At around 10pm on Thursday 15 June police stopped a car on the Woodcocks estate, near Tollgate Road, in Beckton, east London. Six days later a 25 year old man who had been travelling in the car was dead.
Edir Da Costa, known as Edson, was hospitalised following the police stop. His life support was switched off on 21 June.
Edson had come to Britain from Portugal in 1996 and had a two year old son here.
Residents on the Woodcocks estate spoke to Socialist Worker of their sadness at the death. Many were shocked that it seemed Edson had been fatally injured just yards from their front doors.
And there was anger among many residents—black, Asian and white—towards the police.
Troy said, “The police killed him. My dad saw what happened—they choked him to death. This happens to black people all the time.”
Lisa said, “People said the police were being rough with him and that he couldn’t breathe. It’s shocking—he was only a year younger than me. And you think the police are meant to be the ones you feel safe around.”
George added, “Everybody’s saying the police killed him—everybody.”
“It was the police,” said Rukhsana. “They were armed with big guns—why do they need that? Don’t believe what you read in the media. People saw this with their own eyes.”
Members of Edson’s family have spoken out about the injuries he suffered at the hands of the police (see box). Police have tried to play down his injuries—and instead paint Edson as a drug dealer.
Their pet watchdog, the IPCC, released a statement last week saying that a pathologist had removed “several packages” from Edson’s throat. The implication is that Edson died trying to hide drugs from the cops.
But as his relatives and friends pointed out, police are trained to deal with such situations. Possessing drugs doesn’t give cops a licence to kill people.
Woodcocks residents remained critical of the cops.
Shaun said, “I heard he was trying to swallow something and they choked him. Why do that? Why not take him to hospital to get X-rayed?”
Another resident, Katy, rejected the idea that there can be any justification for Edson’s death. “They said he was a drug dealer,” she said. “But even if he was, he’s not always going to be. People grow up. He was younger than my son. It’s so sad.”
Ivan, a friend of Edson’s, added, “Edson was unarmed. Even if they thought he had a knife, they have training to deal with that.”
He added, “Police racism is nothing new to me. They killed my cousin in Portugal in the same way. It’s got to end now.”
Shaun said, “It’s disgusting what happened. It seems the police have killed someone who was 25 years old and had a two year old son.
“It’s not a good look for them is it? People haven’t got the best perception of them around here already.”
Jussara was driving the car that Edson was travelling in when it was stopped. She told Socialist Worker, “It wasn’t like Edson was by himself and we don’t know what happened. I was there and I saw it. The police killed him.”
She described how officers “sprayed” Edson with something while he was on the ground. “He started passing out and he had white foam on his mouth,” she said.
She added, “When they think someone has something in their mouth, they are supposed to allow them to swallow it and bring them to the police station.
“If the police are not doing what they’re meant to do, why should we do what we get told? Why should we follow the law if they don’t?”
Two of Edson’s cousins, Shellin and Maria (not her real name), met the borough commander of Newham police Ian Larnder last week (see right).
They said he confirmed that police had used CS gas on Edson. They also said Larnder confirmed that no officer had at that point been suspended over Edson’s death.
Residents have added to the flowers and messages left by Edson’s friends and family at the scene of the stop. Shellin told Socialist Worker how residents had come out to share their eyewitness accounts of the stop with them—and footage of the incident.
“On the tape you can hear neighbours shouting, ‘You murdered him,’” said Shellin. “You can see someone lying on the floor. And the police officers were not uniformed.”
Maria added, “Neighbours told us police officers were on top of him. And they were telling everyone to go inside. They said police drove their car at people to try and get them to go away.”
Katy said, “There were too many police for just one incident. It was all over-dramatic.”
Edson’s cousin Larissa said in a statement, “It’s scenarios like this that make the youth more and more defiant against the police and authority. Just because the ‘arresting officers’ have a badge they abused their power and murdered in cold blood.”
Isaac, another Woodcocks resident, said, “It’s terrible. This is not America—this shouldn’t happen here.” Mike added, “The general consensus was that the police had been over-forceful.
“It shouldn’t have happened.”
Resident Esme said, “I heard that the police treated him badly and that he was unconscious. And he was only very young. It’s not good. I hope people who saw what happened come forward because it could happen to any one of us.”
Larissa said the killing brought the entire system into question. “I will not rest until justice is served and these gangsters are put behind bars,” she said. “A system that constantly condones violence doesn’t need to be revised, it needs to be dismantled.”
‘It’s us against the government’
A group of Edson’s family and friends, along with supporters, gathered outside Forest Gate police station on Tuesday of last week. Police commander Larnder had agreed to a meeting during a 200-strong protest the previous Sunday.
Cops initially told protesters there was no appointment—but the determination of Edson’s friends and family ensured a meeting went ahead.
His cousins Shellin and Maria met with Larnder and reported back to protesters what he had said. They said he had told them that officers may use force when they feel threatened or when someone has a weapon.
But Jussara said, “They said, ‘Can you come out of the car?’ and he came out of the car and it was fine.”
Larnder said officers may use CS gas if they feel threatened. Jussara said, “He was already down on the ground when they sprayed him.”
The top cop said the stop was carried out as part of Operation Viper. This takes officers from different boroughs, but he confirmed that one of those involved in the stop was from Newham.
Operation Viper was launched in May last year to “tackle gun crime” Newham was one of its target areas. The Metropolitan Police said police activity would include “intelligence-led stop and search”.
But there has been no suggestion that Edson or anyone else in the car had a gun. So why was the stop carried out as part of Operation Viper?
Operation Viper was previously called Operation Trident. Under Operation Trident police shot and killed Mark Duggan in 2011.
Edson’s cousin Larissa said Edson’s injuries included a ruptured bladder, a collapsed lung and fallen diaphragm. His relatives also said they were told Edson had lost his sight due to the amount of CS gas used.
Shellin and Maria described his injuries to Socialist Worker. “There were scratches all over his body,” said Shellin. “There was tape on his eyes to try and keep them closed, but they were dry.
“His whole body was swollen. You don’t just wake up and have these injuries.”
Maria said, “I wish people could have gone to the hospital and seen him. The first thing you noticed was his neck. It was triple the normal size. He had to have something to hold his head straight because his neck wasn’t strong enough.
“They say the police didn’t injure him. So how did that happen?”
Jussara said campaigners were determined to make sure that “next time, when someone gets arrested, this isn’t going to happen again”.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” she said. “It keeps happening and it has to stop.”
Maria said, “This is us against the government. We want justice.”
Police’s pet ‘watchdog’
It was established in 2004 following heavy criticism of its predecessor, the Police Complaints Authority. The IPCC is now similarly discredited after failing to seriously investigate cops—and dismissing many complaints against them without investigation.
The IPCC is stuffed full of ex-cops. One IPCC report in 2011 confirmed that eight out of nine senior investigators were former cops, as were ten out of 27 deputy senior investigators.
It is in charge of investigating deaths in custody. Some 1,614 people have died in police custody since 1990. Not a single police officer has been convicted of any crime related to these deaths.
The IPCC, far from being independent, regularly backs up the police version of events. It was forced to apologise to Mark Duggan’s family in 2014 after falsely claiming he shot at cops before they killed him.
Cops’ stop and search
A massive three quarters of young black, Asian and minority ethnic people feel police target them unfairly for stop and searches. The Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA) survey found that many people felt harassed or provoked by the cops.
And police racism is getting worse. The CJA found that in Britain black people are six times as likely to be stopped and searched as white people. This is up from four times as likely in 2014/15.
Black and minority ethnic people overall are three times more likely to be searched than white people, up from twice as likely in 2014/15.
The CJA said this is leading to a “visceral hostility” towards police among young people. It said that, as two thirds of stops lead to no action being taken, this resentment is “understandable”.