This week is the 30th anniversary of the Brixton riots—when black and white working class people rose up against police violence and racism.
Sadly, the deaths in the last few weeks of reggae singer Smiley Culture and of Kingsley Burrell Brown while in police custody shows that the problem is far from over.
Kingsley, 29, died of a “serious medical condition” after contact with police officers at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, on Thursday 31 March.
Hundreds of people crammed into the African Caribbean Millennium Centre in Birmingham on Friday of last week to demand answers over Kingsley’s death.
“Kingsley was a humble brother,” said Kadisha Brown, his sister. “He wasn’t a criminal.”
Kingsley called police on 27 March as he walked through an area of the city because he felt unsafe. He was with his five-year old son.
When the police arrived they claimed he was paranoid and detained him under the mental health act.
They took him to the Oleaster Mental Health Unit where he was sectioned.
His son claims police beat Kingsley on the way to the unit and his family say that he had no history of mental illness.
“He called 999 for help and this was the help he got,” said Kadisha, who insisted on seeing her brother.
She describes him as having “three massive bumps and a swelling to the head and the brain”.
Kinglsey was transferred to Mary Seacole House—a mental health day care centre.
Police were called following “a disturbance” involving Kingsley on Wednesday 30 March.
Kingsley sustained injuries and was taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital for treatment.
He was returned to the Oleaster unit where he suffered a “serious medical condition” and was again transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where he died on the Thursday evening.
Police officers were present throughout these events.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has opened an investigation into Kingsley’s death.
However, the IPCC report into the case has already been corrected by Kingsley’s family.
It originally omitted to mention that he was sectioned on the same day that he called the police for help.
People at the meeting in Birmingham spoke about the fact that black people are nearly twice as likely to be referred to mental health services by police or courts than white people.
Kingsley’s death comes just weeks after David Emmanuel, known as Smiley Culture, died during a police raid at his home.
Smiley’s nephew, Merlin, spoke in Birmingham.
He encouraged everyone to take part in the Smiley Culture March for Human Rights this Saturday in London. The march is going to New Scotland Yard—the home of the Metropolitan Police.
“If we unite, there is nothing we can’t do,” he told the meeting. “This has been happening too long.” Coaches are bringing people from Birmingham to the demonstration.
Campaigner Lee Jasper was one of those who organised the Birmingham meeting.
“We are here to demand our right to be treated as human beings,” he told the audience. “When we organise there is no force on earth that can stop us.”
Jasper spoke of how government cuts will hit black people harder than most, saying, “They want to take us back to the 1980s—we’ll show them how we organised in the 1980s.”
Tippa Naphtali, the cousin of Mikey Powell who died in police custody in 2003, also spoke (see box right). “An inquest found that officers killed Mikey,” he said. “That took six years, and it’s still going on.”
Maxi Hayles of Birmingham Racial Attack Monitoring Unit spoke at the meeting.
He told Socialist Worker, “It’s a new awakening—as if people are an army on the march.
“The criminal justice system has denied us justice for years. We have to move forward.”
Claudia Campbell, chair of Birmingham Unison black members’ group, told the meeting that she planned to get trade union support for the campaign.
“I’m going to invite the family to attend our next black members’ meeting to get financial and practical support,” she told Socialist Worker.
“The family can’t fight alone. This affects us all.”
The demonstration this Saturday can unite campaigners for justice in their thousands and be a big step forward in the march towards justice.
Smiley Culture March for Human Rights. Saturday 16 April, Assemble 12 noon, Southbank Club, 124-130 Wandsworth Road, London SW8 2DL. March to New Scotland Yard