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Remembering George Floyd, demanding justice for Sheku Bayoh

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Battles continue to address fundamental questions of racism
Issue 2807
Protesters take the knee remembering George Floyd. Includes black women in Unison T-shirt

Remembering George Floyd at the US embassy on Wednesday (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Anti-racists in several parts of Britain held events on Wednesday to mark two years since the police murder of George Floyd in the United States. Around 50 people took the knee outside the US embassy in south London.

Stand Up To Racism, which organised the protest, said, “The Black Lives Matter movement exposed the violent institutional racism at the heart of society. The treatment of Child Q shows that in Britain —just like in the US—that brutal reality continues.”

Other protests included in Nottingham where around 40 people took part, and in Haringey, Lewisham, and Hackney in London.

In Edinburgh anti-racists gathered outside the inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh on Tuesday as the present phase of the hearings came towards an end (see below). Their banners included “From Minnesota to Kirkcaldy, black lives matter”.

Civil service workers held a protest in support of refugees, outside their PCS union conference in Brighton on Wednesday morning.

The protest was organised by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) and backed by the union. It came as conference delegates looked set to vote to campaign against Tory plans to deport refugees to Rwanda, and against the Nationality and Borders Act.

One PCS member who joined the protest, Mr Dacunha, told Socialist Worker he joined the protest to “support refugees who are trying to come to this country.” He added, “We’re one of the unions that fights racism and for refugees.”

Delegates at the PCS union conference were set to discuss two motions taking on both pieces of racist Tory policy.

One motion committed the union to supporting PCS members who refuse to work on the Rwanda deportation scheme. Another said the union should continue supporting protests against the Nationality and Borders Act.

Many speakers and PCS members at an SUTR fringe meeting said the two policies were part of the Tory government’s strategy of using racism to prop itself up.

One PCS member, who works for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs noted the government’s plans to cut 90,000 civil service jobs. “What can happen is it’s quite easy for politicians to try and divide communities. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen,” she said.

Another member, Joseph, from MoJ Northamptonshire branch, also warned against government attacks on the rights of Roma and Travellers. “As soon as we let one group get thrown down it gives them the opportunity to do it to others,” he said.

Labour MP Diane Abbott told the meeting that the Tories’ Rwanda deportation plan was “simply being used as a racist way to bolster failing Tory support.

Weyman Bennett from SUTR said the Tories’ attempts to use racism were why trade unions had to “make resisting racism a central demand” on the TUC’s demonstration on 18 June.

Protesters take the knee in Edinburgh at the inquiry for Sheku Bayoh

Gathering outside the Sheku Bayoh inquiry (Pic: SUTR Scotland)

Claims of ‘superhuman strength’ black man at Sheku Bayoh inquiry

by Stephen Ramsay

A retired police officer claimed that Sheku Bayoh lifted three male police officers off the ground. The statement came in testimony this week to the inquiry into Bayoh’s death after contact with the cops.

Retired PC Nicola Short appeared before the inquiry in Edinburgh on Tuesday, as around 50 anti-racists chanted “black lives matter” and took the knee outside the building.

Short was one of the four initial officers to deal with Bayoh during the incident on 3 May 2015. She previously described him as being “deranged with superhuman strength”. She denied this was due to racial stereotyping of black men.

When asked by the counsel how often she had dealt with incidents involving a black man prior to her interactions with Bayoh, Short replied, “I don’t think I had.”

Short claimed that Bayoh was completely unaffected by CS spray to his eyes and that he “skipped” towards her like a “boxer” as she fled, before hitting her in the back of the head, at which point she collapsed.

From there, she claimed to see Bayoh lift “three of the biggest guys on the shift” off the ground simultaneously. She demonstrated physically for the hearing the “push-up” movement she claimed Bayoh managed while on the ground and covered by her three colleagues.

Bayoh was 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing 12 stones and 10 pounds. PC Walker and Retired PC Paton, two of the initial responding officers, were both 6 feet 4 inches, with PC Walker weighing 25 stones at the time of the incident.

PC Walker claimed in a hearing last week that Bayoh had stamped on Short’s head while she was on the ground.

“It’s never been my position that my head was stamped on, because that’s not information I was told,” Short said at Tuesday’s hearing, adding she may have been unconscious at some point during the incident.

In a statement made ten days after Bayoh’s death, Short wrote, “I have no idea how he died but in my opinion his death was unavoidable.” 

Internal police reports around the time of his death claimed that Bayoh was wielding a machete. However, Bayoh was unarmed at the time of his arrest, and at no point during his interactions with the police displayed a blade.

Bayoh’s family argue his death was the result of positional asphyxiation. This is a form of asphyxia that occurs when someone’s position prevents them from breathing adequately. The family says this occurred while he was being restrained and pressed down upon by six officers, weighing a combined total of 100 stones and 2 pounds.

Bayoh’s family have expressed gratitude for the continued solidarity of protesters outside the inquiry. Aamer Anwar, the family lawyer, has estimated the inquiry could continue for another two to three years.

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