Socialist Worker

Black and white families united in a fight for justice

by Joseph Choonara
Issue No. 1926

THE UNITED Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) held their sixth annual remembrance procession last Saturday.

Hundreds of campaigners who had lost loved ones in police custody, prison or secure psychiatric care came together in Trafalgar Square and walked together to Downing Street.

Radical poet Benjamin Zephaniah was one of those joining the march. His cousin Mikey Powell died in police custody.

Benjamin told Socialist Worker, “We would like this case to be investigated as it would be if a police officer had died.

“In these cases they seem to slow the whole legal process down, trying to wear families out.”

Another of Mikey Powell’s cousins, Tippa Naphatali, adds, “Six of the ten police who were in some way involved in this case have been suspended.

“The Police Federation tried to overturn the suspensions, saying that it was costing taxpayers money. But what is a life worth? We don’t want officers suspected of wrongdoing to be out on patrol.

“When people are in the care of the authorities it should mean care.”

Rupert Sylvester lost his son Roger, who was unlawfully killed by police in January 1999. Now the police are challenging the verdict of the inquest into Roger’s death. Rupert says, “Instead of saying sorry they are making us relive Roger’s death.

“It would have to happen to you for you to know how rotten the system is. I was very happy to hear that Irene Stanley had received an unlawful killing verdict. But the police might try to do the same to that family.”

Nelly is a friend of Kebba Jobe, who died in Camden Lock police station. She says, “We have had to wait for a year for the verdict. Justice is only there for people in positions of power.

“I think there should be one law for all—who wants legalised killers to be walking the streets?”

The UFFC procession has played an important role in bringing together families who have suffered injustices at the hands of the authorities. And each year new families get involved. Benjamin Zephaniah says, “At first it was just black families—now it is white as well. It’s great when we come together. We draw strength from it.

“Last year I met a white middle class woman who told me she used to see us marching on the TV. She said she couldn’t believe she would end up marching with us.”

Many of those marching last Saturday had lost loved ones in prison. Billy Hunter died in Durham prison.

His family told Socialist Worker, “He was transferred to Durham after a previous suicide attempt.

“We weren’t even told about that attempt at the time. He was on suicide watch, but he was allowed to keep his shoelaces and was not filmed on CCTV.

“He was left alone for two hours and hung himself. He was just 25 years old. We want answers. We want to know how this was able to happen.”

Carrie Murphy lost her boyfriend, Benjamin Townsend. “He was in Norwich young offenders’ institute,” says Carrie. “He was just 19 years old. He had been put on suicide watch. They just left him in a cell and he hung himself.”

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