Nuur Saeed died on 24 January from injuries he sustained following a police raid on a flat in south east London. He is the most obvious victim of what local residents are calling a “wave of harassment” of the Somali community in recent months.
In the wake of the 7 July bombing attacks on London and the murder of policewoman Sharon Beshenivsky in Bradford last December, there has been a severe escalation of police harrassment of the Somali community. Since then Somalis report an increase in general abuse and verbal and physical assaults.
According to Nuur’s cousin Faisa, “On 10 January the house was raided by the police, apparently with a search warrant. They say my husband ran off the second floor balcony and fell. It took hours in the hospital to get any information. On 24 January he died from those injuries.
“I need a full explanation of what happened. I have never had any contact with the police, but so many people have told me of their bad experiences. So many people find themselves in a similar situation. Hopefully people acting together can find out the truth and make a difference.”
In another case one woman, who didn’t want to be named, described the experience of being raided by the police. She said, “When I heard the noise my first instinct was to run and call the police. Then I realised it was the police.
“They said they had a warrant, but they didn’t show us one. When they had gone, the flat looked like it had been struck by a storm. There were holes in the wall where they had used a hammer, and wiring ripped out. All our things were thrown on the floor, and the mattresses overturned.”
There is a vibrant Somali community in south east London, but in recent months people talk of a climate of fear created by the police.
Islow, a young Somali man, says, “The way the police behave around here is terrible. They are racist. I’ve been stopped and searched six times.They are like wild dogs, I was put in a neck hold, and was picked up and thrown to the ground.”
His friend agreed, “The police suddenly appear from nowhere. The last time one of them said ‘sit down you black bastard’ and pushed me to the ground. A lot of the time they simply tell you to move and push you.”
While Metropolitan Police comissioner Ian Blair is pointing to the insitutional racism of the media, south east London shows the reality of racism by the police. Plumstead police station in the area was at the heart of the scandal around the Stephen Lawerence case.
On the night of the killing of Steven Lawerence in April 1993, witness Duwayne Brooks was mistreated there and made to feel like a suspect. Several detectives at Plumstead were identified as being part of the “institutional racism” of the Metropolitan police in the Macpherson report.
More recently Patricia Coker’s son Paul died at Plumstead police station in August 2005. At a meeting last week she said, “To have someone taken away by the state in this way is terrifying.
“The people at the top are simply not doing what needs to be done. A disproportionate number of those who die in these circumstances are black. Is this because they treat all people of colour as criminals?”
Another case gives an insight into the atmosphere within the police.
On Monday of last week policeman Wayne Bell appeared at Bow Street Magistrates charged with racially aggravated public order and a public order offence. He was alleged to have made monkey noises at a 20-year old man while he was in the custody suite at Plumstead station. He was suspended last year.
It is not simply a few officers overstepping the mark. Last year Tarique Ghaffur, a Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner and the man responsible for community policing, launched an attack on the Somali community.
He told the Financial Times newspaper, “The Somali community, have got no established roots, no sense of citizenship, no active youth diversion.”
The Justice for Nuur campaign is demanding that there is an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his death and that the police officers involved are immediately suspended from duty. It also wants an immediate and independent investigation into Woolwich police’s alleged harassment of young men, especially those of the Somali community.
Justice for Nuur demonstration, assemble 2pm Saturday 4 February, Plumstead police station, Plumstead High Street, London SE18