Monday, 27 February 2012

Police first taser, then shoot a young black man three times: amid rising tensions, Lee Jasper warns of the potential of further riots on our streets.

George is now recovering at King's College Hospital
(Evening Standard)

The police have shot yet another black man. The black community across London has reacted with anger and disbelief as the last vestige of trust and confidence in the Metropolitan Police Service slowly ebbs away. Others and I have repeatedly warned of the lethal deterioration of the relationship of police and black communities in London. That issue should concern everybody and focus the minds of both politicians and police officers on this potentially explosive and parlous state of affairs.

In today’s political culture the reality is that the issue of race equality is being deliberately and routinely ignored. This ideological blind spot on serious and difficult race issues extends to Government, the Mayor of London and the weakened and enfeebled Greater London Assembly who are supposed to hold to account the Mayors newly created Mayors Office for Police and Crime. No currently elected representative is speaking out on these issues and that is symptomatic of profound and acute failure that results from ethnically unrepresentative democratic institutions in a multicultural city.

What happened to this young man? Well the facts as we know them are that on Sunday the 19th February, a young Ghanaian man just 25 yrs of age was reported as being suspected of breaking into a car. He was reported as having a knife and after failing to comply with officer requests to drop the knife and surrender he was contained and completely surrounded by armed officers.

What followed is subject to an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but what we now know was this young Ghanaian had been both tasered and shot multiple times by armed officers. He is reported to be in a critical but stable condition.

At a sober public meeting called in the aftermath by *Metropolitan Police Service (publicised by the Lewisham Police Consultative Group) held on Saturday 25th February, the level of anger and concern was palpable.

Chaired by MPS Commander Zinzan, sitting alongside him was Lewisham Superintendent Jeremy Burton and Mike Franklin of the IPCC were in attendance along with others. This had followed a quickly arranged public meeting held on Monday 17th February where Commissioner Hogan Howe himself attended. That’s encouraging and should be welcomed, but the obvious question is where is the Mayor at a time of crisis?

Given that the Mayor is now solely responsible for the police and having endured the riots of last year, one would have thought he would be front and centre on this issue.  You have to ask the question where is the Mayor at a time when London’s community police tension indicators are flashing red?

Once again the Mayor is absent at a time of crisis, is silent when London needs clear leadership and strong reassurance. This callous indifference to the needs and concerns of black Londoners is the Mayor’s most fatal flaw. The result is a Mayor that is dangerously out of touch with the London’s black communities. The consequence of this acute political failure to understand the multicultural nature of the capital is that community and police relations continue to spiral dangerously out of control.

This latest incident represents a new nadir in the long and controversial history of black people and the police. What took place on Saturday gives an insight into the current state of these relations and you can see what happened at the meeting here.

The packed meeting heard from local eyewitnesses who stated that they witnessed scenes of chaos with police officers running around, shouting and screaming and seemingly out of control. People spoke of how the man in question lay completely naked in sub zero temperatures surrounded by officers with no one giving him any medical attention.

Others spoke of their real and genuine fear that, had they intervened, they too would have been shot. More spoke of the widespread fear for young black men who come into contact with the police with one elderly grandmother telling the police: “I’m afraid for my grandchildren. We are living in fear”.

Commander Zinzan responding to a question from the floor stated that “the MPS does not have a shoot to kill policy. Instructions to officers are to shoot to stop”

An eyewitness said that the press reporting of the young man being in possession of lots of knives did not tally with what they saw. The told the meeting that there was only one knife.

Another reported how she had argued with officers who had prevented a nurse from attending to her sick mother.  Another insightfully cited the case of Raoul Moat who went on a killing rampage and finally shot himself after a 6-hour standoff. This was presented in stark contrast to the treatment of the young Ghanaian, given that Moat posed a much more serious threat to the public.

Others complained that no real answers about the critical questions could be answered given the ongoing investigations. Some felt that this left a dangerous vacuum of information, particularly in the current context where trust and confidence is absent.

After repeated assertions by the Police that the young man in hospital was potentially dangerous and would be subject to immediate arrest once he was fit enough, others commented that police seemed more interested in interviewing the victim rather than the police officers involved in the shooting who had not yet been interviewed. It is left to officers to declare when writing their notes if they have spoken to colleagues. Police officers can then choose whether they speak to the IPCC or not or provide a written statement. The Officers spoke of the officer’s ‘trauma’ of having to shoot someone.

The police were then dramatically challenged a number of times about the constant harassment of family friends and visitors visiting the young man in hospital by police officers. Their answers were frankly abysmal.

First suggesting that a man in intensive care may abscond, then under challenge stating that the hospital welcomed their presence, an officer told the meeting that to imagine a “gang scenario” where a victim’s life may be under threat.

At this point the meeting erupted in anger and disbelief.

A key point was made by a member of the audience that pointed out there are high definition Transport for London cameras that would have caught the incident. This was confirmed by the IPCC who reported that they had reviewed the videos. This could be crucial evidence in determining the events that took place that cold Sunday morning in Lewisham.

Let us not forget that August 2012 saw some of the worst civil disturbances ever seen on the British mainland. The cost to London was and continues to be enormous. First and foremost we saw the tragic loss of life that ensued including that of Mark Duggan in Tottenham. We watched the smouldering embers of the ruined and burnt out shops, damage to homes and businesses amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds. Almost unnoticed and certainly not reported on by the press is the catastrophic deterioration of police and black community relations.

London’s black community police relations have reached breaking point as a result of the acute communications failure that resulted in the family of Mark Duggan and the local community of Tottenham being treated with, what I believe, was utter contempt by the Police, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the London Mayor Boris Johnson.

These tensions have become seriously aggravated and inflamed as a consequence on the back of massive rises in discriminatory rude and aggressive ‘stop and searches’ in addition to the dramatic increases in the number of black men dying in suspicious circumstances whilst in police custody. This most recent event has stretched the sinews of this already taught relationship to breaking point.

Further insight into the breakdown of relations can be found in a number of post riot analysis reports. The key issues that emerged were stop and search, deaths in custody, rude and aggressive policing and youth unemployment that resulted in a lack of trust and confidence in the police and deep levels of alienation.

The MPS Kirkin report into the riots attempted to absolve the MPS of any real responsibility or culpability for the riots despite the shooting of Mark Duggan. Bizarrely the MPS attempted to suggest that local prominent black leaders were in part to blame. This is despite black leaders warning anyone who would listen of their concerns 24 hours before the riot took place.  Unfortunately neither the police nor the Mayor chose to heed those warnings. Now we are back here again it seems the Mayors Office has learned nothing from the events of last year.

Black communities need to make sure this Mayor is accountable for the actions of his officers. He is ultimately responsible and democratically responsible for the actions of the police and yet he has remained resolutely silent on this recent case. What he fails to understand is that the stakes for London are now incredibly high with tensions the way they are, London could see a repeat of last years disturbances as a result. The Mayor and the London Assembly must ensure that the MPS is reigned in and that these sensitive and delicate matters are given the urgent attention they deserve.

Here are some key questions that need answering immediately to begin to clam tensions:

  • Why was the young man not arrested after being initially tasered? Eyewitness reports suggest that he did go down after being tasered and was completely surrounded by armed officers.

  • Why was he then shot three times consecutively? The MPS policy is not to shoot to kill but to shoot to stop. Surely after being tasered he was capable of being arrested if not, then he most certainly could have been arrested after a single shot.

  • What was the calibre of bullets and weapons used?

  • Why were police dogs not used to disarm him as alternative to deadly and extreme force?

  • Why was negotiation not an option as used with Raoul Moat?

  • Why are he, his family and their friends being harassed by police officers at the hospital whilst seeking to come to terms and deal with the near death of their loved one?

And for our erstwhile Mayor and Mayoral candidates:

Why is the current Mayor showing zero interest in the calamitous and serious deterioration of police and community relations? How will either he or the Mayoral candidates respond to this worsening crisis?

In order to help ease increasing tensions between London’s black communities and the Police will you support a call of Government to hold a judicial led public inquiry into all suspicious deaths in custody as called for by the deaths in custody campaigning group United Friends and Family Campaign. ?

Of course with the Mayor now having complete control over the MPS and in the absence of Government agreement, will the Mayor or the Mayoral candidates using the power of the GLA Act, announce their own judicial public inquiry in London?

 Lee Jasper

*Please note correction: public meeting held on Saturday 25th February was called by Metropolitan Police Service (and publicised by the Lewisham Police Consultative Group) . Apologies for error in the original article.