions. The Crown Prosecution Service has a blind spot for justice when the accused is a police officer and the victim is black.
They are disbelieved in their ability to do anything other than cover their own backs. These institutions lack credibility among black and poor communities and this is informed by numerous examples of where compelling evidence exists (of criminality or culpability) they refuse to charge..
In this society at this time we need to maintain the maximum public pressure on these organisations ensuring opaque levels accountability , adherence to the rule of law and prevention of systemic abuses of power and corruption.
The current administration of criminal justice system is infected at its core with systemic institutional racism. The excuses have become much more sophistited and racism in the system in much more nuanced but the judicial outcomes are entirely consistent. No one is ever held to account and that is why we need a public inquiry into suspicious deaths in custody. The restoration of public confidence in the fair administration of justice and the demand for justice for the victim's families
requires fundamental judicial reform.
The Justice 4 Smiley Culture Campaign, who are supporting the Burrell family have set up an e-petition that calls for a public inquiry into all deaths in custody and is attracting hundreds of signatures in support of the call for a public inquiry.
We must shine the bright light of public accountability on these institutions and that why the forthcoming national march highlighting suspicious deaths in custody and entitled the March for Truth and Justice for Kingsley Burrell due to take place on the 2nd July 2011 in Birmingham. It is vital if we are to ensure that Kingsley's children and wider family are afforded justice that we mobilise, promote and attend this march when such deeply troubling cases arise.
That why it is critically important that the wider public and campaigning groups keep the pressure on such institutions to maintain the highest standards. Maxi Hayles, head of Birmingham's Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit, said: "I call upon all people who believe in the principles of open and transparent justice to join with us and support this march. It is vital we find out what happened to our brother Kingsley and we will not rest until we find the truth."
Calling on the public to support the planned march he added, "We need your support to build this march and that requires you all to become cyber warriors for justice and take to the internet in your thousands to highlight this huge injustice and promote the march in support of the Burrell Brown family."
The plan is to assemble in Abbey Road Birmingham for 12 noon and then walk on past the Mary Seacole mental health unit in Winson Green, where Kingsley was taken. We then take the demonstration on to Bolton Road, Soho Road. Finally we head into the city centre to Lloyd House, the headquarters of West Midlands Police Service. There we will rally, chant and let Birmingham and the rest of the country know we are united in our quest for justice"
Lee Jasper a supporter of the campaign said: " First I would like to publicly thank the Voice Newspaper for its steadfast coverage of this tragic story at a time when most mainstream media are trying to sweep this issue under the carpet.
Their coverage has been first class and reminds us of the campaigning history of the Voice in its early days. Second to overcome this media reluctance we need people use social networks to spread the story far and wide eventually we will force them to give this story the coverage it deserves.
Finally we must promote the march ensuring that the Burrell family gets the support they deserve. This means we have to take the issue seriously and I would ask that every single day people dedicate some time to supporting this campaign. We are on the road to justice and the momentum must be increase. We must not predictably fade away once the heat of our emotion and outrage has gone. They expect us to run out of steam and we must now increase the pressure. No Justice No Peace !"
Speakers at the march will include campaigners and activists from around the country including Friends of Mikey Powell Campaign for Justice
fighting for justice for Powell who died in police custody in Birmingham more than six years ago. Merlin Emmanuel from the Smiley Culture Campaign, the Birmingham-based Julian Webster, who died under controversial circumstances outside the Pitcher and Piano nightclub and bar in Manchester in 2009 along with many others.
We must remove the stench of racism and injustice from the British system of justice. There can be no greater injustice than to call the Police for help and then being forcibly arrested and as a result of brutality end up dying in police custody.