Over 300 United Families and Friends march on Downing Street

Sheku Bayoh died within five minutes of being restrained in a US-style arrest in Scotland in 2015

‘Who ARE the murderers? Police are the murderers!’ shouted a demonstration of over 300 on the annual United Families and Friends march from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street on Saturday.

The march takes place every year to demand justice for those who’ve died at the hands of the state.

The march was led by Marcia Rigg, sister of Sean Rigg who died at the hands of the police on 21st August 2008.

On the march Marcia said: ‘We are are here to remember all our loved ones who have died at the deadly hand of the police.’

Regarding Sean’s death the family said: ‘What Sean Rigg needed, desperately, was help: urgent medical attention for his serious mental illness. What he got, instead, was restraint.

‘He was taken into custody by police officers who failed to notice his illness. And within hours of being arrested, he was dead.

‘Sean was a fit and healthy man who died less than an hour after being picked up by the police. Nothing will bring him back but we want to know that justice will be done. We want to know that those responsible will be held to account for Sean’s death.

‘We feel utterly let down by the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into Sean’s death which was inadequate and obstructive from the start. Until it is fundamentally reformed, the IPCC will remain incapable of exposing the truth when people die in police hands.

‘We call for the Crown Prosecution Service to look at the damning evidence that has come to light in this case and demand a prosecution of those responsible for Sean’s death.

‘We call for an urgent public inquiry to establish why the system in this country consistently fails to deliver justice to the many families whose loved ones have died in police custody.’

At the march News Line spoke to Justice for Seni campaigner Molara Adesigbin, a cousin of Olaseni Lewis (Seni) who died after police ‘restrained’ him on 4th September 2010.

Molara said: ‘Seni died after being restrained by up to 11 policemen whilst he was seeking help as a vulnerable voluntary patient at the Bethlem Royal Hospital, Croydon.

‘He had been admitted early in the evening of Tuesday 31 August 2010 and had been at the hospital for only a few hours before this incident occurred.

‘In 2017 an inquest jury unanimously condemned the actions of police and healthcare staff who watched on as Seni was restrained by 11 police officers. The inquest found the force used was excessive, disproportionate, and contributed to Seni’s death.

‘It took seven years to get the inquest but after the jury found that the police were responsible for his death, a police inquiry said there was no case to answer.

‘We have fought for a bill in parliament ‘Seni’s Law’ – officially known as the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill – which was introduced in July 2017 and will require hospitals to publish data on how and when physical force is used, and improve oversight and training so staff are aware of the risks of unconscious bias against minority groups such as young black men with mental ill health.

‘This was passed in November 2019 and requires any police officer going into a restraint situation in a mental health setting to have a functioning body camera.

‘This has still not been implemented and it’s an absolute disgrace.’

A large group of family members and supporters of Justice for Sheku Bayoh also brought their placards to the march.

Sheku’s sister Adama told News Line: ‘My brother died in Scotland in 2015 after he was held face down by up to nine police officers after subjecting him to CS spray, pepper spray, batons, handcuffs  and leg restraints.

‘There are devastating parallels in the deaths of George Floyd and my brother Sheku. The two men were both loving partners, fathers, sons and brothers.

‘Sheku lost consciousness within a few minutes and died. His body was covered from top to bottom in bruises and lacerations, he had a fractured rib with petechial haemorrhages in his eyes – a sign of asphyxiation.

‘The case of George Floyd has highlighted globally the issue of racial injustice and killings at the hands of the police, but Black Lives Matter also in the UK. Since 1969, in the UK there has not been a single successful prosecution of a police officer for homicide.

‘A Public Inquiry has been announced to begin on 30th November 2020 which will look at the circumstances leading up to the death of Sheku, as well as the post-incident management and the investigation into his death. It will also examine whether race played a part in what happened.

‘This Inquiry is likely to last up to two years and could conclude as late as eight years after Sheku died in police custody.

‘No family should be forced to set up a campaign in the midst of their grief. Families are denied access to legal aid when a death in custody takes place and we were expected to put our trust in the Crown Office – which they betrayed.

‘We need to bring about a legacy in Sheku’s name to ensure no other family should endure what we have in five years.’

A group of fifteen supporters travelled from Manchester from the campaign demanding justice for Ronaldo Johnson.

Sister of Ronaldo, Keisha Johnson, said her brother ‘was only seventeen when he died in the early hours of March 31 this year after a police chase of a vehicle in which he was a passenger.

‘The vehicle crashed leaving Ronaldo fighting for his life whilst the police officer giving chase, instead of saving a life, went off to chase the driver of the vehicle with his police dog.’

John Bowden, who came with a banner from the Prisoner Support Network, told News Line: ‘We’re here fighting to stop the abuse of prisoners rights and against the deaths in police custody.

‘We believe the prison system is designed to kill people in prison custody.

‘We need the abolition of the prison system as it is a means of social and political control.’

One of those coming on the annual marches for many years has been Mike Gardiner whose uncle John Gardiner died from his injuries suffered at the hands of the police on 10th May 1966.

Mike Gardiner wore a black t-shirt bearing an image of his uncle John, who died after being arrested by Lancashire Police in Blackburn.

An inquest into his death delivered an open verdict, despite the severity of the injuries sustained, the fact he was handcuffed at the time, and that the events leading to his death took place in a street with witnesses.

Makola Libanga, from the campaign in support of justice for Ricky Bishop who died after being arrested and being taken to Brixton police station in November 2001, said:

‘The family are angry that at the inquest into Ricky’s death, the Coroner concluded that he had died from “misadventure,” a verdict which exonerated the police.

‘His family and supporters believe that the inquest was flawed as vital evidence was withheld by the Metropolitan Police.

‘Ricky’s mother, Doreen Bishop is still campaigning for a public inquiry into her son’s death.

‘Our campaign “Touch one of us! Touch all of us!” is supporting a picket of the United States embassy on November 6th against the brutal deportations of Haitian migrants from the US.’

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