Around 100 anti-racists and trade unionists gathered in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Wednesday night to show support and solidarity with the family of Sheku Bayoh and their campaign for justice. The second phase of the public inquiry into Bayoh’s death in police custody starts later this month in Edinburgh.
Speakers demanded justice and the truth about what happened to Bayoh when he died in Kirkcaldy in 2015 after contact with the police.
Scottish TUC general secretary Roz Foyer told the Bayoh family that the trade union movement stood with them.
Foyer warned against complacency. “We often hear the rhetoric that Scotland is open and welcoming. But the reality is different for too many. Racism still thrives across too many institutions and the justice system is no exception. Trade unionists have a role to play to tackle racism head-on wherever we see it,” she said.
Lena Wanggren, UCU Scotland union president, brought solidarity from UCU members. She agreed with Foyer by remembering the racist murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar in North Lanarkshire in 1998, and how the trade union movement was involved in the long campaign for justice.
“Another family has suffered appalling justice. We must oppose a state that is institutionally racist, and whose home secretary dreams of offshoring refugees to Rwanda,” she said.
There was a standing ovation when Bayoh’s sister, Kadi Johnson, addressed the meeting. The audience heard a harrowing description of how Bayoh was attacked with batons and verbally abused by cops, and the cover-up by the police and most of the media that followed.
“My brother was unarmed, he wasn’t violent, yet he was handcuffed, restrained and his body was covered with lacerations and bruisings.
“We are grateful for what the inquiry has revealed so far. We now know Sheku never had a knife.”
“My brother can’t cry for justice—but it’s our duty to do so for all who have lost their lives at the hands of the authority,” she said.
Stand Up to Racism activist Charlotte Ahmed and Afghan refugee campaigner Mohammad Asif slammed the racism of the British state and the Tory government.
Asif said that in Rishi Sunak’s government “racism is coming from the top. The establishment is doing the racists’ work on their behalf.”
Ahmed called on all to build the STUC’s St Andrews Day anti-racism march and rally on 26 November and big demonstrations for UN Anti-Racism Day on 18 March. “The more we can mobilise people for these things, the harder for the state to deny justice,” she said.
Family solicitor Aamer Anwar spoke last. “This inquiry wouldn’t have happened without the family and close ones refusing to be bullied and patronised,” he argued.
Anwar said that nine police officers and six vehicles responded to the call from members of the public. The inquiry has exposed the racist stereotypes and attitudes that dominated their response.
“Why when a black man dies in police custody are they always responsible for their own death?” he asked.
“Two years ago, millions marched for George Floyd. We took the knee, used the hashtag. But if black lives still matter, then stand up for the family of Sheku Bayoh now.”
All the speakers called for individuals, trade unions and organisations to show their support to the Bayoh family outside and inside the inquiry. Hearings restart on Tuesday 22 November and the Scottish TUC is running a coach from Glasgow to Edinburgh.
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