Veteran US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson joined with campaigners in London today (Thursday) to throw his weight behind calls for a public inquiry into deaths in police custody.
Jesse Jackson spoke alongside families of some of those who have died in police custody. He noted that 338 people have died in such circumstances since 1998, yet no police officer has been convicted for any of the deaths.
“The police have permission to behave in this way,” he said. “They are protected by the state. The choice is whether we adjust to oppression, or resist and fight back.”
Speakers talked about the recent revelation that eight in nine senior members of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) are former police officers.
“The IPCC are not independent,” said Marcia Rigg, whose brother Sean Rigg died in Brixton police station in 2008.
“Everything is in favour of the police. The police aren't treated as suspects—they are treated as witnesses. There’s a massive cover-up, a conspiracy, and it's institutionalised.”
Merlin Emmanuel, nephew of reggae artist Smiley Culture who died in March after a police raid on his home, also spoke out.
“As long as there are people who are excessively rich at the expense of the excessively poor, we have the right to protest,” he said.
Kadisha Brown-Burrell’s brother Kingsley Burrell died in April after contact with West Midlands Police. “If we don’t have an inquiry there will be no end to deaths in custody,” she said.
Jesse Jackson drew connections between treatment of black and ethnic minorities in Britain and the US. “Whether here in London or in Chicago or Los Angeles, we have globalised capitalism—but we don’t have globalised human rights,” he said. “The only cure is to fight.”
He added movement for justice should link up with the Occupy movement. “Don't see the Occupy movement as ‘them’,” he said. “We are all the 99 percent.”
Jesse Jackson and the families then travelled to the protest at St Paul’s cathedral to speak at an assembly. Hundreds turned up to hear him.
“Occupy is a global spirit for justice,” he said. “It exposes inequality, injustice and corruption. When we fight back, we can win. If Martin Luther King was here today, he would be at Occupy.”