Black lives, White lies

When White English Cressida Dick ordered the execution-without-trial of brasileiro moreno Jean Charles da Silva e de Menezes, on the morning of 22nd July 2005, her officers followed him from his flat to Stockwell Tube Station, then shot him seven times in the head in the middle of a train carriage in front of other passengers. She was made head of the (London) Metropolitan Police Force, with impunity; his family still wait for justice.

Apparently his physical aspect – the colour of his skin and of his eyes – caused her to confuse him with a failed bomber on the run. Confounding details were:

  • He lived in the same high rise block of flats as one of the suspects
  • He queued for a bus after finding a tube station was closed

Reports that he vaulted the turnstile and ran away from police shouting at him and that he was wearing a padded jacket on what (in England) was considered a warm day turned out to be false.

Yesterday in Glasgow, yards from where I was born, a man from Sudan (known so far in the press only as “the attacker”, “an asylum-seeker” or “the knifeman”) was executed-without-trial by armed police. Unlike the innocent Brazilian electrician, peacefully travelling to work, hoping to maybe find a seat on the train to sit and read the free newspaper he had picked up, Ibrahim (he needs a name and this is a popular one in Sudan) was not acting peacefully.

The press is full of horror at how he stabbed several people, including an unarmed policeman, first on the scene, before the gun squad arrived. There is just recognition of the bravery of PC David Whyte, and of members of the public including Daniel Redhead, a Grenadian asylum-seeker, and the delivery driver who refused to be named (but somehow a tabloid, in this very sectarian city, reports to be a Rangers supporter). There is also passing mention of the inhuman conditions under which people seeking asylum have been forced to live, for months.

In other words, there’s context.

Independent journalists for Bella Caledonia have been consistently reporting on these conditions for months:

Ana Santamarina Guerrero on 16th June describes a situation where people seeking asylum were forcibly removed from their homes, crowded into boarding houses (nominally “hotels”), their meagre subsistence replaced by even more meagre food rations – and medical care denied.

Jenny Tsilivakou on 6th June reports that the subsistence money cut off by the Home Office amounted to £35, per week, and that there have been multiple complaints about these conditions – including from Adnan Olbeh, from Syria, who took his own life at the age of 30, after repeatedly warning staff of his deteriorating mental health, according to the same reporter on 30th May.

This month has also seen a peaceful protest against these conditions, by people seeking asylum and their supporters, violently opposed by racist White British nationalists and apparently vilified by the press and the police by a false equivalence, as Mike Small, editor of Bella Caledonia reports on 18th June. This violence resulted in 6 men being arrested for “minor public order offences”.

Although knife crime has fallen over the last 10 years in Scotland, it still continues to be the most frequent cause of homicide and the perpetrators are, overwhelmingly, White men. However yesterday’s lethal shooting of a member of the public by a member of the police force, is apparently the first in 50 years. Contrast that with the various ongoing investigations (or family complaints over stalled investigations) of Black members of the public killed by police while in their custody.

Nazir Afsal, former chief prosecutor, condemns “a system that disproportionately suspects, arrests, charges, remands, convicts and imprisons people from black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities”.

Violent knife crime is still common in Glasgow. Both the particular inhuman treatment of people seeking asylum and the general neglect of physical and mental health during this viral panic are also common across the UK – as is lethal systemic racism.

The words of Maz Saleem, commenting on the killing of an innocent man in London in 2005 are also appropriate for the killing of a man, perhaps driven mad by prolonged hunger and mental torture but still guilty of the stabbings in Glasgow yesterday:

“The case for abandoning the shoot-to-kill policy, disarming the police further, and removing powers that allow them to shoot innocent people is stronger than ever.”

If we allow our state authorities to bypass our system of justice and to treat crime as if it were a matter of public health – and to treat both by ignoring underlying conditions and simply responding with lethal prescriptions – then, in this continual state of exceptionalism, we let go of the very values we are supposedly protecting.

Guns don’t make anyone safe. They have one purpose only: to kill. Yesterday the Scottish police, whom we citizens have never voted to allow arms, sent all of us, whatever our ethnicity, a message – We can kill you now, in public, just like in England. And we can get away with it. Especially if you’re Black.


Thanks to Junior Libby for releasing his image The Gunfighter Skull into the Public Domain.


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