I am tired of feeling numb, tired of mourning, tired of bearing witness to a war declared on black bodies.
Here I am yet again writing about the death of a Black British victim of police brutality. Last May I wrote about the story of Sheku Bayoh. Since his death, the Bayoh family have been pushing hard for justice and have taken the matter directly to Parliament, but the officers who killed him still remain on the beat as usual.
Fast forward to last week when we learned of the story of Sarah Reed, a Black British woman who was found dead in her police cell in Holloway Prison on 11th January 2016. As with the case of Sheku Bayoh, it took almost a month for the public to find out.
If not for a (now viral) post by civil rights campaigner and co-founder of BARAC UK, Lee Jasper, which broke the news on 2nd February 2016, there is every chance we would still not know who Sarah Reed was or the tragic circumstances that led to her untimely death.
Hundreds of protesters held a candlelit vigil outside Holloway prison on Monday 8th February, the day Sarah Reed was buried in a private family ceremony. People braved the 30mph winds outside the jail, trying to keep candles alight as they listened to speakers from a number of civil rights groups speak on the case surrounding her death.
The slowly emerging details of the case reveal that Reed was a vulnerable woman failed by the State at every level. In 2003, she lost her child and consequentially suffered from long-term mental health issues; in October 2012, she reported being sexually assaulted while being detained under the Mental Health Act; and in November 2012 she was ruthlessly beaten up by a police officer, with the attack being caught on camera. Officer James Kiddie was caught on camera throwing Sarah Reed to the ground, grabbing her by the hair, sitting on her, kneeling on her back, and punching her in the head three times as he arrested her on suspicion of shoplifting. The attack was so brutal, fellow officers who viewed the CCTV footage of the incident reported Kiddie to the Metropolitan police’s directorate of professional standards. He was found guilty of common assault in 2014 but only sentenced to 150 hours of community service and suspension. Even when some semblance of punishment is handed out, it is still inadequate.
Last October she was charged with grievous bodily harm with intent after having fought back against a sexual assault while in hospital. Yet rather than being transferred to a safer hospital, she was held on remand at Holloway Prison – where she was found dead in January.
Peculiarly, although there was total silence over Sarah’s case, the minute Lee Jasper’s blog post went live, the floodgates opened up. There were rumours that the Ministry of Justice and/ or the Home Office had put a gagging order on any media coverage of the case. However, this rumour was quickly squashed. Since Jasper broke the story on Tuesday, mainstream media outlets such as the Guardian, the Evening Standard, the Independent, have finally caught up. Monday night’s vigil was covered by The Voice, and Dazed Digital, and a video of the event, attended by an estimated 200 people, has also surfaced online.
Reed’s family are demanding to know how and why their beloved daughter, sister, and mother was failed in such a way by those who were supposed to protect her. This is a question people have been trying to answer for decades. In the last 25 years, there have been well over 1500 deaths in police custody – the vast majority of these victims being victims of colour – and yet not one officer has been brought to justice.
We in Britain urgently need to recognise that our criminal justice system is rotten to the core. What goes through the mind of an officer when they brutalise a member of the public? What conversations are held behind closed doors when a prisoner is killed in police custody? Why is the British public too scared to admit that the very law which should protect us criminalises members of specific communities because of the colour of their skin?
These questions are still without answers.
Since the death of Sheku Bayoh on 3rd May 2015, I have been working with members of the Bayoh family and filmmaker Troy James Aidoo to create the documentary 1500 and Counting, an investigation of police brutality in the UK.
British people are complacent, safe in the assumption that the violence of racism is something that only happens in America. Newsflash: Racism was exported from Britain to America and other parts of the world. We are the Motherland of intolerance. Since the last time I wrote about racism for Media Diversified, I myself became the victim of a widely reported racist attack in October 2015.
During one interview for 1500 and Counting, an interviewee reminded us that at one point black people feared skinheads ‘more than anybody else’. However, he said, ‘as the skinheads got older, they hung up their leather and put on police uniforms instead’. His comment has stuck with me ever since.
In a recent conversation, Lee Jasper informed me that the Reed family are extremely keen to let people know about what happened to their daughter. The Bayoh family have also pushed hard for more people to know and support their campaign. The families understand that people knowing is the first step to justice, for without justice, there can be no peace.
It is down to us to bring these stories to light and hold our institutions responsible for their multiple failings. If we don’t make this film, we’re not sure who will. We hope that 1500 and Counting will shake people out of their complacency and encourage real acknowledgement of our very British problems.
Support the ongoing Justice for Sarah Reed Campaign on Facebook here.
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Hailing from London – via Freetown – Siana Bangura is a History graduate of the University of Cambridge, a writer, blogger, journalist, and Black British Feminist. She is the founder and editor of No Fly on the WALL, a platform to discuss, celebrate, and engage with Intersectional Feminism, with a special focus on the voices of Black British women’s experiences. Follow her on Twitter @sianaarrgh For more, visit: www.noflyonthewall.com and online at: www.dontgotheresiana.com
This article was edited by Kelly Kanayama
More by Siana Bangura
- All Black Lives Matter: seeking justice for Sheku Bayoh
- I too am Black and a Feminist: On the importance of Black British Feminism
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