“If we don’t get answers, what do we do? We march every day, we stop the roads, we stop going to work and come to them!”
This is what Asher Senator, collaborator and friend of reggae artist Smiley Culture, told 2,500 people who joined the Smiley Culture March for Human rights in London last Saturday.
Smiley, real name David Emmanuel, died during a police raid on his home in March.
The vibrancy and anger of the protest, which marched from Wandsworth Road in south London to New Scotland Yard, marked a new chapter in the fight for justice.
Author Paul Gilroy told Socialist Worker, “However Smiley died, he didn’t die the way the official story tells it. I owe him a lot—he was a symbol of what it might be to belong here.”
Many campaigns for those who have died in custody were there, including those of Kingsley Burrell Brown, Sean Rigg and Jean Charles De Menezes.
Saqib Deshmukh, from the Justice for Habib “Paps” Ullah campaign, spoke to Socialist Worker on the march.
“It’s very important that it’s a predominantly black-led march,” he said. “It is black people who have mostly suffered deaths in custody.”
No police officer has been found guilty for a death in custody, which average one a week, in the last 40 years.
People chanted “No justice, no peace!” in time to music blaring from a truck-mounted sound system.
Others betrayed by British justice also came. Julian Webster died after being restrained by security guards outside a nightclub in Manchester in April 2009. His aunt, Carmen McFarlane, spoke to Socialist Worker.
“My nephew went on a night out and he did not come back home,” she said. “And two years on, no charge. So we are fighting for justice.”
Jody McIntyre, who was dragged from his wheelchair by police during student protests last year, marched too.
“We are not here to ask for justice,” he told the crowd at New Scotland Yard.
“We are here to demand justice.”
Support also came from the trade unions. Lambeth Unison activists brought their banner while PCS civil service workers carried flags.
Reggie, a 16-year old from Camberwell, south London, told Socialist Worker why he was there. “For me the police mean feeling edgy walking down your own street,” he said. “It’s coming out of your house, seeing them on the road and you checking yourself.
“It’s everything from feeling nervous, to being stopped, to the worst things of being arrested and ending up dead. That’s what the police mean to me.”
Winston Silcott was wrongly imprisoned in 1987 for 17 years after the killing of a police officer. “I came here because I believe nothing has changed,” he told Socialist Worker. “This is not a black or white situation, it could happen to anyone.
“You should be safe in your own home. But people aren’t.”
The campaign’s demands include for police to film arrests, for ex-cops to be barred from serving on the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and for the suspension of officers involved in deaths in custody.
“I was going to do a moment’s silence for my uncle Smiley Culture and all those who have died under police custody,” Merlin Emmanuel told the march.
“But I know what Smiley would have preferred.” The sound system then blasted out Smiley’s hit single, “Police Officer”, as the crowd danced and sang along.
The campaign plans to re-release the song, and to organise a concert for all those who have died in custody.
Asher Senator spoke to Socialist Worker after he performed a new song he wrote for Smiley.
“We have to continue with things like this peaceful demonstration—representing the people,” he said.
“We’ll make songs for them because music lives on.”
The campaign will continue. As Merlin said, quoting liberated slave Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without demand.”