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‘Our stories have to be heard’—victims and witnesses speak out after police violence

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Cops are routinely risking people’s lives—and the incidents caught on film are just the tip of the iceberg. Victims and witnesses in east London spoke to Alistair Farrow about the impact of police violence
Issue 2663
Witnesses captured shociking footage of the violent arrest of Youness Bentahar in east London
Witnesses captured shociking footage of the violent arrest of Youness Bentahar in east London

Cops in east London are out of control. Three recent incidents there saw police put people’s lives at risk. They give a glimpse of what is happening in many cities across Britain.

Police violently arrested Youness Bentahar on Tuesday after he parked his car on a single yellow line on Abbott Road in Tower Hamlets.

Youness was visiting his sister. Her neighbour Tahera Ayazi spoke to Socialist Worker after the attack.

“With the level of force they used, I thought it was terrorism related,” she said. “When I was told it was over parking I was like, ‘No way!’


“The police were sitting across his airways. He’s got lacerations on his throat. He’s got a broken finger. There were two children in the car including one who needs oxygen and another who got out and could have been knocked down.

“The police had no consideration for anyone. His wife was in the car—she was frantic. She was screaming, ‘You’re going to kill him!’”

Cops quickly started to create an alternative narrative. In a statement released the day after the event, police claimed Youness had tried to bite them.

That statement was later taken down from the Metropolitan Police’s website.

On 6 May in another incident, police violently arrested Mohammed Khan in Whitechapel.

They chucked me in the middle of the road and attacked me like a pack of animals

Mohammed had got into an argument with an officer in a shop after helping the shopkeeper following an incident he was not involved in.

By the end of the altercation he was unconscious on the floor—pinned down by four cops.

“They chucked me in the middle of the road and attacked me like a pack of animals,” he said. “It felt like my face and head were being crushed against the floor. I couldn’t breathe, I was screaming in agony.”


Mohammed was knocked unconscious and carried into a police van.

And Tehera told Socialist Worker how police tried to arrest another man from her neighbourhood just days before they arrested Youness.

“The police made one round, saw him, then five minutes later they came back again,” she said. “They said, ‘We’re arresting you—you stuck two fingers up at us.’

“They served him with a public order notice. Someone came up who could speak better English and intervened—then the police got quite nervous and took the handcuffs off.”

For every viral video that rightly provokes outrage there are a dozen more instances of police violence, intimidation and harassment.

This isn’t new. The cops exist to enforce class rule and to protect the people at the top of society.

You can’t change the cops
You can’t change the cops
  Read More

And because the cops are there to defend the system, forces are full of all the nastiest attitudes that the system generates—such as racism.

Some say the way to deal with police brutality is to appeal to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). Youness’s case is one of many that has been referred to that body.

But this pet police watchdog, like the ones that went before it, is staffed by former cops who look out for their own. Nearly 2,000 people have died in police custody since 1990.

No cop has ever been found guilty for any of these deaths.

They are more confident to use violence because they know the full weight of the state is behind them. There is little hope of the IOPC delivering justice for anyone who has been wronged by the cops—and officers know it.

Zakaria was violently arrested by police in Tower Hamlets in 2016. He has fought for justice ever since—and it’s still a distant prospect.

“It’s cost me a hell of a lot of money to pursue the legal case,” he told Socialist Worker. “I’m still waiting for an outcome. It’s meant my life is on hold. It’s hard to find work because any new place does a social media search on me and I have to discuss what happened.”


Zak has to work outside the borough because of problems he has had since the attack. “The police have been trying to find anything they can about me,” he explained. “There’s been increased stop and searches, my vehicle gets pulled over at every opportunity.

“You don’t have the same life after something like this.”

Mohammed is still waiting for an apology for what happened to him. But he said, “Not even a sorry would make a difference because my story has to be heard.

“People need to see that police officers are abusing power.”

Cops have always attacked ­working class people and black people. But Zak said that an “increase in far right rhetoric” has made people feel even more vulnerable.

It’s about cop operations against black and ethnic minority groups

The next prime minister is likely to be the vicious Islamophobe Boris Johnson, who has compared Muslim women who wear the burqa to “bank robbers”.

Zak added, “The way the media is portraying certain communities is making everyone a target. We can see that in the different way child abusers are treated if they are Asian.


“We’re seeing the over-reporting of specific ethnic minorities when it comes to crime. Locally it’s about cop operations against black and ethnic minority groups. Yes, it’s about drug dealing, but they’ll plaster all the faces on posters and the council will make a big deal about it.”

Some say that police cuts mean officers aren’t getting the right ­training or being properly held to account, and blame this for police violence.

In reality police carry out racist, violent attacks because they are thugs put in place to help uphold a racist and violent system.

The last thing that ordinary people need is more of them.

Protest after arrest

Over a hundred people joined a vigil to protest against police violence in Tower Hamlets on Friday. 

Officers were determined to keep the growing crowd back during the arrest of Youness Bentahar

Officers were determined to keep the growing crowd back during the arrest of Youness Bentahar

People who had witnessed the vicious arrest of Youness Bentahar on Tuesday came forward to speak.

One witness said he had been “manhandled” at the scene. “My children saw what happened,” he said.

Tahera also witnessed the attack and spoke at the protest.

She told Socialist Worker that both of Youness’s children are suffering trauma from witnessing four police officers arresting their father. She said, “The two year old can’t stop from shaking whenever people talk to her. And the four year old keeps saying, ‘You’re killing my dad.’”

People heckled Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs for not doing enough to hold the police to account. He called for time for the toothless Independent Office for Police Complaints to conduct their inquiry.

“Not one of those politicians is going to stand up and call this what it was—racism and police brutality,” said one protester.

Sheila McGregor from Tower Hamlets Stand Up To Racism argued that the finger needs to pointed to those at the top.

“Sajid Javid has increased police powers,” she said, arguing for people to unite against the Tories.

Tahera was clear—“Our trust in the police is completely gone. There must be prosecutions. A precedent must be set.”

Section 60 orders are a licence to harass

Youness was arrested shortly after a Section 60 order had been put in place in Tower Hamlets. These notices allow police to stop and search anyone without suspicion in specific geographical areas.

They don’t even have to give a reason before searching someone.

Cops use stop and search to disproportionately target young black men. And this has got worse as Section 60 orders have become more frequent. If you are black, it’s increasingly likely you have been stopped and searched.

Black people are 40 times more likely to be stopped and searched
Black people are 40 times more likely to be stopped and searched
  Read More

Police have used more Section 60 orders since stop and search under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act was made illegal in 2010.

The number of Section 60 orders doubled between 2017-18 and 2018-19—while the number of Section 60 stop and searches exploded.

There were 1,836 Section 60 stop and searches in 2017-18. A year later there were 9,599.

Recent high-profile knife crimes have encouraged a rise in stop and searches.

Yet as Gracie Bradley from the Liberty civil rights organisation pointed out, “Research shows there is no significant link between ethnicity and knife crime. Prohibited items are found across all ethnicities at similar rates.

“Race discrimination in stop and search is rising, and is at its worst under suspicionless powers.”

Police arrest policies are not fit for purpose

The cops have policy for how to arrest people safely. The problem is it’s not fit for purpose, they don’t follow it anyway and it assumes they have legitimate grounds for arresting people.

Police guidelines point to three “core questions” cops should ask themselves before using force.

There are an additional “ten key principles” governing the use of force. Seemingly none of these were followed in the cases of Youness, Mohammed or dozens of others.

If the cops don’t follow their own guidelines, what are the chances they will act on unconscious bias training? Slim to nil.

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