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‘It’s about survival now’

Thu, 10/22/2020 - 04:32

“‘It’s about survival now’: Migrants’ rights to healthcare in the UK during the pandemic.“ Read the evidence submitted to the Permanent Peoples Tribunal Berlin hearing October 23-25 2020. A joint submission from the PPT London steering group and the Institute of Race Relations. The report can be read HERE

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Test postings news

Tue, 08/25/2020 - 14:39

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic

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Test Postings Not Homepage

Tue, 08/25/2020 - 14:38

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic

Read More...

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Hello world!

Mon, 08/24/2020 - 16:19

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start writing!

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IRR: Local authorities must probe police use of data analytics to map communities

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 04:32

For immediate release

Local authorities and other partners in police safer neighbourhood teams should further probe possible racial profiling in policing, says the IRR today, after it emerged that five police forces, including the Metropolitan police, have used software that can be deployed to help identify whether different ethnic groups ‘specialise’ in particular types of crime.

In response to a Freedom of Information request by the Guardian, the Metropolitan police said that, while they have not deployed the Webber Phillips consultancy’s Origins software programme (which identifies people’s ethnicity or cultural origin by their name) to ‘profile perpetrators and victims’ of crime, they have used the software in other contexts. The Met says the Origins software was used to assist safer neighbourhood teams to better understand and support their local communities. But as the IRR told the Guardian:

‘The fact that the Met and other police forces now see a need to rely on such data analytics to map neighbourhoods in order to reach an “understanding of the communities” within their areas is a sign of just how far we have moved away from the traditions of community policing and policing by consent, due in no small measure to their disproportionate and excessive use of stop and search, handcuffing and Tasers against black people.’

The IRR is asking any organisation or local authority that partners with police in safer neighbourhood teams to consider questions about the police commissioning of contracts with data analytics firms such as the Webber Phillips consultancy. More specifically, they need to know how the data obtained in any existing contracts has impacted on the policing of particular neighbourhoods. The IRR concludes that:

‘As this information comes to light at a time when police and black community relations in the capital are extremely fraught, it’s inevitable that the Met’s use of demographic mapping will be viewed with suspicion and seen for what it is, racial profiling.’

Calendar of Racism and Resistance (15 – 28 July 2020)

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 03:46

A fortnightly resource for anti-racist and social justice campaigns, highlighting key events in the UK and Europe.

BLACK LIVES MATTER PROTESTS AND POLICING

Martin Pettitt ©

17 July: Around 1,500 people protest in Berlin in support of BLM and to protest police brutality. (Deutsche Welle, 17 July 2020)

17 July: Anti-racist activists in Madrid hang a banner reading ‘Fire to the colonial order’ from the Christopher Columbus statue, demanding its demolition. Migrant and anti-racist groups also demand the removal of other colonial symbols in Spain. (El Diario, 17 July 2020)

18 July: Thousands of anti-racism protesters join with climate activists to march through the Paris suburb of Beaumont-sur-Oise to mark the fourth anniversary of the police killing of Adama Traoré, under the banner of ‘We want to breathe’, to protest police violence and environmental degradation. (Guardian, 18 July, France24, 21 July 2020)

20 July: Police release new photos of eight people they wish to speak to in relation to the toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol on 7 June. (Sky News, 20 July 2020)

20 July: During a solidarity protest in Letterkenny, Ireland, organised by Building Intercultural Communities and the Donegal Travellers Project, the words Traveller, Roma, Black Lives Matter, are sprayed across a community playing field. (Donegal Daily, 20 July 2020)

23 July: Police order a group of flatmates to remove a banner stating ‘white silence is violence’ hanging outside their flat in Crouch End, north London, allegedly claiming it was offensive against white people. A new banner is put up saying ‘had to take first sign down cause racists complained to the police’. (Guardian, 23 July 2020)

Taken from Twitter

Policing (general), military and criminal justice See also anti-fascism and far Right For more information on policing and civil liberties issues follow @NETPOL @BigBrotherWatch @COVIDStateWatch and @libertyhq.

16 July: Three decades after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, an ITV poll finds that 77 percent of black people believe that the police still have a ‘culture of racism’. ( ITV, 16 July 2020)

Unison ©

16 July: Three French police officers are charged with manslaughter in connection with the asphyxiation death of 42-year-old delivery driver Cedric Chouviat in January. A fourth police officer is under investigation but has not been charged. (Al Jazeera, 16 July 2020)

17 July: Police access to personal data of phone and internet users is unconstitutional, rules Germany’s constitutional court, following a challenge from the Pirate Party. The Telecommunications Act and several other laws will now need to be revised. (Deutsche Welle, 17 July 2020)

17 July: Following a freedom of information request, Germany’s armed forces admit that over 60,000 rounds of ammunition have gone missing since 2010, revelations that are linked to recent reports that 48,000 rounds are unaccounted for within an elite Special Forces Command known to be penetrated by the extreme Right. (Deutsche Welle, 17 July 2020)

17 July: A Metropolitan police officer is suspended after kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed black suspect in Islington, while another officer is removed from operational duties. Deputy Met Police commissioner Sir Steve House says the footage is ‘extremely disturbing’ and that the techniques used are not taught in police training. The case is referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). (BBC News, 17 July 2020)

17 July: The police officer who assaulted a Sudanese refugee in the Place Anneessens in central Brussels, in an attack the court calls ‘absolutely unacceptable’, walks free after receiving a suspended prison sentence and a €1,600 fine. (Brussels Times, 17 July 2020)

20 July: The parents of Olaseni Lewis, who died in 2010 after being restrained in the Bethlem Royal hospital, are asking why a law drafted in his name two years ago, to tackle dangerous restraint used disproportionately against young black men, has still not come into force (Guardian, 20 July 2020)

20 July: Greater Manchester police launch an internal investigation into a ‘disgraceful and disgusting’ hate crime after an officer’s belongings are etched with a swastika, apparently by a colleague. (Sky News, 20 July 2020)

21 July: Belgian police shut down a protest in Antwerp against police violence, organised on social media after a 29-year-old Algerian man, Akram, died after being restrained close to Antwerp train station two days earlier. (Brussels Times, 21 July 2020)

21 July: The European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control calls on the Swedish justice minister to apologise, after he disparaged research by two academics claiming unfair targeting of racialised minorities in a police operation in Malmö as ‘this year’s most detached from reality debate article’. As a result, xenophobic and libellous comments were directed at the authors. (Statement by European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control, 21 July 2020)

26 July: The Metropolitan police defend officers who arrested and handcuffed a 12-year-old black boy seen with a toy gun in north London on 17 July, saying they acted in line with training and expectations. The boy’s mother says the family felt traumatised and ‘utterly violated’ and the police acted out of proportion. (Guardian, 26 July, Guardian, 27 July 2020)

27 July: The Metropolitan police issued 65 ‘Section 60 notices’ allowing no-cause stop and search in May 2020, and made 1,418 stops under them, more than double the number stopped in May 2019, data from Liberty shows. In London, black people are four times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched, rising to 11 times when the requirement of ‘reasonable grounds’ is removed under section 60. (Guardian, 27 July 2020)

27 July: The new chair of the Youth Justice Board (YJB) in England and Wales says schools, police forces, councils and courts hide behind ‘a veil of complexity’ to excuse their failure to reduce the disproportionate number of black and minority ethnic children in the criminal justice system. In 2010, 28 percent of children in custody were of BAME origin, but in March 2020 the figure was 51 percent – despite white children making up 76 percent of young offenders. (Guardian, 27 July 2020)

27 July: Analysis of fixed-penalty notices issued under the coronavirus regulations by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) find that young black, Asian and minority ethnic men are fined twice as often as white people. (Guardian, 27 July 2020)

27 July: Five police forces including the Met police have used ‘Origins’ software developed by Webber/Phillips to map the ethnicity of community neighbourhoods and in one case, for ‘FGM countries’, freedom of information requests reveal. The IRR says the revelation ‘heightens already well-aired concerns about racial profiling’. (Guardian, 27 July 2020)

27 July: French police brigadier-chief Amar Benmohamed goes public on his repeated attempts to expose police racism and violence from 2017 on, including brutality towards detainees in the cells of the Paris high court, and the attempts by his superiors to discredit him and to suppress the evidence he revealed, including removing him from direct contact with detainees and attempting to force a psychological examination on him (en24news, 27 July, Streetpress, 27 July 2020)

27 July: An HM Inspectorate of Prisons report expresses concern about extreme lockdown conditions at Feltham and Warrington Young Offenders’ Institutions, where children are alone in cells for over 22 hours a day, with no visits, and attempts to re-introduce education classes blocked by the prison service. (Justice Inspectorates, 27 July 2020)

27 July: The home of a former Bavarian police officer and his wife is raided in connection with the ‘NSU 2.0’ threatening messages sent to prominent people in Germany. A computer is seized, but no one is charged, as the police officer protests his innocence. (Deutsche Welle, 27 July 2020)

28 July: Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch blames the family of the 12-year-old boy arrested after his home was raided over a toy gun, for ‘inflaming tensions’ about police behaviour, in an interview in which she wrongly claimed the arresting officers were unarmed. The boy’s mother, Mina Agyepong, said she saw red dots on her daughters’ heads from the laser sights on the officers’ guns and feared they would shoot, as the family was ordered out of the house with their hands up and the boy was taken away. (Guardian, 28 July 2020)

Anti-terrorism

28 July: The Munich Higher Regional Court sentences ten people to jail for lending financial and other support to the Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist Leninist (TKP/ML), which is banned in Turkey and was, according to the German prosecutor, plotting a coup there. (Deutsche Welle, 28 July 2020)

ASYLUM AND MIGRATION Asylum and migration rights

18 July: Over 1,200 of the 7,100 Moroccan seasonal workers stranded in Spain since the outbreak of Covid-19 are finally able to return to Morocco by ship. (El País, 18 July 2020)

28 July: After the Daily Mail reveals that only two Afghan interpreters at risk of reprisals for working with British troops have been granted visas under a scheme launched two years ago, ministers say the very strict criteria for entry will be relaxed to permit more to come. Daily Mail, 28 July 2020)

Reception and detention

10 July: Between 500 and 1,000 displaced people are evicted from encampments on the outskirts of Calais and dispersed, one of the largest evictions since the outbreak of Covid-19. (Independent, 10 July, Are You Syrious, 16 July 2020)

14 July: A crowdfunding campaign is started to pay for the funeral costs of Taofik Sekoni, an asylum seeker from Togo who arrived in the UK five years ago, and died on 1 July after being taken to hospital with severe abdominal pain. He had been shunted about the asylum system, losing touch with friends, and forced to eat unsuitable food. Friends at Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary are organising his funeral in August. Donate here. (No Evictions (FB), 16 July 2020)

14 July: As the Italian authorities look for a new quarantine ship for migrants, 13 migrants who tested positive for Covid-19 are moved to a military hospital in Rome from the town of Amantea, Cosenza, after local protests at their presence in the town. (InfoMigrants, 14 July, InfoMigrants, 16 July 2020)

14 July: NGOs in Munich denounce the inhumane Covid-19 quarantine conditions endured by refugees in overcrowded container-style centres where temperatures reach up to 50°C and where they are allowed only 30 minutes of fresh air per day, spending the rest of their time in a space of 7m². (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 14 July 2020)

16 July: Campaigners criticise the dispersal of 84 asylum seekers from Mears-run Urban House asylum centre in Wakefield, where they say there have been 35 cases of Covid-19, without testing them. South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) says residents are being sent to properties across Yorkshire and the North East which are ‘filthy or not decorated and without adequate heating’. (BBC News, 16 July 2020)

17 July: The Greek government announces a sixth extension to the coronavirus lockdown for the crowded migrant and refugee camps, taking the lockdown, which began on 21 March, to 2 August, contrasting with the lifting of restrictions on citizens’ movement on 4 May. (AYS, 18-19 July, News International, 19 July 2020)

18 July: A tribute is held for Doni Neckson, a 29-year-old Sudanese man who drowned in the Canal Saint Denis, Paris on 10 July. He had been living on the banks of the canal with hundreds of other displaced people after fleeing Sudan five years ago. (Archyworldys, 18 July 2020)

19 July: Figures released in a parliamentary answer reveal 474 incidents of self-harm in UK immigration removal centres in 2019, up from 398 in 2018. (Belfast Telegraph, 19 July 2020)

20 July: Women seeking asylum in the UK describe a significant increase in unsafe and unsanitary living conditions during the Covid-19 crisis, according to a report published by Sisters Not Strangers which collated evidence from a coalition of charities. (Guardian, 20 July 2020)

21 July: An Eritrean asylum seeker who became infected with Covid-10 at Mears-run Urban House asylum accommodation in Wakefield is taking legal action against the Home Office, which was warned by his lawyers in April of the risks of infection through overcrowding and shared facilities. (Guardian, 21 July 2020)

21 July: 500 of the displaced people evacuated from Calais for the visit of interior minister Gerald Darmanin on 12 July return to the area but are unable to access showers, food or drinking water. (Le Figaro, 21 July 2020)

22 July: Reports reveal families with refugee status sleeping rough in Athens’ Victoria Square after the Greek government ordered the expulsion of those with refugee status from the camps to ease overcrowding, without providing alternative support. (Guardian, 23 July 2020)

26 July: Two sans-papiers activists are arrested while occupying an abandoned building in Koekelberg district of Brussels, with the aim of establishing a space for 30 women and children to live safely during the pandemic. (Medias de Bruxelles, 26 July 2020)

26 July: A month after a man stabbed six people in asylum accommodation in Glasgow, rights groups complain that hundreds of vulnerable asylum seekers remain in ‘untenable’, stressful and isolating hotel accommodation, with poor-quality food, no money and no information about when they will be moved back to long-term accommodation in the community, despite promises from Mears and the Home Office they would be moved quickly. (Guardian, 26 July 2020)

28 July: A group of asylum seekers at the Skellig Star hotel, a Direct Provision centre in Kerry, Ireland, go on hunger strike over the ‘inhumane conditions’ of their accommodation, where there have been 25 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the past four months, during which time the residents have been calling on the government to relocate them. (Independent, 28 July 2020)

Borders and internal controls

15 July: Home secretary Priti Patel asks French authorities to intercept and return migrant boats found trying to cross the English Channel. (BBC, 15 July 2020)

16 July: In a landmark ruling, the Slovenian Administrative Court finds the national police department guilty of carrying out an illegal expulsion in 2019 of a Cameroonian man to Croatia, from where he was pushed back to Bosnia-Herzegovina. (Border Violence Monitoring Network, 20 July 2020)

17 July: The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) criticises the European Commission’s face-value acceptance of Greece’s denial of responsibility for a deadly shooting of asylum seekers at the Turkish border on 4 March, a decision that NGOs believe goes against the forensic evidence. (ECRE Newsletter, 17 July 2020)

17 July: The Dutch data protection authority announces an investigation after it emerges that the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) shared personal details of thousands of asylum seekers including date of birth, ethnicity, religion and country of origin, with the police as part of a formalised liaison system to detect criminal offences. (ECRE Newsletter, 17 July 2020)

18 July: In a legal first, a trial is set for the captain of the Italian commercial ship Asso28 for the pushback to Libya of 101 people rescued in the Mediterranean on 30 July 2018. Two days earlier, the Italian parliament voted in favour of further funding of the Libyan Coast Guard. (AYS, 17 July, InfoMigrants, 20 July 2020)

21 July: As home secretary Priti Patel promises ‘sweeping reforms’ and a ‘cultural shift’ at the Home Office to address the recommendations of the Windrush Lessons Learned review, action is demanded on the review of hostile environment policies and to end delays in awarding compensation to those affected. (Parliament, 21 July, Guardian, 21 July 2020)

Image taken by Twitter user @abiponcehardy who captured a small BLM solidarity protest on 12 July 2020 against hostile environment policies in Scotland

23 July: Poland is ordered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to award compensation of €34,000 to each of the 13 asylum seekers rejected repeatedly between 2016 and 2017 at the border with Belarus. (Politico, 23 July 2020)

23 July: Prominent Windrush campaigner Paulette Wilson, whose decision to speak about her wrongful arrest under hostile environment policies encouraged many others to come forward, leading to the exposure of the scandal, dies suddenly, a month after delivering a petition to Downing Street calling for compensation payments to be speeded up. (Guardian, 23 July 2020)

Deportation

14 July: Germany carries out its first deportation flight since the start of the pandemic, deporting 19 Pakistani nationals from Frankfurt to Islamabad, on a flight originating in Athens with 10 Pakistani nationals deported from Greece. (InfoMigrants, 16 July 2020)

15 July: The Home Office seeks to reverse a landmark 2019 high court ruling that removal under the detained fast-track asylum system was ‘procedurally unfair’ and ordering the return of a Ugandan asylum seeker to the UK to have her claim reconsidered. Thousands removed under the system could be affected. (Guardian, 15 July 2020)

22 July: Greek migration minister Nitos Mitarakis shares photos of people facing deportation on his personal twitter page and on the Migration Ministry’s Facebook page, violating their right to privacy. (AYS, 22 July 2020)

Criminalisation of solidarity

22 July: SOS Méditerranée accuses Italian authorities of moving to ‘a new level of harassment’ after its Ocean Vikingmigrant rescue ship is detained in Sicily for ‘several irregularities’ including carrying too many passengers. It points out that the 180 quarantined migrants on board are not passengers, but people ‘rescued from drowning’ during an ‘emergency at sea’. (SOS Méditerranée, 22 July, Deutsche Welle, 23 July 2020)

Citizenship

16 July: The Court of Appeal rules that Shamima Begum, the now-20-year-old who left London as a 15-year-old to join the Islamic State group in Syria in 2015, should be allowed to return to the UK to fight the decision to remove her British citizenship. The Home Office says it will challenge the decision. (Freedom of Movement, 16 July, Guardian, 16 July 2020)

16 July: Dual Belgian- Moroccan national Ali Aarrass returns home to Belgium following a ten-year illegal incarceration in Moroccan prisons after a show trial based on torture evidence. (Free Ali, 17 July 2020)

19 July: Save the Children accuses the Home Office of ‘alarming inaction’, of making no attempt to bring back an estimated 60 orphaned British children trapped in north-east Syria and of failing to respond to its letter of December 2019 asking when the children will be brought home. The UK has so far repatriated three orphans, compared with France’s 28 and Kazakhstan’s 600. (Observer, 19 July 2020)

21 July: Over 175 historians call on the Home Office to remove the history section of the official UK citizenship test handbook, because of its ‘misleading and false’ representation of slavery and empire. (Guardian, 22 July 2020)

22 July: The Home Office publishes details of its scheme to allow British Nationals (Overseas) citizens from Hong Kong (formerly known as British Dependent Territories citizens) to enter the UK under a settlement scheme from January 2021. (Free Movement, 22 July 2020)

ANTI-FASCISM AND FAR RIGHT

15 July: The anti-racist campaigner Noel Martin, 60, dies in Birmingham. In 1996, Noel Martin was working in construction in Mahlow, in rural Germany when he was subjected to a neo-nazi attack that left him paralysed. Following that, he dedicated his life to anti-racist causes and founded an exchange programme that brought English and German youngsters together. (Deutsche Welle, 15 July 2020)

15 July: The Hanover Attorney’s Office launches an investigation after Turkish businessmen and others receive a flood of hate mail and racist threats in a series of letters signed ‘Die Deutschen’ that threaten to burn down mosques and launch a war in the Steintor district, which is also a left-wing bastion. (Daily Sabah, 15 July 2020)

16 July: Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst is placed under police protection following threats from the extreme Right. Ranst has regularly criticised the N-VA and Vlaams Belang parties. (Brussels Times, 16 July 2020)

19 July: Neo-nazis signing off as ‘NSU 2.0’ issue threats against at least 15 prominent people in Germany, including high-ranking politicians and the journalist Deniz Yücel, who was previously imprisoned in Turkey and was angry that the police did not inform him about the nature of the threats. (Deutsche Welle, 19 July 2020)

20 July: Xenophobic audio messages from the leader of the far-right party Vox in Ceuta, Sergio Redondo, are found circulating, in which Redondo makes derogatory remarks about the Hindu and Muslim communities, using the pejorative term ‘moritos’ to refer to Muslims, and scorns Ceuta mayor-president Juan Vivas’ support for multiculturalism. (Público, 20 July 2020)

21 July On the first day of his trial in Magdeburg, Germany, for the shooting dead of two people in the Halle synagogue attack in October 2019, Stephen Balliet blames his action on refugees, saying he felt ‘superseded’ by the hundreds of thousands of refugees entering Germany. The judge threatens to exclude him from the courtroom for abusive and explicitly racist language. (Guardian, 21 July 2020)

22 July: Neo-nazi Jacek Tchorzewski, 19, previously jailed for collecting bomb and terror manuals, is sentenced at Harrow crown court for downloading videos, photos and animations depicting child rape, incest and ‘sexual interference with a corpse’. (Independent, 22 July 2020)

24 July: Extreme rightwinger James Healy, 40, is jailed for an attack on Guardian journalist Owen Jones in Kings Cross in August 2019 motivated by Jones’ leftwing and LGBT politics, with two others receiving suspended sentences. (Guardian, 24 July 2020)

ELECTORAL POLITICS

22 July: The Labour party apologises unreservedly and agrees a six-figure settlement to seven former employees and journalist John Ware, admitting it defamed them in the aftermath of a Panorama investigation into its handling of antisemitism. Former party leader Jeremy Corbyn criticises the settlement as ‘political, not legal’, arguing that the case could have been successfully contested, and Unite general secretary Len McCluskey says it is a misuse of party funds. (Guardian, 22 July 2020)

22 July: The far-right League and Forza Nuova parties react to news that Italy has been allocated €209 billion in loans and grants under the coronavirus recovery fund by describing it as ‘an unconditional surrender’, with Salvini claiming that the deal will ‘create leverage’ in disputes over migration. (Politico, 22 July 2020)

23 July: Italian senator and former TV journalist Guanluigi Paragone launches a new political party, Italexit, calling for Italy to leave the European Union, two days after meeting Nigel Farage in London. (Al Jazeera, 23 July 2020)

23 July: The Green party takes control of Brighton and Hove city council after two Labour councillors resigned and one had the Labour whip withdrawn over antisemitism allegations. (Left Foot Forward, 27 July 2020)

DISCRIMINATION

16 July: The appointment of Tony Sewell, who worked with Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London and is dismissive of institutional racism, to head the government’s new commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, is criticised by both race equality and gay groups, who point to past homophobic comments and stigmatisation of the black family. (Huffington Post, 16 July 2020)

24 July: The Monitoring Group launches a petition to end institutional racism in the family courts and support Allison Wilson-Shaw, a black mother who they say has been systematically failed by the family courts and the police since 2017. (Facebook,  24 July 2020)

25 July: Campaigners urge the new official Windrush working group to investigate discrimination in the pensions system, as it emerges that the state pensions of retirees who move back to Antigua, Trinidad, St Lucia or Grenada are frozen for life. (Guardian, 25 July 2020)

INTERNATIONAL

 17 July: After the Jubilee Debt Campaign accuses the International Monetary Fund of allowing some of the world’s poorest nations to use $11.3 bn of Covid-19 bailout money to service private-sector debt, instead of using the money for health budgets and food imports, the World Bank calls on private sector lenders to reduce debt payments.  (Guardian, 16 July, Guardian, 17 July 2020)

22 July: Juliana Lumumba, daughter of Congo’s first prime minister, writes a letter to King Philippe of Belgium asking for the return of her father’s relics, referring to his teeth and finger bones that were kept by the former Belgian chief of police, who admitted to involvement in Lumumba’s 1961 murder. (Brussels Times, 22 July 2020)

HEALTH AND POLICY See also employment and exploitation

 14 July: As Lancashire faces a ‘rising tide’ of coronavirus cases, Blackburn with Darwen council, an area of ‘concern’ for Public Health England with a large Indian and Pakistani population, where two-thirds of all confirmed Covid-19 sufferers in May were BME, urges local residents to follow new limits on visits and always to wear face masks in public, to stop the spread of coronavirus and avoid a centrally-imposed lockdown. (Guardian, 14 July, Guardian, 15 July, Guardian, 15 July 2020)

19 July: A study of 400 hospital patients links the severe impact of Covid-19 on people from minority ethnic groups to air pollution and overcrowded, poor-quality housing. Patients from ethnic minorities are twice as likely as white patients to live in areas of environmental and housing deprivation and people from these areas are twice as likely to arrive at hospital with more severe coronavirus symptoms. (Guardian, 19 July 2020)

20 July: Academics at the University of Leicester find that Covid-19 cases continued to rise in BME groups in certain pockets of the city three weeks after the lockdown announcement was made, while rates ‘dropped off very sharply’ in white groups. They say the findings, published by The Lancet, raise ‘serious questions’ about whether the ‘one size fits all’ approach is effective on a diverse population with multi-generational households, where most people cannot work from home. (BBC Science Focus, 20 July 2020)

20 July: Blackburn, with an Asian population of about 28 percent, overtakes Leicester as the place with the highest Covid-19 infection rate in England. (ITV, 20 July 2020)

20 July: Official figures show that ‘gaping holes’ in the national ‘test and trace’ system put England’s poorest communities, where far fewer contacts of infected people are traced and alerted, at greatest risk of a second outbreak of Covid-19, as hard-hit local authorities demand more local control for their public health officials. (Guardian, 19 July,Guardian, 20 July, Guardian, 22 July 2020)

26 July: Dr Vanessa Apea, the lead author of the largest and most diverse British studies on Covid-19 in patients in hospital to date, reveals that not only are black and south Asian people significantly more likely to become severely unwell with Covid-19, and to die of it, but also that it is ‘younger black and Asian people who are dying’, as research shows that the psychosocial stress of experiencing racism causes illness. (Guardian, 26 July 2020)

27 July: The National Child Measurement programme reports that, with one in five children in year 6 obese, ‘postcode determines access to healthier food’, making access to healthier food harder in poorer, more deprived areas of the UK, which tend to have larger black and ethnic minority populations. (BBC News, 27 July 2020)

27 July:  Travellers react angrily to being told not to leave the site at Craven Arms, Shropshire where 23 residents have tested positive for Covid-19 following an engagement party there, after police are called to a Traveller who leaves the site to buy groceries in the town. (Guardian, 27 July 2020)

28 July: The National Lottery Trust funded Covid-19 Community Led Organisations Recovery Scheme is launched, offering grants of up to £100,000 to community organisations in England delivering services to support those at high risk of Covid-19, with an emphasis on BME-led or BME supporting businesses. (Power for Change, 27 July 2028)

EMPLOYMENT AND EXPLOITATION

15 July: A report by the Open Society Foundation, Are agri-food workers only exploited in Southern Europe? exposes exploitation among agricultural workers in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. (Open Society Foundations, 15 July 2020)

16 July: Environmental audit committee chair Philip Dunne MP criticises fast-fashion retailer Boohoo, which claimed it was unaware of potentially illegal working practices at garment factories, ‘over a year since the committee highlighted illegal working practices in its supply chain’, and its failure to meet a pledge to sign up to the Ethical Trading Initiative or to enable union representation. (Guardian, 16 July 2020)

16 July: A Bulgarian care worker, part of an army of eastern European women providing 24-hour care for German pensioners, wins a test case against the Bulgarian agency that employed her. The agency appeals the ruling of the German employment court that she must be paid the minimum wage, entitling her to some €42,000 in back pay. (Deutsche Welle, 16 July 2020)

17 July: Labour rights groups warn that abuses and sweatshop conditions alleged at garment factories in Leicester occur in factories in cities including Birmingham, Manchester and London and ‘at scale’ across UK’s garment, manufacturing, construction, cleaning and farming industries. (Guardian, 17 July 2020)

17 July:  A Trades Union Congress (TUC) survey suggests that one-fifth of BME workers in the UK feel they have been unfairly treated at work due to the colour of their skin during the pandemic, and one-sixth feel they have been more at risk of exposure to the virus due to their ethnic background. 31 percent of BME workers claim they have been bullied at work and 34 percent unfairly turned down for a job. More statistics can be found here.  (ITV News, 17 July 2020)

20 July: Undocumented delivery drivers for the French startup Frichti, who have been on strike since 8 June demanding regularisation, reach a resolution with the platform. Currently, around half of the workers have begun the regularisation process. (en24news, 22 July 2020)

20 July: Two British Uber drivers launch a legal action in Amsterdam, the company’s international HQ, through the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU) to check if the company is using secret algorithms to discriminate in allocating work, the day before the company seeks to overturn drivers’ classification as workers with rights, in the UK supreme court. (Guardian, 20 July, Guardian, 21 July 2020)

22 July: The Italian government’s new decree aimed at providing pathways to legalisation for an estimated 200,000 undocumented agricultural and domestic workers is leading to malpractice, fraud and blackmail on the part of employers, according to a Deutsche Welle investigation. Deutsche Welle, 22 July 2020)

22 July: The incoming head of the Financial Conduct Authority warns City firms that it could block directors’ appointments if companies fail to recruit more women and BME candidates to senior roles. (Guardian, 22 July 2020)

23 July: A coalition of over 180 human rights groups says many of the biggest global fashion brands source Chinese cotton and yarn produced through a vast state-sponsored system of forced labour involving nearly 2 million Uighur, Turkic and Muslim people in prison camps, factories and farms in Xinjiang province, where 84 per cent of China’s cotton is processed. (Guardian, 23 July 2020)

24 July: Shadow employment secretary Andy McDonald urges HMRC to investigate Sports Direct after a Guardian investigation finds workers’ inability to leave its Shirebrook warehouse during breaks may put it in breach of minimum wage laws, four years after MPs found the company treated workers ‘as commodities rather than as human beings’. (Guardian, 23 July, Guardian, 24 July 2020)

24 July: Working mothers in the UK are being treated as ‘sacrificial lambs’ during the pandemic, with half not able to access the childcare they need to return to work. According to the Pregnant Then Screwed survey, 11 per cent of pregnant women have been made redundant or expect to be – of these, 57 per cent are black women. (Guardian, 24 July 2020)

26 July: As a parliamentary answer reveals that only 19 families of NHS and social care workers who died after contracting coronavirus have been approved for compensation payments, although at least 540 workers have died, NHS statistics reveal that a quarter of BME healthcare staff have not had a risk assessment for Covid-19. (Guardian, 26 July,  Health Service Journal (£), 27 July 2020)

26 July: Boohoo, the company at the centre of allegations of exploitation of garment workers in Leicester, announces plans to set up its own ‘model factory’ there to ensure workers are treated fairly. (Guardian, 26 July 2020)

27 July: As the Tate galleries reopen to the public, a protest takes place outside Tate Modern against proposed job cuts which will disproportionately affect BME staff. (Guardian, 26 July 2020)

27 July: The chief executive of the General Medical Council warns that the NHS must tackle discrimination against overseas medical staff to improve retention, as fewer doctors arrive from abroad. (Health Service Journal (£), 27 July 2020)

27 July: A report commissioned by Transport for London finds that bus drivers were more than three times more likely to die from coronavirus, because of the nature of the job, underlying health conditions, living in the boroughs most hit by the virus and in many cases, being black or ethnic minority. The bereaved daughter of bus driver Ranjith Chandrapala calls for a public inquiry, as the report says lives would have been saved with an earlier lockdown. (Guardian, 27 July 2020)

HOUSING AND PLANNING See also Asylum and migration: reception

18 July: Plans by Islamic education charity the Aziz Foundation to convert basement floors of the Trocadero building at London’s Piccadilly Circus into a mosque for 1,000 worshippers are withdrawn after 2,800 objections, many racist, were received by Westminster City Council, along with a petition against the proposals organised by Britain First. The council received 6,100 comments in support. (BBC News, 18 July 2020)

19 July: The Housing Ministry announces the creation of a new post of chief inspector of buildings to lead a national regulator of building safety, which will police a system designating an ‘accountable person’ for each high-rise building to respond to residents’ complaints, in a reform prompted by the Grenfell Tower disaster of June 2017. (Guardian, 19 July 2020)

20 July: The Grenfell inquiry hears that the main contractor on the refurbishment, Rydon, pocketed over £100,000 in savings by using inferior cladding, saving the landlord Tenant Management Organisation nearly £300,000 on the contract, and failed to appoint fire safety advisers despite promising to do so five times. (Guardian, 20 July 2020)

22 July: The Grenfell inquiry hears evidence that the main contractor carrying out the refurbishment work referred to residents questioning the quality of the work as ‘rebels’ and ‘aggressive’, and did not check materials used in window surrounds, which were combustible, in breach of building regulations. (Guardian, 22 July 2020)

24 July: Conservative housing secretary Robert Jenrick extends permitted development rights (PDR) allowing a range of buildings, including former offices, to be converted into housing without planning permission, despite recent research commissioned by the government revealing that such rules have led to ‘worse quality’ homes, many of which are tiny, dingy apartments barely fit for human habitation. (Guardian, 24 July 2020)

26 July: Grenfell campaigners request the inquiry chairman, judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to examine whether the cost-cutting measures that helped spread the fire would have been sanctioned ‘if the tower block had been in an affluent part of the city for an affluent white population’. (Guardian, 26 July 2020)

credit: ChiralJon flikr

27 July: The Home Affairs Select Committee publishes a report on Home Office preparedness for Covid-19 in institutional accommodation, which is highly critical of failures in testing and provision of basic hygiene facilities in shared asylum accommodation, unrelated adults still sharing rooms and asylum seekers being moved without local authorities being consulted or informed. Read the report here. (BBC News, Politics Home, 27 July 2020)

WELFARE AND POVERTY

19 July: The government reveals that interviews with ‘work coaches’ for claimants applying for universal credit, criticised for being too short for claimants to raise often complex and challenging personal circumstances, have been cut from 50 to 30 minutes, as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) re-introduces benefit sanctions for people who fail to fulfil agreed conditions. (Observer, 19 July 2020)

21 July: Oxfam Intermón estimates that after the COVID-19 pandemic, one in three people at risk of poverty will be migrants, and that unemployment rates for migrants this year will increase 10 per cent more than for the rest of the population. (El Diario, 21 July 2020)

22 July: The DWP tells the work and pensions select committee that it is overhauling its safeguarding systems to ensure liaison with the NHS, police and other agencies after a series of high-profile failures including the death by starvation of 57-year-old Errol Graham in 2018 following withdrawal of his benefits and the revelation by the National Audit Office in February 2020 that at least 69 suicides over the past six years could be linked to benefits problems. (Guardian, 22 July 2020)

EDUCATION

14 July: SOAS publishes findings from a survey of 2,022 students attending 132 universities, revealing that the Prevent duty inhibits discussions of identity and religion on campus and reinforces negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims, with one-fifth of students saying that Islam is not compatible with British values, a figure rising to 35 per cent among those supportive of Prevent. Read the report here. (Middle East Eye, 14 July 2020)

19 July: Dr Hilary Aked uncovers documents revealing that colleges and universities in Greater Manchester, with the help of counter-terrorism police and the Department for Education, drew up a secretive agreement two years ago allowing for the sharing of personal data of students referred to Prevent without their consent. (Guardian, 19 July 2020)

16 July: Education secretary Gavin Williamson says universities in financial need will have to show they are complying with duties to secure freedom of speech, and scrap ‘low-value’ courses, to receive emergency loans – but said student unions should not subsidise ‘niche activism and campaigns’. The University and College Union (UCU) accuses the government of using the pandemic to enforce Conservative election manifesto objectives. (Guardian, 16 July 2020)

16 July: Scotland’s children’s commissioner warns that the country is facing a ‘children’s rights emergency’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and calls for additional mental wellbeing and education support to be put in place. He is particularly concerned about the quarter of all children in Scotland experiencing poverty, which he believes are more at risk.  (BBC, 16 July 2020)

20 July: The Education Policy Institute says the government’s Covid-19 catch-up fund for pupils is badly targeted and unlikely to prevent a further widening of the attainment gap suffered by children from poor backgrounds. (Guardian, 20 July 2020)

20 July: Former students of a top private school, Norwich School, write a second letter criticising the school’s ‘dismissive’ response to allegations of racism in a first letter last month signed by 264 pupils, ex-pupils and parents, including a teacher telling a pupil he would grow up to be a ‘drug dealer’ and another being asked to apologise for wearing a Black Lives Matter badge. (BBC, 20 July 2020)

21 July: A study of school exclusions in Cheshire West and Chester by NGO Social Finance finds that pupils with experience of social care are more likely to experience all forms of exclusion, while girls are informally excluded more often than boys. (Guardian, 21 July 2020)

21 July: The German state of Baden-Württemberg, led by the Greens, bans full-face coverings in schools. As teachers are already banned from wearing them, the ban now encompasses secondary and primary school students, even though cases of full-face veiling in schools are rare. (Deutsche Welle, 21 July 2020)

22 July: Evidence compiled by 18-year-old Intisar Chowdhury, who condemned the government’s lack of consideration for BME health and care workers after the Covid-19 death of his hospital doctor father, reveals pervasive racism in English schools, from a black girl told by senior staff that her natural hair is against ‘government regulations’ to a teacher comparing two black boys to a cartoon of a fat, purple blackcurrant with outsized facial features. Listen to the podcast here. (Guardian, 22 July 2020)

24 July: Teachers say the reopening of schools in Wales confirms an increased number of pupils need support for their mental health after becoming more vulnerable in lockdown. Barnardo’s Cymru says it has the greatest concern for children from more deprived families. (BBC News, 24 July 2020)

24 July:  New data reveals a widening of the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates during the partial school shutdown, particularly among primary age pupils. (Read the report here) (Tes, 24 July 2020)

MEDIA AND CULTURE

15 July: Thousands sign a petition calling for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music to include black composers, as music students say the overwhelmingly white curriculum deters black musicians from applying to the four royal music schools. (Guardian, 15 July, Guardian, 16 July 2020)

16 July: The sculpture of Black Lives Matter protester Jen Reid, erected clandestinely on the plinth emptied by the toppling of Edward Colston in Bristol, is removed 24 hours later, leading some to say it should have been allowed to stay longer given that Colston’s statue had stood for over a century. (Guardian, 16 July 2020)

16 July: The Daily Telegraph pays substantial libel damages to The Nectar Trust and its Trustees and apologises for false allegations of links to terrorism. (Chambers & partners press release, 16 July 2020)

 17 July: Leeds City Council launches an independent public consultation into the city’s statues and monuments with the aim of better honouring and representing ‘inclusivity and diversity in public spaces’. (Morning Star, 17 July 2020)

18 July: The RAF removes the name, N***** on a headstone on the grave of a Dambuster’s dog at Scampton in Lincolnshire. The RAF’s review of its ‘historical assets’ continues. (Independent, 18 July 2020)

 19 July: Speaking ahead of the installation of his new work Reaching Out, a nine-foot statue of a black woman to be erected in Stratford, East London as part of The Line sculptor trail, British sculptor Thomas J Price says Marc Quinn’s Black Lives Matter Jen Reid statue, which replaced slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol for 24 hours, ‘effectively colonised that space in Bristol again’. (Guardian, 19 July, Time Out, 21 July 2020)

21 July: The inquiry into the potential removal of the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oriel College, Oxford states that it will publish its findings in January 2021 and will consider ‘a full range of options for the statue’. (Guardian, 21 July 2020)

21 July: Photographer Martin Parr steps down as artistic director of the Bristol Photo Festival after criticism over his association with a 1969 book with a racist juxtaposition of images. (Guardian, 21 July 2020)

22 July: Dr Errol Francis, director of arts charity Culture&, calls on galleries and museums to support decolonisation of collections and start restitution processes, saying statements in support of Black Lives Matter are hypocritical if unaccompanied by an intention to return items seized by force from Africa, such as the Benin Bronzes, looted in 1897 and displayed by the British Museum. (Guardian, 22 July 2020)

22 July: Theatre director Dominic Cooke steps down from the West End musical Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Story,to be replaced by British Jamaican director Clint Dyer, with Cooke acknowledging ‘the conversation about race has changed in theatre, as it has across society’. (Guardian, 22 July 2020)

24 July: A campaign is launched to remove a statue of the Coburg Moor which adorns the town’s hall in Bavaria. Critics say it is a throwback to the colonial era, but supporters claim the statue is reverential and probably symbolises the Black African Saint Maurice, who was executed for his faith. (Deutsche Welle, 24 July 2020)

26 July: Activists in Martinique pull down the statue of Josephine de Beauharnais, wife of Emperor Napoleon, who was born on the island, cover it with palm leaves and set it alight. (Franceinfotv, 26 July 2020)

27 July: After UK Grime rapper Wiley tweets a series of antisemitic remarks, causing police to open an investigation, his manager to sever all ties and Twitter to suspend his account, several campaigners, celebrities and government ministers launch a 48-hour ‘Twitter walkout’ in protest at the platform’s failure to remove hateful content. (Guardian, 24 July, Guardian, 25 July, Evening Standard, 27 July 2020)

29 July: After criticism from home secretary Priti Patel and chief rabbi Ephraim Mervis, Facebook and Instagram deactivate Wiley’s accounts. Twitter later apologises for slow action on antisemitism and confirms that following a further investigation it has permanently suspended Wiley’s Twitter account. (Guardian, 28 July ITV, 29 July 2020)

27 July: After a manslaughter verdict in the trial concerning the death of PC Andrew Harper, The Times carries an article by former Number 10 speechwriter Clare Foges arguing that ‘we have to end the squeamishness that prevents open talk about Travellers’, drawing criticism from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups and activists online. (Times (£), 27 July 2020)

29 July: In an opinion piece by Owen Jones, the Guardian mistakenly uses an image of Grime artist Kano in reference to Wiley. (Guardian, 29 July 2020)

SPORT

15 July: Jermaine Coleman, the only black coach in rugby league, formally complains to the Rugby Football League about a series of posts relating to Black Lives Matter. No further action is to be taken against people within the game, says the RFL, as the posts were not discriminatory, though four individuals are instructed to undertake an educational course on the use of social media. (Guardian, 15 July 2020)

15 July: Premier League and EFL clubs are in discussions with pressure group Stop Funding Hate about joining an advertising boycott run by the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) which seeks to stop advertisers funding companies fuelling hatred, after social media companies have failed to stop the posting of racist messages. (Guardian, 15 July 2020)

VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT

14 July: A 47-year-old man who was found stabbed in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset on 29 June and died three days later may have been the victim of a racist attack, police believe, as two men aged 27 and 30 are charged with murder. They will appear in court on 7 December, and two other men remain under investigation. (BBC News, 14 July 2020)

14 July: Devon and Cornwall police appeal for information regarding a racially motivated assault outside Exmouth train station on 24 June in which a man in his 20s was hit in the face with a glass bottle by a group of men, leaving him needing hospital treatment and stitches. (ITV, 14 July 2020)

11 July: Scottish police investigate after a 55-year-old taxi driver is racially abused and assaulted by a passenger in his vehicle in Coatbridge, leaving him with serious injuries to his head and his hand. (News STV, 14 July 2020)

14 July: An investigation is launched after a racist incident in a pub in South Staffordshire on 11 July, when a customer warned three Asian men to leave, and another spat beer over one of them. (Birmingham Mail, 14 July 2020)

15 July: South Yorkshire Police open an investigation after two young girls aged 12 and 13, one of whom is of Jamaican descent, are racially abused and attacked by two teenage boys in a Rotherham park. One of the girls receives injuries to her hand when a boy threw a scooter at them. (Examiner Live, 21 July 2020)

16 July: Police appeal for witnesses after a couple and their two young children leaving a Taunton supermarket are subjected to racist abuse by a man and woman and the man waves a hammer from his car window before driving away. (Somerset County Gazette, 24 July 2020)

17 July: Officers appeal for information after three boys aged 10-11 years old hurled racist abuse at a family with young children by the river Nene, Wellingborough, and threw firecrackers at them. (Northampton Chronicle, 20 July 2020)

18 July: A 15-year-old boy is charged with racially aggravated grievous bodily harm in relation to an incident in London’s Oxford Street on 24 February, when a Singaporean student was set upon by a group and told ‘we don’t want your coronavirus in our country’. The teenager will appear at Highbury Corner magistrates’ court in August. (Evening Standard, 18 July 2020)

19 July: Avon and Somerset Police launch an investigation after Bristol City’s Famara Diedhiou was racially abused online. The Senegalese striker was targeted after missing a penalty, and posted a screenshot of a tweet sent to him consisting of three banana emojis. (Bristol Post, 19 July 2020)

19 July: A 12-year-old girl is racially abused and kicked in the stomach in an attack by young boys as she enjoys a cycle ride with her friend, also 12, in Healing, Lincolnshire. (Grimsby Telegraph, 21 July 2020)

20 July: West Mercia police appeal for witnesses following an incident of racist abuse of a woman who scolded two men for riding motorcycles on the grass in Lickey, north Worcestershire, on 5 July. (Kidderminster Shuttle, 20 July 2020)

21 July: A new study by the Spanish interior ministry reveals that hate crimes motivated by racism and xenophobia increased by over a fifth in 2019. (Público, 22 July 2020).

22 July: Greater Manchester police launch an investigation after racist graffiti were daubed over a George Floyd mural in the city’s Northern Quarter. Sacha Lord, founder of music venue The Warehouse Project offers a £1,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest. (Huffington Post, 22 July 2020)

22 July: A study by Newcastle and Northumbria universities finds that 80 percent of Muslims in the north-east have experienced racist abuse and three-quarters feel it is getting worse. (ITV News, 22 July 2020)

22 July: A 21-year-old NHS worker and musician, performing under the name K-Dogg, has a car driven at him deliberately as he leaves his shift at Southmead hospital, Bristol, by two men who shout racist abuse at him. He is left with a broken leg, nose and cheekbone and will need plastic surgery on his face and leg. (ITV News, 29 July 2020)

24 July: Konstantinos Kalemis, refugee coordinator at the Malakasa migrant camp in north Athens, is dismissed with immediate effect after describing Greek-Nigerian NBA star Giannis Antentokounmpo as a ‘monkey’ in a tweet. He has since deleted his twitter account entirely. (Ekathimerini, 24 July 2020)

26 July: A couple visiting their boat in Weymouth find a woman and her dogs in it, and when they ask her to leave, a man with her racially abuses them and threatens to damage the boat. (Dorset Echo, 27 July 2020)

 

The calendar was compiled with the help of Aisha Rana-Deshmukh, Laura Wormington, Jessica Pandian, Graeme Atkinson, Joseph Maggs, Sarah Ross and Kaiisha Kukendra.

Two weeks of horror in Urban House: Wakefield Covid-19 outbreak

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 03:35

John Grayson uncovers the chaotic and terrifying reality behind official assurances as Covid-19 enters Urban House, continuing his investigation into the treatment of asylum seekers during the pandemic.

‘Death hovers over our heads here … Horror is everywhere’ – Resident of Urban House interviewed on BBC TV, 16 July

Douglas, a professional worker from the Middle East, has spoken to me (through an interpreter) regularly over the past weeks. I met him face to face in a field near Urban House on Saturday 4 July. The Urban House Supporters group from Sheffield were delivering food, toiletries and clothing, and for the first time, masks, to a long line of Urban House residents. ‘John, last week four people were taken by ambulance out of Urban House and were tested. Only one came back. I am sure the three have Covid. Nothing changes in there – still, with my kidney condition, I have to use dirty toilets and showers, there is no social distancing.’ I said I would ring his human rights lawyer, who had been trying to get Douglas out of Urban House for weeks.

Tony was there as well. Tony is a businessman from the Middle East. He told me, ‘John, you remember I went on a hunger strike and refused to take my insulin because they would not give me food from the list my hospital advised. They still will not help me; they laugh at me when I get angry about my diet. I had to go into hospital again and I promised to take my insulin, but I eat very little still.’ 

The outbreak of Covid-19 in Urban House

A few days later, on Thursday 9 July, a family inside Urban House were confirmed as having the virus. Douglas told me on Friday 10 what was happening.

‘We heard Friday morning, and everyone was very angry and frightened. Many of us went to reception and demanded to know what was happening now. They would not speak to us. One security man shut the main door and just said “No one can go out now, you must all stay here”. Someone brought in masks and hand gel, the first time ever we have had them in Urban House.’

Another resident of Urban House told the Independent on Friday, ‘Everyone is full of fear, stress and anxiety. We’re talking about life or death. In here, there are more than 200 people all living together all day, sharing toilets, and eating areas. There is no respect for anyone.’

‘There is no respect for life,’ he added.

The outbreak – the official version

Outside Urban House the public at large were being told of the outbreak and the strict quarantine being declared by the local health authority. Anna Hartley, Wakefield’s director of public health, confirmed a ‘small outbreak’ had occurred, and told the BBC that the council was ‘continuing to work closely with Mears Group, the Home Office and Public Health England to help limit any further potential spread’.

The council said it would be testing the remaining residents and staff, with measures in place to ‘manage the infection risk’. The Wakefield Express reported that ‘NHS staff continue to provide healthcare to Urban House residents on a daily basis in the same way they have throughout the pandemic’.

What really happened: the dangerous chaos of Friday night

On the afternoon of Friday 10 July, Douglas reported, ‘There were lots of people arriving with cameras. I went out with Tony to talk to them and try to tell them what we thought was going on. Tony collapsed on the road outside with an epileptic fit. They took him to hospital.’

Douglas told me, ‘They are saying they are moving everyone out at 6 tonight.’ After months and months of campaigning, this sounded really good news for people in Urban House. SYMAAG and residents had been calling for its closure and the transfer of people to hotels since early March 2020.

I received a film of the evacuation that evening. Douglas told me, ‘We think between 50 and 60 people went, families and single people. But they did not take really ill people like me or Tony. Many people who went were very fit. Nobody knows why those particular people were sent out.’

It emerged a week later in a Mears statement to the BBC that 84 people were sent to asylum housing in different parts of Yorkshire and the North East on that Friday night. Mears told the BBC, ‘all alternative accommodation had met contractual standards and was “prepared and cleaned prior” to residents moving in’.

I spoke to Gail (through an interpreter) on Saturday. She was in tears. ‘I am pregnant, and this place is filthy. I am frightened, I don’t know whether I am infected from Urban House. I will get infections from this dirty house for my pregnancy. They brought me here with two other women from Urban House to a shared house and there was another woman already living here. I told them I wanted to go near to the father of my child. I am over a hundred miles from him.’

A few days later, I spoke on Zoom to Faith, who told me what had happened to her and her husband when they left Urban House. ‘The Mears transport driver took us up to the North East. We went to three houses. The first was really dirty and had not been prepared. The second one was full of ladders and pots of paint; they were painting it. The third house was dirty, and the fridge was full of mould, but the driver said we had to stay there. By then, it was 2.30 am on Saturday.’

No one amongst the 84 people leaving Urban House on Friday night after the outbreak had been tested for Covid-19. John Taylor, chief operating officer of Mears, told the Home Affairs Committee at their Inquiry on 7 May that Mears had an ‘evolving policy’ on testing and stated that procedures would be in place ‘early next week’.[i] To the best of my knowledge no one was ever tested at Urban House.

No health cover, no cleaners for the toilets and showers

On Saturday evening Douglas told me, ‘We are all being tested tomorrow by an Army team. The nursing staff have taken the weekend off, as they usually do, and have left us with no health cover. A woman collapsed in the showers. We could only get paracetamol from reception.’

On the evening of Monday 13 July, Zak from South Asia rang to tell me (in perfect English), ‘John, there were no nurses in over the weekend, and no cleaners. The toilets and showers were not cleaned from Friday evening to this morning. Three days after the Covid case, I am still forced to share my room and there is no social distancing in the canteen.’

On Tuesday 14 July, test results were given to residents and 35 people tested positive. They all went to isolation asylum houses.

I was told later by a local support worker in South Shields, ‘Mears told us that they have brought 12 people here to isolation. But they don’t appear to have contacted the local health authorities.’

Migrant Help staff pull out, then Urban House management disappear

Daniel had been involved in protests about food and conditions in Urban House before the lockdown period. ‘When we went to complain at the Migrant Help office, they made us wait for an hour sometimes. But this was better than what happened after lockdown. Migrant Help staff all left the building and the office was closed. There was nowhere for us to take our complaints … only the Urban House staff and management who we were complaining about.’

Migrant Help, effectively, were the Home Office in Urban House. When they left, MH were opting out of their contractual duties to report complaints from ‘service users’ about conditions in Urban House to the Home Office – a role spelt out in the Asylum Accommodation and Support Services Contracts (AASC). Without a MH presence in Urban House from 22 March, how was the Home Office monitoring the Urban House contract, and conditions in Urban House?

Although Mears are responsible for Urban House under the AASC contracts, they subcontract the running of Urban House to Urban Housing Services LLP (UHS), who in turn are owned by the Citrus Group. Urban Housing Services employ all the full-time and agency staff in Urban House.

Karl, a teacher from the Middle East, told me, ‘After the testing results were given to us on Tuesday 14 July, the four management staff just disappeared. We saw one of them for a couple of days, but they didn’t come back to manage till Monday 20 July. On 18 and 19 July there were no nurses and no management here, just security, reception, and canteen workers.’

On 14 July Wakefield’s public health director told the BBC, ‘We are treating Urban House as one household … in-line with government advice.’ The idea that it would be safe to manage Urban House with 264 residents as one household arguably made the outbreak inevitable. On 7 April Home Office officials and the director of public health visited Urban House and agreed on this strategy. In a letter to me on the 14 April the MP for Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan, said he had been assured the policy would work and that:

‘Mears Group confirmed that Urban House is the safest accommodation in these circumstances as they have en-suite bathrooms …’

There never have been any rooms with ensuite bathrooms in Urban House – all residents were forced to share bathrooms, shower rooms and toilets throughout the lockdown period.

Extract from letter

Over a hundred people abandoned, still at risk

During that week, over a hundred people were still in Urban House, some of them with asthma, kidney disease, diabetes and elephantiasis.

On Monday 20 July I was outside Urban House, speaking with Douglas, Tony and Karl. Karl said, ‘Mears tell us that everyone will be out of here this week. We don’t believe them.’

Douglas rang me the next day: ‘They have put up a list of people going tomorrow, Wednesday. I am one of the thirty-one. Tony is not on the list.’

Karl rang me on Thursday. ‘There is a list up in reception with six names going tomorrow. They say the rest of us are going next week. Mears lied to us again.

‘There are around ninety of us left two weeks after the outbreak, they have tested us all again, but we are terrified still. They now give us single rooms. One guy went to complain about bed bugs in his room. They refused to do anything, they told him he would soon be out of Urban House.’

 

All names have been changed in this article.

Thanks to Manuchehr M.D. for all his work and comradeship in my research on Urban House.

Related links

See the HASC Inquiry Report today into institutional accommodation on Urban House, p. 49.

 

Spelling out the rights migrants need: from testimony to manifesto

Wed, 07/29/2020 - 06:52

The testimonies of migrant and refugee groups at the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal London hearing continue to shape the PPT’s work, writes a member of the London steering group, who introduces its draft manifesto.

For people who have only recently come to the discussion about the existence of structural racism in the UK, the public health emergency instigated by Covid-19 has been something of an eye-opener.

Revelations about the risks that black and minority ethnic healthcare workers run as they go about their frontline jobs made a vivid impact on the public imagination as millions turned out to applaud ‘NHS heroes’. But structural racism has not limited its impact to BME people working in hospitals and GP surgeries. Public Health England’s review of the risks of Covid-19 to specific groups found high levels of deaths among BME communities, with at least some of the enhanced risk attributable to racism. Evidence of discrimination has also shown up in the statistics for the enforcement of social distancing rules during the period of lockdown.  Analysis by Liberty Investigates demonstrated that BME people in some parts of the country were almost seven times more likely to be fined for alleged breaches of the rules than white people. It cites incidents of penalties being imposed on grounds that were not supported by law.

When it comes to the risk of poverty and hardship, the evidence is even starker. The Treasury-funded furlough scheme as well as the social security system have excluded an estimated 1.4 million people from emergency support during the lockdown because of immigration conditions stipulating ‘no recourse to public funds’. For this group of people, getting through the hard weeks of having no wages or other income has meant dependency on the impromptu community support networks which have handed out food parcels to prevent starvation.

As these facts were laid out before the public over the past weeks, anger at the evidence of institutional racism fuelled the surge of protests associated with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  The spark was the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, but it was fuelled by the anger of black and ethnic minority millennials/ GenZ and their white counterparts for whom police violence and structural racism have become emblematic of the inequality and injustice of the entire system.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal hearings

The focus of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) 2018 work on violations of the rights of migrant and refugee people was the way in which the experience of people in black and minority communities has been shaped by the specific practices of immigration control.  Although these are meant to be directed solely against people who do not have British citizenship, the realities of class and community in Britain have seen ethnicity conflated with immigration status, making all people of colour the object of suspicion on the part of the authorities responsible for immigration enforcement. Though the Tribunal did not anticipate Covid-19, its investigation of the forms of disadvantage imposed on BME communities by decades of punitive immigration policies goes some way to explaining why the pandemic has hit these groups so hard.

Jury members of PPT London hearing.

The PPT itself has its deep origins in protests against the Vietnam war in the 1960s. Its work nowadays is coordinated by a secretariat based in Rome which considers applications from social movements having a claim as witnesses of social injustice, and it proceeds by assembling a panel of jurists with expertise in matters concerning human rights, to adjudge alleged violations. The London hearing was one of a series of evidence sessions (the others were held in Barcelona, Palermo and Paris) on violations of the rights of migrants and refugees.

An ad hoc steering committee organised the London hearing, including amongst others, the migrant domestic worker support group Waling Waling, Global Justice Now, Unite the Union and the Institute of Race Relations. The steering group drafted an indictment of the ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies administered by the Home Office, emphasising their systemic character and their role in generating precarity, exploitation and destitution. The hostile environment is not the accidental product of a poorly designed system, but a trap for hundreds of thousands of people seeking eventual settlement, who must endure years of struggle against types of employment which, although essential to the economy and society, are generally low-paid and often abusive in terms of workplace practises.

Constrained by the terms of a conditional immigration status, migrants and refugees frequently find it impossible to move on in careers they are otherwise qualified to undertake. Those having only 30-month limited leave stand at the back of the queue for higher-grade or even decent employment, regardless of skills, qualifications and seniority in their home country, while those with no leave, or no right to work, but who cannot return home, are condemned to the worst forms of exploitation. The ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) condition means that low-wage jobs cannot be supplemented by the means-tested welfare benefits that citizens in a similar predicament can claim.

The systemic character of the hostile environment

In its deliberation on the evidence, the jury found the charges in the indictment proved, agreeing that ‘new forms of exploitation’ have been created which are manifested in ‘patterns and continuities across countries, communities and sectors’.  It held that the hostile environment creates conflicts ‘between legal, moral and ethical obligations and the imperatives of immigration enforcement, for teachers, doctors, social workers, employers and landlords, through their conscription as agents of immigration enforcement’. The corporate nature of this enterprise has led to ‘collusion between governments, corporations and wealthy employers’, seen in the ‘contracts for detention and asylum housing … the waiver of minimum wage rights permitting exploitation of detained migrants; the domestic workers’ ‘visit’ visa; and the use or threat of immigration enforcement against workers attempting to organise or unionise’.

Since the Tribunal, the steering group has published the evidence submitted by migrant groups, rights campaigns and trade unions in a book, organised a joint conference with Bristol University on the erosion of migrant rights, and joined public protests in Downing Street and outside the Home Office in London.

In considering the lessons learnt from the work around the London hearing, the steering group has recognised the importance of a solid baseline for the social, economic and political rights that need to be incorporated into migrant and refugee status, to provide a higher degree of protection from the risks of exploitation and economic impoverishment, and to ensure that migrants have the guaranteed assurance of a place within civil society to represent their legitimate interests through democratic channels.

A rights-based Manifesto

The first step in making the case for the social, economic and political rights of migrants is to establish a consensus across committed supporters as to what this would look like in practice. To this end, the steering group has drafted a Manifesto for migrant and refugee rights, which it is making available for wider discussion.  The draft can be viewed here.

What is distinct about the approach of this manifesto it that it sets out an argument for rights which brings to the forefront the position of the communities established by migration over the last seventy years. The neighbourhoods associated with generations of migrant settlement, though now populated in the main by BME British citizens, are still seen by the immigration authorities as places where rule-breaking is rife and random status checks a productive way to catch people deemed to be ‘illegal’. Public transport hubs and workplaces known to employ casual labour are prone to raids and demands for evidence of legal status.  Hospitals, schools, and local authority social services also have a gatekeeper function imposed on them which effectively places the whole community under surveillance.

Waling Waling members delivering PPT verdict

The Manifesto is a call for the defence of migrant communities in British society, in addition to remedying the injustices inflicted on individuals. While supporting calls to end the hostile environment, it goes further by insisting on the ‘crucial need to acknowledge the rights which ought to belong to everyone present in society to work, study, support families and engage in the life of communities and civil society without being subjected to discriminatory and racist laws that are intended to leave us without power to resist exploitation and abuse’.  It envisions not merely a return to the days before the introduction of hostile environment policies, but a rights-based approach to immigration policy which empowers migrant and refugee people and provides the political and social space where they can assert their interests against those of the state.

Immigration control policies have come to function as a means to trap hundreds of thousands of people in lower-paid, insecure employment and to deny them the relief from hardship (however attenuated) available to citizens through social security, social housing and public services. The Manifesto envisions ‘an unambiguous right of residence for everyone living in the country as a worker, a family member, or in need of a safe haven’ – a secure status enabling migrants and refugees to ‘resist low pay and exploitative conditions, to provide decent housing and living standards for our families and to enjoy unquestioning access to healthcare and other benefits, thus lifting work standards, public health and social cohesion for all’. The charging of extortionate fees and health surcharges which have driven thousands into poverty must end, together with the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule.

Most ambitiously the Manifesto calls for ‘not just the retention of the freedom of movement principle that underpinned the rights of migrants from EU countries, but for a commitment to extend this principle to citizens of other nations’.

The peculiar circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic have given us space to devote time and energy to clarifying the political basis for work in support of migrants and their rights. But the discussion around the Manifesto is intended to lead within a very short time to definite action, which will translate ideas about the rights migrants need into interventions aimed at challenging the authority of the institutionally racist state. In recent months, there has been a step-up in migrant and rights initiatives, with other groups such as Migrants Organise also initiating discussions around a rights-based approach. With this in mind, we invite you to join us in developing this conversation, and help us to move more rapidly into a campaigning stage.

Movement for Black Lives: an interview with Barbara Ransby

Fri, 07/24/2020 - 10:19

As we witness one of the largest uprisings in US history, led by Black working-class activists, Race & Class interviews Barbara Ransby, a US-based historian, feminist and longtime organiser, on the significance of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) uprisings across the US ignited by the murder of George Floyd.

A Black Lives Matter march in Denver. Thomas Elliott/Flickr

Jenny Bourne: As someone who has been involved in and written on US Black working-class movements for many decades, do you see what’s happening now as a watershed moment?  

Barbara Ransby: It is definitely a watershed moment and I don’t say that lightly. You know historians say every historical moment is unique which is true. But there are those pivots after which you know things are ever different and so I think this moment comes at the convergence of, in the United States and globally, really three crises.

First, it’s the crisis of liberal democracy or bourgeois democracy. We see an uptick in authoritarianism across the globe from Bolsonaro to Duterte, to Erdogan, and of course the Donald Trump phenomenon which is increasingly repressive, xenophobic, and dangerous. Essentially, Trump and his followers have deployed white nationalism in the service of racial capitalism.

Secondly, we have the global coronavirus pandemic which adds to that and stops us all in our tracks. It jolts the elites in ways that they did not anticipate, and exposes the vulnerabilities of racial capitalism yet again. Because, of course, you know it’s not lucrative to prepare for something like this, so all the pharmaceutical companies and the elite research institutes have not invested in in research around pandemics; they’d rather invest in drugs that people will buy every year because that increases the profit margin. And Trump, in his infinite lack of wisdom,dismantled the office in the federal government that was supposed to actually plan for pandemics. And then we see states and hospitals scrambling on the open market to buy life-saving equipment like ventilators. Yet another example of the failure of capitalism to meet this crisis. The market does not care if people die. We have to care.

And then the third thing is the uprising against police violence and white supremacy. We saw a fifty-state uprising in this country. We never saw that in the 1960s, we never had, 500 towns and cities with people coming out into the street simultaneously. Even in places that don’t have a significant Black population, there was somebody in that town that felt they had to get out in the streets and say something against racism, to say Black Lives Matter. That is uplifting and I have to also believe that people in those small towns probably don’t have a deep understanding of racism. They were protesting for other reasons too, unsettled and angry about the condition of their lives in this country and the George Floyd murder and the visual impact of that injustice was the final straw. The cruelty in that violence jolted people into action.

Of course an uprising is spontaneous, it is organic, you can’t script it beforehand, you can’t predict exactly when it’ll occur and you certainly can’t script it from inside as it’s unfolding. And this uprising is not different. None of us predicted that of all the outrageous acts that we have witnessed and absorbed over the last four years, that this particular killing would be the last straw for hundreds of thousands of ordinary people not in any organisation, per se.

But, organisation is essential once uprisings begin to unfold. Movement organisations, and there are many, began to draw upon lessons and organising models and theoretical frames from earlier periods and from organisations like Critical Resistance which, of course you know, Angela Davis and Ruth Gilmore helped to found in 1997. This is an abolitionist organisation led by Black feminists. Another earlier group is INCITE!: Women of Colour Against Violence, a group that came out of the anti-domestic violence movement and insisted on including state and imperialist violence in their analysis and work. I write about these groups in my book [Making All Black Lives Matter]. But then in 2012, a new group of organisers began to congeal and they have been debating and training and doing scenario-planning and base-building in the years since. Another critical turn was, of course, the Ferguson uprising in 2014 when Michael Brown was shot dead by police in Missouri.

So, when the 2020 uprising occurred, you had a group of young Black activists, many of them feminists, many of them queer, many of them with a very radical intersectional analysis, ready to move into action. And they called a series of demonstrations on Juneteenth weekend. There were actions from Washington DC to California with hundreds of thousands of protesters filling the streets. The demand of ‘defund the police’ has emerged as central, reflecting decades of efforts to ‘reform and improve’ the police, all of which have failed. But ‘defund’ is only part of the agenda for activists, and it would be wrong and incomplete to leave it at that. The full-throated demand is ‘defund the police, fund our people’.

M4BL and others are organising around that idea, and M4BL’s policy committee has just created a piece of mock legislation called the Breathe Act which outlines not only dismantling police and prisons over time but also what it would mean to revitalise our communities and our schools and make health available to everyone, and have a sustainable green economy. All of that I think is a prime example of the ways in which Black liberation movements over time and in this moment are also the hopeful visionary movements for the entire planet, not just for Black people.

That’s how I would see the significance of this moment. I draw a lot from Naomi Klein’s notion of disaster capitalism. That, in this moment of disaster, in this moment of dislocation and disorientation, elites are certainly plotting and scheming on how to maximise their power, how to institute and expand policies and practices from surveillance to austerity to further their agenda. But what also happens in the context of a crisis is the opportunity for galvanising our people and galvanising the Left, and I see that happening as well.

The demonstrations here showed a certain level of determination on the part of people who attended their first protest during a pandemic. I think, regarding the Left and the Black movement here, if we don’t tap into that anger and determination then we really have not done our work. People were willing to face health risks, people went out more often than not wearing masks, but sometimes not wearing masks − taking that risk to demonstrate their outrage against what was happening in this country. They also withstood rubber bullets and tear-gas, which was in wide use, and this is really a human rights violation of the first order. I mean the cops were very brutal against a lot of the demonstrators and old people were knocked down, two reporters lost their eyes because they were victims of projectiles.

J B: It feels as if ‘Black Lives Matter’ here in the UK and in other European countries, is something of a spontaneous ‘on the street happening’, without yet the organisational framework of the US.

B R: You know Black Lives Matter is a slogan for many people. There was first a social media hashtag, that morphed into a global network. There are still there, chapters of the Black Lives Matter global network but the umbrella of the movement is the Movement for Black Lives M4BL made-up of over 100 groups. It has committees (which they call tables), it has a mass action committee, it has a policy committee, it has a solidarity committee. And that organisation which has really pulled in over a hundred organisations around the country is trying to make radical democratic decisions about direction, about movement positions, etc. It has been bringing other people in and has crucially built solidarity with other communities − with the labour movement, and so forth. On 20 July there was a strike for Black lives led by SEIU, the Service Employees International Union. A lot of people have organised under the slogan Black Lives Matter, but when I’m talking about the movement, I’m talking about the Movement for Black Lives which is a concrete a political formation, which some (not all) of the movement work lives inside of. It seems things have unfolded differently elsewhere.

The Strike for Black Lives demonstration, 20 July 2020. SEIU Facebook page

J B: In terms of where things are happening in different states, counties, or in different cities would that be locally organised or would that be part of a national decision?

B R: M4BL is not a cadre organisation or a political party; it’s an organisation of organisations. So, for example, Action St Louis has been leading some of the struggles in St Louis. It’s a completely autonomous organisation that has a representative on the leadership body of M4BL. I work with here in Chicago it’s called R3 Coalition Chicago (resist, reimagine, rebuild). We actually work with a sister network of the M4BL called The Rising Majority which is a Black-led multiracial formation that is building for a People’s Tribunal to put Trumpism on trial. Then there’s a group here of the Black Youth project100 which is a national organisation with chapters around the country that is a part of the M4BL. They are a part of M4BL. So you can think of it as a coalition, but not a coalition in the kind of old opportunistic sense of ‘we’ll coalesce until our immediate demand gets met’. It’s really trying to build movement relationships. There is a platform and we all talk about that; we all agree and sign on to that.

J B: When you say you’ve got hundreds of cities with determined people on the streets and the National Guard called in, does it mean a new level of repression, something like what happened in the 1970s against the Panthers?

B R: I’m very concerned about that. I’m concerned about a backlash and of increased surveillance, harassment and persecution. I won’t go city by city, but in some places the governors called in the National Guard [a federal force] and they were sometimes more present and more aggressive than in others. But I think that there’s another layer of the repression, a kind of backlash. People have been arrested after the event.

For example, the National Park Service has issued this kind of wanted poster for people who’ve been involved in taking down the racist pillars of colonialism, slavery and racism. They’ve taken down some of these statues of Christopher Columbus, of various slaveholders and sometimes thrown them in the river or thrown them in the lake. And there are so many cameras and there’s so much surveillance just in our everyday lives that many of the images of people doing those kinds of protests have been captured and now turned into wanted posters. So, people could conceivably be arrested in their homes or workplaces. There are, for example, two lawyers in Brooklyn who were jailed on very serious charges during the protests in New York for allegedly tossing something into a police car, damaging the car and that’s a felony. So, they were being held without bail for a good period of time. Instances like that. …Another chilling example is what has been happening in Portland, Oregon where federal agents with no name tags or insignias, just the generic ‘police’ badge – have been snatching activists off the street and herding them into unmarked cars and vans for interrogation. This is the tactic of dictatorships.

Jesse Freeman/Flickr

J B: There’s lots of resonances here in the UK in terms of direct repression and intimidation from the state. What we also see in the UK is intimidation of Black activists from the right-wing media. Is that a big issue in the US?

B R: Yes, Fox News, which is like ‘Trump’s state television’ has launched some pretty vicious smear campaigns. They decide to target somebody and then rake them over the coals. But it’s such a bifurcated news system here. And the mainstream media has been kind of interesting; I mean they all hate Trump so much − there has been some decent coverage, although still skewed! But The New York Times, for example, has actually hosted some really important op eds by very radical Black writers. Then we have Democracy Now, I mean I’m talking about the left press.

Now the other dynamic, when we discuss the Left, is the question of Black leadership and the ways in which a white Left ignores and marginalises Black leadership. It can reduce everybody to so-called identity politics but of course there is a vibrant Black Left. I wrote a piece in the Nation about that. It’s about internally figuring out what are the terms of the movement, what is that gonna look like, who’s gonna be in the forefront? Are we naming what this is really, an attack on the Black working class in this moment? Because it’s not college professors, lawyers and doctors that are getting attacked and killed by police. It’s not Obama’s family that’s getting thrown down on the concrete by the cops and thrown in jail. It’s people in the informal economy, it’s poor and working-class Black folks who have, in this period of neoliberalism, been pushed out of the formal economy and made vulnerable by the police industry, in the prison industry. It is the Mike Browns, the Rekia Boyds, the George Floyds of the world.

J B: We did want to ask if there was significant solidarity from the white Left or other groups in this instance but you’re seeming to imply that there’s also contradictions within how the whole movement should organise.

B R: I started off saying I think it is a watershed moment in terms of white people − some of them considering themselves left, some of them unsure where they land politically. I mean they’re not Republicans, obviously, but just people trying to make sense of a crazy world, right. People have sided with an anti-racist movement and people have followed Black leadership. But the organised Left from DSA (Democratic Socialist of America) to many of the Left publications, have a lot of work to do around anti-racism to become a stronger force. That means recognising the intimate and symbiotic connections between race and class and gender.

And then the Bernie Sanders campaign which was our big left electoral push. It had enormous potential but the fatal flaw, as is often the case, was the inability to fully deal with racism. I tried to work with them and there was a real reluctance to embrace the notion of racial capitalism, i.e., of racism and white supremacy as being intimate partners with capitalism. So, Bernie never won the kind of Black support that he could have, and he wouldn’t articulate an analysis that resonated with the masses of Black folk. We got this kind of raceless, ‘colour-blind class solidarity’, was the message, which is just not real, it becomes racist. It’s only when you define the working class as only white that you cannot deal with issues like police violence and prisons and racism. But once you look at some of the most oppressed sectors of the working class, they are people who are Black. And the way they experience class oppression is sometimes at the end of a police baton, it is sometimes by being thrown into prison, it is sometimes by being chased down and killed by vigilantes − which is happening around this country. And if you’re not concerned about that, you’re not serious.

So, there’s a struggle inside the Left which comes from two places. They’re people who have had this position for a long time: the idea that talking about race divides the working class and we should all simply ‘unite and fight’. And then there’s folks who are post-Obama colourblind advocates. They think we dealt with de jure (i.e. legal) racism and now we are in a different period where racism is less of an issue, and what the Black working class is dealing with is a class oppression only, shared by white workers. This argument just does not hold water.

But, there are groups that are forging a race, class and gender analysis: from Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network to United We Dream, which is primarily Latinx organisations, both have been in very strong solidarity with M4BL. There’s a group called SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) which is not a radical group but it’s a good anti-racist white group, and they have stepped up too. And the SEIU, I mentioned, is led by a white woman president but it has many, many Black members and leaders – they have taken a stance with the movement, as has the Chicago Teachers Union. There are such groups stepping up and not saying they are just ‘allies’ any longer, but saying they are accomplices and co-conspirators. Solidarity across racial lines is very real. Many of the organisers in the M4BL work in larger coalitions and in multiracial organisations; some of them have worked internationally.

Black Lives Matter Plaza. Victoria Pickering/Flickr

J B: Has there been a significant shift in the way that racism is seen, is there a bigger move towards understanding racism as a structural thing?

B R: There’s always been a segment of the movement that understood the structural nature of racism, I mean going back even to King in the 1960s. So, this is not a ‘discovery’. By the end of King’s life he was talking about structural racism, imperialism and capitalism. So, there is still a competing liberal analysis that says, ‘can’t we all get along’, we’re all just different colours, the multiculturalism of thirty-one flavours of humanity. But serious organisers have not advanced this simplistic notion. I am impressed that activists are also seeing beyond simple representational politics. In other words, Black faces in high places is no solution.

It is significant not only did the M4BL emerge under the nation’s first Black president but this movement has targeted the police as a repressive force, no matter their colour. And virtually all urban police forces have a significant number of Black cops. And some of our cities are run by Black mayors, some of them have Black police chiefs. And people are crystal clear that that does not give them a pass, that they are not on our side. They are naming the work that they do for the system − it’s still racism. Apartheid was racism, even though you had Black people in the townships who were paid by the system to beat the shit out of protesters in the uprisings in places like Soweto. It was still organised systemic racism, even if you had Black collaborators implementing the policies in certain places. People are clearer than they’ve ever been about that question.

J B: In your book, you called Black feminist politics the bedrock of M4BL; is gender still key?

B R: I do think it’s important to talk about gender politics. Some of the most amazing leaders, some of the most articulate spokespersons, some of the most tireless fighters in this struggle are women: Thenjiwe McHarris, Karissa Lewis, Chinyere Tutashinda, Nikita Mitchell, Kayla Reed, Charlene Carruthers, Rachel Gilmer, N’tanya Lee, and Dee Dee Jackson, to name only a few. At the same time, some of the most high-profile cases of police violence have been Black men − George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown going back to 2014, Rayshard Brooks (in Atlanta last month) and so on, but there have been a number of women victims of course as well. Breonna Taylor in Louisville was killed in her home in March; and trans and gay victims, particularly trans. The transphobia, trans hatred is really intense and people feel that these individuals can be punching bags and can be mocked and hurt. I am so proud of this moment that has said, No. No one deserves this. We will not tolerate this. We will not disown any of our people. And I think that’s very hopeful, even though there is more work to do internally and in society about homophobia and transphobia.

The current Black movement in the United States represents the influence of Black feminism and its holistic approach toward liberation. It’s not surprising that many of the leaders of M4BL are people, some of whom come out of a Black feminist and queer politics − questioning every aspect of what this system tells us about who we have to be to get what we deserve. They have felt oppression from all sides and created new possibilities for themselves inside of communities, and now are in a sense ambitious for all of the rest of us and for the world.

When we talk about abolition, we do a shorthand; for we’re not just talking about abolishing, we’re talking about building. Abolition is a potentially revolutionary and radical demand because you’re saying we can’t just patch up the system that we live under. We have to rethink it, we have to dismantle it, we have to have something fundamentally different. To abolish without building leaves us vulnerable. We have to build new institutions, we have to build new power, we have to build a new system, and we have to become different people in the process. I have learned these lessons from Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and my own activist daughter, Asha Ransby-Sporn.

Hazel Waters (Joint Editor of Race & Class), Liz Fekete (Director of IRR) and Barbara Ransby at the IRR offices, London

This interview took place on July 2020. The full version of this interview will be published in the October 2020 issue of Race & Class.

Related links

Resist Reimagine Rebuild Coalition Chicago, ‘Building Unity and Resistance’

The Rising Majority: building a powerful Left for radical democracy’

BYP100, ‘We ready, we coming!’

Barbara Ransby, ‘The white Left needs to embrace Black leadership’

 

Calendar of Racism and Resistance (1 – 14 July 2020)

Thu, 07/16/2020 - 03:20

A fortnightly resource for anti-racist and social justice campaigns, highlighting key events in the UK and Europe.

G. Miessi ©

BLACK LIVES MATTER PROTESTS

8 July: BLM protesters join a rally outside the Tudor Rose in Southall, the only black-owned and black-run music venue in west London, which the council wants to demolish in order to sell the land to Peabody. (BLM Twitter,  8 July 2020)

11 July: Days after a social media outcry about the treatment of a young black man shouting ‘I can’t breathe’ while being restrained by three police offices in Brighton, thousands of people march in the city in support of Black Lives Matter. (BBC News, 11 July 2020)

11 July: Hundreds attend a Black Lives Matter protest in Hull, which remembers the death of Christopher Alder in 1998 and is addressed by his sister Janet who is still seeking justice and accountability. Other BLM protests are held in central London, Hackney and elsewhere. (BBC News, 11 July 2020)

15 July: A statue of a Black Lives Matter protester, titled ‘A surge of power’, is erected on the plinth where slave trader Edward Colston’s statue used to be in Bristol. Mayor Marvin Rees says ‘The future of the plinth and what is installed on it must be decided by the people of Bristol’. (BBC News, 15 July 2020)

POLICING AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE  Police and military – targeted quarantine

14 July: Following residents’ protests, soldiers are sent to Amantea, in Calabria, to patrol apartment buildings where 13 rescued Bangladeshi migrants who tested positive for coronavirus on disembarkation at the nearby port of Rocella Jonica have been placed under quarantine. A note from the prefecture reads ‘the soldiers will not allow the migrants to leave the welcome centres’. The authorities later say they will move the migrants to Rome. (Guardian, 14 July 2020)

Policing – general

1 July: Police monitoring groups criticise the police after an injured 16-year-old was stopped and searched by a policeman from whom he sought help after being attacked by far-right opponents at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in London. (Guardian, 1 July 2020) 

1 July: A branch of the Metropolitan Police in east London is criticised for a tweet saying that ‘kicking down doors’ is one of its ‘favourite things’ to do. The post, from the account of the Safer Neighbourhoods Team in Homerton, Hackney is deleted about an hour after its publication following criticism from other Twitter users. (Guardian, 1 July 2020)

Homerton Police has since deleted this Tweet

2 July: In his latest annual report on the State of Policing, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, says disproportionality in stop and search risks alienating young black men, interfering with the stated aim of improving diversity in policing. (Guardian, 2 July 2020) 

4 July: The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) refers for police investigation complaints from a 30-year-old black film location consultant from Tottenham, north London, that his car windows were smashed in on 29 May by police who accused him of concealing drugs, forced him out of the car to the ground, threw him against a wall, handcuffed and drug-tested him and detained him for 12 hours, as he was on his way home from a TV interview about institutional racism containing video footage of him being stopped and searched the week before. (Guardian, 4 July 2020)

5 July: Video footage shows two black athletes trained by former Olympic champion Linford Christie removed from their car and handcuffed by police officers while with their 3-month-old son in Maida Vale, west London. Christie accuses the police of racial profiling, and one of the athletes, Bianca Williams, later says it feels like ‘being black is a crime’. The couple are considering legal action. (Guardian, 5 July, Guardian, 6 July 2020)

6 July: Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence, tells a parliamentary committee on black people, racism and human rights that she was stopped by police while driving late at night shortly after the racist killing of her son in 1993. (Guardian, 6 July 2020)

6 July: German interior minister Horst Seehofer cancels an official justice and interior ministry study into racial profiling in the police force, saying there is ‘no need’ for it as the practice is already prohibited. Anti-racist groups are outraged, with speculation that pressure from police trades unions accounts for Seehofer’s U-turn. (Deutsche Welle, 5 July, Deutsche Welle, 8 July 2020)

7 July: Margaret Smith, mother of Jermaine Baker, who was shot dead by armed officers outside Wood Green crown court in December 2015, welcomes the appeal by the IOPC against the High Court’s quashing of its directive to the Met police to bring disciplinary proceedings against the officer ‘W80’ for unjustified use of force. Criminal charges were dropped in 2017 and the Met has refused to discipline the officer, claiming he acted in self-defence. (Guardian, 7 July 2020)

7 July: Police Scotland divisional commanders write a strongly worded letter to local authorities calling on them to do more to stop anti-racist protests and counter-protests, citing safety risks related to coronavirus, lack of resources and the knife attack at the Park Inn Hotel. (BBC News, 7 July 2020)

8 July: The Metropolitan police apologise to Bianca Williams, the British athlete who was stopped and handcuffed by police alongside her partner while her baby son was in the car, the force’s chief tells MPs. (Guardian, 8 July 2020)

8 July: It is revealed that the Metropolitan police carried out 22,000 searches on young black men during lockdown – the equivalent of searching more than a quarter of all black 15- to 24-year-olds in the capital. Commissioner Cressida Dick defends her force’s use of stop-and-search powers, saying black people are eight times more likely to be perpetrators of violent crime, but new data shows more than 80 per cent of all stop-and-searches between March and May led to no further action. (Guardian, 8 July 2020)

9 July: An officer from West Midlands police is sacked by a misconduct panel for making racist and inappropriate comments about colleagues, after the force successfully challenged the final written warning an earlier disciplinary panel imposed for the offence. (Coventry Observer, 10 July 2020)

9 July: Peter Beuth, interior minister of the state of Hesse, appoints a special investigator after it emerges that a Frankfurt police computer was used to search for personal data on left-wing politician Janine Wissler, who later received threatening letters and emails from neo-Nazis, signing as NSU 2.0. Beuth claims there is no network of right-wing extremists in the police. (Guardian, 9 July 2020)

9 July: Benjamin Hannam, a serving probationary Met police officer who worked in frontline policing in north London is charged with membership of banned far-right terrorist group National Action and suspended. (Guardian, 9 July 2020)

10 July: The IOPC announces an inquiry into whether there are ‘systemic issues’ of race discrimination in the police, following revelations of extreme disproportionality in stop and search figures and a string of high-profile cases. (Independent, 10 July 2020)

10 July: Security firm G4S is fined £44 million by the Serious Fraud Office in an agreement to avoid a fraud prosecution for overcharging the Ministry of Justice for electronic tagging of offenders, some of whom had died, in a dishonest effort to boost its profits. (Guardian, 10 July 2020)

10 July: A prisons inspectorate report on local prisons in Leeds, Thameside and Winchester finds prisoners bored and frustrated, locked up for up to 22.5 hours a day, sometimes in cramped shared cells, with no visits, promised video facilities for virtual visits not in place, and punishments at Leeds including depriving prisoners of showers. (HM Justice Inspectorates, 10 July 2020)

13 July: German parliamentarians accuse the police of ‘pure racism’ after a local police chief in Stuttgart said he was investigating whether German youths who clashed with the police in the city in June were the children of immigrants. Social media users dub this ‘family tree research’ and draw parallels to the Nazi regime, which used ancestry research to track down people with Jewish bloodlines. (Deutsche Welle, 13 July 2020)

14 July: It emerges that personal data about German comedian Idil Baydar, who for months has been at the receiving end of abusive and threatening messages from ‘SS Obersturmbannführer’, could have been accessed unlawfully from a Hesse police computer, making the third such case. The head of Hesse state police resigns. (Deutsche Welle, 14 July 2020)

15 July: The IOPC decides it does not need to investigate the tasering of 62-year-old Millard Scott on 21 April, as it had received ‘no public complaint or confirmation the man involved sustained a serious injury’, and sends the case back to the Met for internal handling. (BBC News, 15 July 2020)

Counter-extremism

False Positives: the Prevent counter-extremism policy in healthcare by Medact

2 July: A Medact report on the Prevent duty in healthcare shows that Asians are reported to Prevent panels four times as often as non-Asians, and Muslims are reported eight times as often as non-Muslims. The report concludes that tools used to train health workers to assess radicalisation risks contain racial bias. Read the report here. (Medact, 2 July 2020, Independent, 3 July 2020)

12 July: Former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell writes to the justice secretary demanding implementation of a promised review, already two years late, of secret courts, which he says are being used to ‘hide embarrassing evidence of state wrongdoing’. The demand comes after a court ruled that a judicial review of the involvement of British intelligence agencies in torture and rendition must be held in secret. (Guardian, 12 July 2020)

ANTI-FASCISM AND FAR RIGHT See also policing 

2 July: Belgian far-right party Vlaams Belang re-inscribes the Congo monument in the Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels with the French and Dutch words for Arab (arabe and arabisch) to protest ‘the current iconoclasm and apology cult’. (Brussels Times, 2 July 2020)

6 July: A second LGBTQ bar, Cox, is spray-painted with swastikas in Paris, after the Banana Café was graffitied on Friday. (LGBT Nation, 6 July 2020)

8 July: It is reported that the Dutch intelligence agency paid far-right activist Richard Prein, circle leader of the NVU party’s provincial department in Noord-Brabant, around €3,000 to inform on the party’s activities and its links with the populist FvD party, and to infiltrate the neo-Nazi Racial Volunteer Force, and that Prein channelled some of his informant wages back into the NVU. (NL Times, 8 July 2020)

9 July: Germany’s intelligence services report that right-wing extremism now poses the biggest threat to the country’s security, with a sharp increase in right-wingers prepared to use violence in 2019. Members of Alternative for Germany faction The Wing (Flügel), who comprise 20 per cent of AfD’s membership, are considered a threat to the constitution. (Deutsche Welle, 9 July 2020) 

INTERNATIONAL

12 July: More than 70 UK faith leaders call on chancellor Rishi Sunak to use the G20 finance ministers’ meeting this week to urge debt cancellation for 77 low-income countries which are facing the worst effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, to prevent catastrophic hunger for a quarter of a billion people in the world’s poorest nations. (Guardian, 11 July, Guardian, 12 July 2020)

13 July: As aid spending comes under the remit of the Foreign Office, the ONE campaign’s index of the UK’s aid spending says too much aid goes on projects that fail to reduce poverty, with £21 million spent by the Home Office on preventing migration and smuggling, £287 million on frontline diplomacy and £20 million on a programme in China which aims to ‘produce commercial benefits for international companies’. (Guardian, 13 July 2020)

ELECTORAL POLITICS

3 July: Hungarian Fidesz MEP Balázs Hidvéghi accuses the EU of failing to protect its borders and demands that all refused asylum seekers should be forced to leave Europe. (Hungary Today, 3 July 2020)

6 July: In the Croatian general election, the far-right nationalist Homeland party, led by the folk singer Miroslav Škoro, wins 16 seats, making it the third-largest parliamentary party. The right-wing Croatian Democratic Union is expected to enter into a coalition government with the nationalists. (Guardian, 6 July 2020)

6 July: Care leaders, unions and MPs express their anger at prime minister Boris Johnson after he accuses care homes of failing to follow proper procedures, saying he is seeking to shift the blame for the high death toll after the government rejected public health officials’ calls for a strict lockdown of care homes at the height of the pandemic. (Guardian, 7 July 2020)

6 July: Labour leader Keir Starmer says he will undergo ‘unconscious bias’ training amid criticism of his response to the BLM movement and suggestions that the party is losing the support of BME communities. Critics say his response Indicates failure to understand the reality of structural racism. (Guardian, 6 July 2020)

7 July: University of Manchester research finds that only 7 per cent of all councillors in the UK are from a BME background and that lack of representation is ‘perpetuating racial inequality and disadvantage’ in the UK. (Sky News, 7 July 2020)

12 July: Home secretary Priti Patel is criticised for claims that ‘cultural sensitivities’ prevented a robust response to the Covid-19 outbreak at a garment factory in Leicester, with critics observing that cuts to regulators, limited inspections and an absence of trades unions were the biggest cause. The Sunday Times says Patel is concerned that police and government agencies are turning a blind eye for fear of being labelled racist. (Guardian, 12 July 2020)

HEALTH AND POLICY See also employment, policing

1 July:  Local authorities in places in England reported to be close to experiencing another lockdown, such as Bedford, Oldham, Blackburn and Kirklees, all known to have larger than average ethnic minority populations, say the data needed to prevent fresh outbreaks of coronavirus is being withheld from them. (Guardian, 1 July 2020)

1 July: A full statutory inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic is needed to lay bare the elements in society that are deeply racialised, says Lord Woolley, chair of the government’s race disparity unit’s advisory group, in a call backed by Inquest. (Guardian, 1 July 2020)

2 July: ONS analysis of Covid-19 deaths in England shows that low-paid manual workers are at a greater risk of dying than white-collar workers, with suspected cases doubling in a week. The return to work has inevitably led to an increase in outbreaks in workplaces, which Public Health England (PHE) did not make clear at the time, recording it under ‘other settings’. Prisons are recorded as the only other setting in the last week where cases rose, from two to four. (Guardian, 2 July 2020)

4 July: After the announcement that Leicester would be excluded from the easing of lockdown, a number of explanations arise, ranging from central government failure to provide local authorities with relevant data, overcrowded housing, and problems in communication with members of the Gujarati community with limited England and no access to TV or smartphones. (Guardian, 4 July 2020)

8 July: It is reported that sanitary measures to control the spread of Covid-19 are being enforced more strictly with migrants than with tourists in the Autonomous Communities of Spain. Diagnostic tests are carried out on all migrants who arrive by boat, but not at airports and official borders. (El Diario, 8 July 2020)

9 July: The government announces that tens of thousands of people whose jobs put them at high risk of catching Covid-19, including taxi drivers, cleaners and shop workers, will be tested although they have no symptoms. (Guardian, 9 July 2020)

12 July: Research from University College London reveals that a fifth of vulnerable people in Britain have thought about self-harm or suicide during lockdown, as psychiatrists warn of an increase in mental health referrals, and the National Child Mortality Database reports 25 likely child suicides in the first 56 days of lockdown. (Guardian, 12 July, Guardian, 13 July 2020)

13 July: Research by Amnesty International reveals that the UK has the second-highest global rate of Covid-19 healthy worker deaths in the world (behind Russia), with more than 540 health and social worker deaths in England and Wales, from 3,000 global fatalities. Some evidence suggests that more than 60 per cent of health workers who died identified as BME. (AI press release, 13 July 2020)

13 July: Compelling evidence from the Netherlands indicates that air pollution significantly increases coronavirus infections, hospital admissions and deaths. (Guardian, 13 July 2020) 

EMPLOYMENT AND EXPLOITATION See also health, welfare

30 June: A Guardian report reveals the struggles of low-paid outsourced hospital cleaners for decent pay and conditions and to be brought back in-house. (Guardian, 30 June 2020)

1 July: Business secretary Alok Sharma pledges to investigate claims by campaign group Labour Behind the Label and others that Leicester garment factories ordered sick employees to carry on working despite the pandemic. (Guardian, 1 July 2020) 

3 July: The National Crime Agency visits factories and businesses across Leicester to investigate concerns about working conditions in garment factories, as a labour rights researcher say conditions are worse than anything in Bangladesh, China or Sri Lanka. (Guardian, 3 July 2020)

3 July: Deutsche Welle  interviews distraught Romanian migrant workers at the Tönnies meat processing plant in Gütersloh, North Rhine-Westphalia, who describe low wages, exploitation, particularly through subsidiary contracting chains like MGM, and cramped living conditions, saying they’re frightened and ‘No-one is looking after us’. Watch a video here. (Deutsche Welle, 3 July 2020)

6 July: Fast fashion retailer Boohoo agrees to investigate how workers in Leicester making its clothes are paid only £3.50 an hour, and working in conditions putting them at greater risk of catching Covid-19. A 2017 inquiry by Parliament’s Human Rights Committee revealed appalling conditions and sub-minimum wages in Leicester’s garment factories, where most workers are from minority ethnic groups, and a 2019 parliamentary report criticised Boohoo for refusing union recognition. (Guardian, 6 July, Daily Mail, 6 July 2020, Human Rights and Business, Parliament, April 2017, Sustainability of the Fashion Industry, Parliament, 2019)

6 July: Aboubakar Soumahoro, a well-known and outspoken Italian trade union activist working predominantly with agricultural workers in Italy, goes on hunger strike to highlight the exploitation of migrant agricultural workers and to call on the Italian government to do more for the workers, saying the regularisation package does not go far enough or cover those needing it. (Info Migrants, 6 July 2020)

Aboubakar Soumahoro Twitter account

10 July: As investors and retailers shun Boohoo despite the company’s appointment of a QC to review its supply chain, immigration enforcement teams join health and safety inspectors and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) in Leicester’s garment factories, where workers allege practices including lock-ins, under-recording of hours and confiscation of identity documents. (Guardian, 7 July, Guardian, 8 July, Guardian, 10 July, Guardian, 11 July 2020)

13 July: Another fast-fashion retailer, Quiz, suspends a clothing supplier whose subcontractor’s Leicester factory was reported to be paying below the minimum wage and possibly as little as £3 per hour. (Guardian, 13 July 2020)

13 July: After 73 workers at a vegetable farm and packing business supplying supermarkets test positive for coronavirus and 200 workers are quarantined there, three run away as former workers describe poor working conditions and the impossibility of distancing in the packing shed or in shared caravans. (Guardian, 12 July, Guardian, 12 July, Guardian, 13 July 2020)

POVERTY AND WELFARE

1 July: BME households are twice as likely to live in poverty as their white counterparts, finds the latest annual report by the Social Metrics Commission, with nearly half of black African-Caribbean families in poverty compared with just under one in five white families. (Guardian, 1 July 2020)

6 July: Philip Alston, the outgoing UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, says that the coronavirus pandemic has revealed the ‘utterly inadequate’ and ‘outrageous’ state of Spain’s ‘broken, underfunded’ social protection system, highlighting in particular the plight of Roma and migrant workers. (Guardian, 6 July 2020)

8 July: London councils call on the government to suspend the controversial ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) immigration condition during the coronavirus pandemic to prevent a rise in homelessness. (Guardian, 8 July 2020)

10 July: Universal credit is costly, inefficient and pushes claimants into debt and hardship with its controversial five-week wait, while there is still no evidence that it fulfils its stated aim of getting more people into work, says a new report by the National Audit Office. (Guardian, 10 July 2020)

10 July: Spain’s secretary of state for social rights, Nacho Álvarez, says that it is ‘unacceptable’ that 90 percent of the Roma population in Spain are at risk of poverty and that they experience an unemployment rate twice as high as the Spanish national average. (El Diario, 10 July 2020)

12 July: Cases of malnutrition among children have doubled in the past six months, with almost 2,500 children admitted to hospital, according to freedom of information responses, prompting fresh concern that families are struggling to feed themselves. More than 11,500 children have been admitted to hospital with malnutrition in the UK since 2015. (Observer, 12 July 2020)

HOUSING

28 June: The UN warns the British government that its failure to strip combustible cladding from high-rise buildings containing tens of thousands of homes may be a breach of international law requiring safe housing. Three years after the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed seventy-two lives, of which sixty-five were ethnic minorities, 300 high-rise residential and publicly owned buildings in England built or refurbished with similar aluminium composite cladding are yet to be removed or replaced, official figures show. (Guardian, 28 June 2020)

kcw1939 ©

1 July: The campaign group Generation Rent calls on the government to suspend evictions for rent arrears arising from the pandemic, an increase in the amount of and eligibility for housing benefits, and a scheme to clear arrears not covered by the benefits system that would guarantee 80 per cent of landlords’ incomes. Recent polling shows 13 per cent of private renters are behind with rent, compared to just 4 per cent before the pandemic. (Guardian, 1 July 2020)

1 July: Councils across England are systematically breaking the law by relocating hundreds of homeless people outside their boroughs without notifying the authorities receiving them, an investigation finds, with northern cities such as Bradford receiving large numbers from the south-east without the legal notice enabling social, medical and educational support to be put in place. Schools are being overwhelmed, and many people are being left without necessary support. (Guardian, 1 July 2020)

3 July: A Nuffield Foundation report on lockdown living conditions exposes a generational divide, with young people aged 16-24 in England living in homes with on average half the floor space of older people, much less likely to have a garden, more often living in a derelict or congested neighbourhood. The report also finds that nearly 40 per cent of under-16s from BME households have no obvious garden, compared with 17 per cent of white children, and nearly a quarter live in a poor-quality environment. (Guardian, 3 July 2020)

6 July: The Grenfell inquiry reopens but survivors, families and residents are excluded from the hearing in Paddington and must watch the proceedings online. (Guardian, 6 July 2020)

6 July: A protest outside Hackney Town Hall and a crowdfunder support Sistah Space, a specialist domestic and sexual violence support service for women of African Caribbean heritage, who are at risk of having their organisation returned to a building which they say is unsafe and unsuitable for their needs. (Sisters Uncut twitter, 6 July 2020, Hackney Gazette, 10 June 2020)

8 July: A probation inspectorate report finds that over 3,500 prisoners were released into homelessness from 2018 to 2019. (Guardian, 8 July 2020)

8 July: The fire engineer on Grenfell Tower, Terry Ashton of Exova, did not look at plans showing the proposed over-cladding of the building before advising that the works would not increase the risk of fire spreading, he tells the inquiry. (Guardian, 8 July 2020) 

EDUCATION

6 July: After a campaign by a former student, a dossier of complaints from 30 Asian, Black, and Polish students from St Augustine’s RC High School is sent to Edinburgh City Council and the Scottish government. Senior staff at the school are alleged to leave unchallenged phrases such as ‘go back to where you came from’, ‘Muslims are terrorists’ and ‘Chinese people eat dogs’, which are commonly heard, say the students. (Edinburgh News, 6 July 2020)

6 July: More than 300 academics and students write an open letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson and to higher education funding councils, regulators and representative bodies, criticising universities for their ‘tokenistic and superficial’ support for the Black Lives Matter movement and their poor record on tackling institutional racism. (Guardian, 6 July 2020)

6 July: City University in London ditches the name Cass from its business school amid concerns about the fortune made from the slave trade by Sir John Cass, the 18th-century merchant it is named after. The name was added in 2002, after a £5m donation from the Sir John Cass’s Foundation. (Guardian, 6 July 2020)

7 July: The children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, warns in a new report that more than 120,000 teenagers in England with a history of exclusion, persistent absence from school and periods missing from care could ‘fall off the radar’ and slip out of education without focused intervention as the country comes out of Covid-19 lockdown, with teenagers in Liverpool, Medway and Blackpool the most likely to fall through the gaps. (Guardian, 7 July 2020)

7 July: GCSE exam data collated by the Guardian shows that although schools are permitted to teach black history, as well as the history of peoples outside Europe and the US, few of them do, with lack of money, time and knowledge cited as obstacles to improving the curriculum. Read the report in full for more specific data. (Guardian, 13 July 2020)

8 July: Following a decision by the Belgian Constitutional Court affirming the right of universities to forbid the wearing of the headscarf, #HijabisFightBack organises several demonstrations in Brussels. (Global Citizen, 8 July 2020)

13 July: Beckford primary school in West Hampstead, in consultation with Camden Council, announces it will change its name. The school is named after William Beckford, a former Lord Mayor who was an 18th-century slave owner. (Evening Standard, 13 July 2020)

13 July: Five children with special educational needs have killed themselves in Kent in the last five months, says the county’s director of integrated children’s services, adding that they may have found it particularly hard to cope without the routine of school. (Guardian, 13 July 2020)

14 July: Half of all UK pupils whose exams were cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 crisis have not been provided with any schoolwork since lockdown began, according to research by the National Foundation for Educational Research. (Guardian, 14 July 2020)

CULTURE AND MEDIA 

30 June: As Belgium’s King Philippe expresses his deepest regrets for the violence and brutality inflicted during his country’s rule of Congo, on the 60th anniversary of the country’s (now DRC) independence, campaigners in Uganda and Sudan seek the removal of monuments to British colonialists and the renaming of streets commemorating them. (Guardian, 30 June, Guardian, 1 July 2020)

2 July: Historian and broadcaster David Starkey is condemned after claiming on an online broadcast that slavery was not genocide because of the survival of ‘so many damn blacks’. The following day, Starkey is dropped by his publisher HarperCollins UK, and he is removed from two academic posts. Starkey later apologises for his remarks. (Guardian, 2 July,  Guardian, 6 July 2020)

3 July: The damaged bust of Belgian King Leopold II, removed from a park in Halle, Flanders, is returned there by the city council pending discussion on its future, with an inscription stating that ‘Halle does not give in to vandalism’. (Brussels Times, 3 July 2020)

5 July: Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune asks the French president to take the next step in the ‘appeasement process’ and apologise for the colonial occupation of his country, after the return of the skulls of 24 Algerian resistance fighters decapitated during France’s colonial rule. (Al Jazeera, 5 July 2020)

7 July: An art project commemorating the life of Khadija Saye, who died in the Grenfell Tower fire, is launched in Notting Hill, west London. (Guardian, 7 July 2020)

9 July: Speaking ahead of his new exhibition at Houghton Hall, artist Anish Kapoor criticises art gallery ‘tokenism’ in relation to diversity and calls for ‘rethinking what cultural representation means.’ (Guardian, 9 July 2020)

11 July: Twitter suspends the accounts of the far-Right Belgian student organisation Schild & Vrienden group and 70 other white nationalist organisations and individuals linked to identitarian movements in Europe. (Brussels Times, 11 July 2020)

12 July: The Labour party joins the Facebook advert boycott led by the Stop Hate for Profit campaign ‘in solidarity with Black Lives Matter’. Whilst the party and its MPs will continue to use the platform, it will not pay for targeted advertising for a month to protest Facebook’s ‘failure to take down hateful content.’ (BBC News, 12 July 2020)

SPORT

1 July: Plymouth Argyle fans launch a campaign to raise funds for a bronze statue of former player Jack Leslie. One of the few black players in the football league at the time, Leslie is believed to have been denied the chance to play for England in 1925 due to his race. (Guardian, 1 July 2020)

8 July: The West Indies and England cricket teams take the knee before the first test match, with West Indies players also raising gloved fists, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. (Guardian, 8 July 2020)

9 July: Wycombe Wanderers’ player Adebayo Akinfenwa, 38, complains of being called a ‘fat water buffalo’ by an opponent during the team’s League One play-off game against Fleetwood Town on 6 July. (Standard, 9 July 2020)

12 July: Lewis Hamilton and 11 other drivers take a knee before the Styrian Grand Prix in Austria, and Hamilton gives a black power salute on winning the race, saying he is in a lifelong struggle to fight racism. (Guardian, 12 July 2020)

13 July: After Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha shares images of racist abuse received via Instagram, leading to the arrest of a 12-year-old boy, and Sheffield United striker David McGoldrick also shares racist abuse online, Kick it Out and the Professional Footballers’ Association demand tighter regulation of social media. (BBC News, Guardian, 13 July 2020)

ASYLUM AND MIGRATION Asylum and migrant rights 

1 July: The asylum claim of Tunisian human right activist Nacer Amari, who fled Tunisia in 2012 after receiving death threats, is rejected by Danish authorities on the basis that his atheism and human rights activism will not cause issues on his return. (Humanists International, 1 July 2020)

2 July: A 45-year-old man is reported to have killed himself in the Greek Oinofyta camp after his third asylum application is rejected. (Are You Syrious, 3 July 2020)

7 July: Twenty-five unaccompanied minors from the Aegean islands refugee camps in Greece travel from Athens airport to Portugal, which will accommodate 500 young people from a total of 1,600 who wanted to leave Greece. (El Diario, 7 July 2020)

2 July: The Home Office faces criticism from the Commons Home Affairs Committee for making Windrush compensation claimants prove claims for loss of earnings and reimbursement of medical and student fees ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, a standard of proof used to convict defendants in criminal trials. At least five people have died before receiving any compensation. (Huffington Post, 2 July 2020)

6 July: As the Domestic Abuse Bill moves to its report stage, the Step Up Migrant Women coalition of more than 50 BME, migrant and rights organisations, calls for help to be extended to all domestic abuse survivors, regardless of their immigration status, to remedy the ‘gaping hole’ in the legislation. (BBC, 6 July 2020)

9 July: One in three people seeking asylum in Europe on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity have their claims rejected because of a ‘culture of disbelief’ and an ‘impossible burden of proof’, say researchers at the University of Sussex. (Guardian, 9 July 2020)

11 July: The number of people refused under the EU settlement scheme surges by 700 per cent in a month, according to newly published Home Office data, prompting concerns about the scheme less than a year before the deadline for EU nationals and their family members to apply. (Independent, 11 July 2020)

13 July: The government publishes ‘guidance’ on a new immigration regime in force from January, in which fees for visas go up, there are English language tests for most categories of entrants, and minimum salary thresholds are retained, with care home staff excluded from the fast-track visa system. Lawyers describe the guidance as confusing and incomplete, while the National Care Forum executive director calls it ‘an unmitigated disaster’. (Independent, 13 July, Guardian, 13 July 2020)

Reception and detention

3 July: A report by the National Audit Office reveals that private firms contracted by the Home Office to deliver asylum accommodation have failed to meet acceptable standards, leaving hundreds of asylum seekers unable to access schools or GPs for months. (Independent, 3 July 2020)

2 July: The European Court of Human Rights condemns the French government for failing to protect several asylum seekers who slept on the streets and received no aid while their asylum requests were being processed, and orders it to pay three claimants between €10,000 and €14,000 in compensation. (Al Jazeera, 2 July, El Diario, 2 July 2020)

3 July: Residents of Los Nietos and San Antón in Murcia, Spain, protest over the transfer of quarantined migrants who arrive in small boats from Africa to their neighbourhoods, where they are to stay in flats provided by Red Cross. The protesters deny racist motivation. (El Diario, 3 July 2020)

6 July: Charities warn of a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in Glasgow, with asylum seekers reportedly left malnourished in ‘slum housing’, and campaigners call for an independent public inquiry into the Home Office’s asylum system and its effects on refugees in Scotland. (Morning Star, 5 July, Morning Star, 6 July 2020)

Borders and internal controls

4 July: As the mental health of the 180 rescued migrants on the Ocean Viking deteriorates, with six suicide attempts and fights breaking out, SOS Méditerranée declares a state of emergency on board. Seven requests have been made to Italy and Malta for a safe port, with Italy eventually responding with the telephone number of a psychologist. (Al Jazeera, 4 July 2020)

6 July: The SAR ship Ocean Viking is finally authorised to make port in Sicily and transfer the 180 rescued people aboard to the government-chartered ship Moby Zara for a 14-day quarantine. (The Local, 6 July 2020)

8 July: Malta allows the disembarkation of around 50 people, mostly from Somalia and Djibouti, rescued five days earlier by the Lebanese animal transport ship MV Talia. Italy had refused permission to land in Lampedusa, although the migrants were living in dirty conditions previously used by animals. (Al Jazeera, 8 July 2020)

9 July:  Just days after Sea-Watch 3 starts its first mission since Covid-19, the Italian authorities ban the vessel from leaving Sicily, citing ‘several irregularities’ of a technical nature, with the crew saying that the ‘administrative seizure’ is just an excuse to block its life-saving mission. (Deutsche Welle, 9 July 2020)

Criminalising solidarity

10 July: A Nice court orders charges dropped against 73-year-old Amnesty volunteer Martine Landry, who helped two young Guineans cross back into France following their arrest and return to Italy, for which she faced up to five years in prison and/ or a €30,000 fine. (Digital Journal, 13 July 2020)

Deportation

7 July: Darrell and Darren Roberts, 24-year old twins who were born in London and have never left the UK, face deportation to different countries in the Caribbean where they have no close relatives, the Guardian reports. The twins’ siblings say they believe Ealing social services was negligent for failing to organise citizenship when they were children. (Guardian, 7 July 2020)

13 July: Ministers will be empowered to deport or exclude foreign nationals, including EU citizens, who have received a prison sentence of a year or more, under new rules presented by home secretary Priti Patel, which come into force in January 2021. (Independent, 13 July 2020)

 VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT

1 July: A woman driving a Mercedes convertible racially abuses a man and punches him twice in the chest during a road rage incident in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire. (Northants Live, 3 July 2020)

1 July: Racist graffiti is scrawled outside a Turkish family’s home in Hackney, east London, telling the family to ‘go back to Turkey’ and ‘English family need house’. Anti-racist organisation Hackney Stand Up To Racism posts an image on its Facebook page. (Hackney Gazette, 7 July 2020)

3 July: The warehouse fire that engulfed the Chios camp in March was started by arson and targeted one of the volunteer vans, an investigation finds. No one has been arrested. (Are You Syrious, 3 July 2020)

3 July: Nottinghamshire police appeal for information following an incident in Stapleford on 27 June in which a man threw a bicycle and a can of coke at the owner of a newsagent’s and hurled racist abuse after refusing to pay for an item. (Nottingham Post, 3 July 2020)

3 July: Police investigate a possible xenophobic motive after a 10-year-old Afghan boy is shot with a plastic bullet in Chemnitz, east Germany, where in 2018 migrants were subjected to a far-right racist manhunt. (Deutsche Welle, 3 July 2020)

4 July: Janine Wissler, the parliamentary leader of the Left Party in the German state of Hesse receives a death threat signed ‘National Socialist Underground 2.0’ which contains private personal information. This comes shortly after a Left Party politician, Stefanie Kirchner, is attacked in Bavaria. (Deutsche Welle, 4 July 2020)

4 July: Racist graffiti is scrawled on the door and electricity meter of a house in Aylesbury occupied by a mother and son. Thames Valley police are investigating. (Mix96 FM, 7 July 2020)

4 July: A rock is thrown through the living room window of a 37-year-old businesswoman’s house in Truro, Cornwall, and her car tyres are slashed, in a racially motivated attack, the culmination of weeks of intimidation after she attended a local Black Lives Matter protest on 15 June, when she was subjected to monkey chanting and racial abuse. At the protest, one white man was arrested for causing racially aggravated public distress, and three BLM protesters were arrested for affray. (BBC News, 7 July 2020)

5 July: The public prosecutor’s office of Valencia opens a hate crime investigation after a video goes viral showing a Black man of Guinean origin being violently arrested on the Valencia metro on 3 July by two security guards, who accused him of not wearing his mask ‘properly’, despite the fact that many white people in the same carriage wore their mask ‘half off’. (Público, 9 July 2020) 

5 July: A parked car is badly damaged and racist graffiti spray-painted on it in what police accept is a racially aggravated criminal damage incident in Lowestoft. Suffolk police are seeking witnesses. (Eastern Daily Press, 6 July 2020)

6 July: A woman and her friend are attacked in a pub in Bristol for ‘speaking loudly in Polish’. Their attacker is filmed shouting ‘you’re in England now’. (Mirror, 6 July 2020)

6 July: Police investigate reports that a group of teenagers shouted racist abuse and damaged cars after coming to Cornwall on holiday on 4 July, the first day that tourists were legally allowed to visit the region after lockdown restrictions were eased. (Cornwall Live, 6 July 2020)

7 July: Racist graffiti saying ‘locals only’ is found sprayed in two places on a house in Belfast for the second time in two weeks. (Belfast Live, 7 July 2020)

8 July: Avon and Somerset police appeal for witnesses and information regarding a racially aggravated public order offence in Frome on 20 June, when a man-made highly offensive and racist comments towards a woman in her 20s and her 18-month-old child. (Avon and Somerset Police, 8 July 2020)

9 July: A Shipley Green Party town councillor tries to clean off racist graffiti which he found between Shipley and Saltaire, Yorkshire, referring to people from ethnic minorities as ‘vermin’ and ‘dogs’. He says ‘it was quite sickening to know that someone in our community holds such outrageously racist and hateful views’. (Telegraph and Argus, 9 July 2020)

9 July: After a spate of racially motivated attacks, Labour MP Dawn Butler closes her constituency office in Willesden, Brent due to safety concerns. (Metro, 9 July 2020)

10 July:  Four teenagers aged between 14 and 18 are arrested after an attack at an Edinburgh Japanese restaurant, the Maki & Ramen, on 4 July, in which two 33-year-old men suffered minor injuries. (Daily Record, 10 July 2020)

10 July:  Men in face masks, one armed with a knife, attack a group of six or seven young people playing football late at night in Edinburgh’s Bristo Square when they refuse to hand over the ball, with one throwing glass bottles and another attempting to stab the group and their dog, while girls with them shout racial abuse at the group. Police nearby appear oblivious to the attack, which causes black eyes, cuts and bruises. (Edinburgh Live, 13 July 2020)

11 July: A woman shopper is subjected to racial abuse in the checkout queue at Lidl in Bishop’s Cleeve, Gloucestershire, by an elderly man who follows her into the car park and continues to racially abuse her as she loads her car. Police are appealing for witnesses. (Gloucestershire Live, 13 July 2020)

11 July: Babacar Seck, a 21-year-old Spanish karate fighter of Senegalese origin, denounces neo-Nazi and racist graffiti daubed on a mural dedicated to him in the Oliver neighbourhood of Zaragoza where he lives. Seck, who arrived in Spain in 2010, is the twelve-time karate champion of Spain and has won 4 European medals. (Público, 11 July 2020)

 The calendar was compiled with the help of Aisha Rana-Deshmukh, Laura Wormington, Jessica Pandian, Graeme Atkinson, Joseph Maggs and Kaiisha Kukendra.

Taser trauma: an increasingly British phenomenon

Thu, 07/16/2020 - 02:14

An IRR News researcher speaks to scholars and campaigners across the country about the disproportionate use of Tasers on over-policed BME communities, as the IOPC announces an inquiry into widespread police discrimination.

On 4 May in Haringey, the police tasered Jordan Walker-Brown, a then 23-year-old black man they were trying to detain as he jumped over a wall, leaving him paralysed from the waist down. Just two days later, a video circulated showing the police tasering another black man, Desmond Ziggy Mombeyarara, in front of his young son in Greater Manchester, who distressingly screams ‘Daddy’ whilst watching his father fall to the ground. Then, on 9 June, rapper Wretch 32 shared bodycam footage of the police entering the Tottenham home of his father Millard Scott in search of a suspect on 21 April. The footage shows the police tasering Mr Scott at the top of the stairs, resulting in the 62-year-old falling head-first down the flight of stairs. After the incident, the police said that the raid on Mr Scott’s home was ‘part of a long-running operation to tackle drugs supply linked to serious violence in the borough of Haringey’ – but the family maintain that the police did not search the house for drugs. Moreover, Mr Scott was not the suspect the police were pursuing – nor did he fit the description. Mr Scott is, however, black. This seemed to be justification enough to taser him, and therein lies the issue.

These three incidents are not isolated. Rather, they are emblematic of three key concerns: that Tasers are being disproportionately deployed against the black population; that Tasers have long-term, permanent consequences; and that Taser usage is rapidly increasing.

Disproportionate deployment of Tasers against the black community

Tasers were first introduced to the UK in 2003 for use by firearms officers ‘to fill the operational gap between the baton and the gun’, and were rolled out to non-firearms officers called Specially Trained Officers four years later. Since then, the UK has witnessed a rapid increase in the number of Taser-trained police whereby in 2019, 17,000 out of 123,000 police officers were Taser-trained in England and Wales. However, since their first appearance, the disproportionate use of Tasers against the black population has been an enduring issue. Across England and Wales, new analysis of Home Office figures found black people almost eight times more likely to have Tasers deployed against them compared to white people. Moreover, the increasing deployment of Tasers on BME children is a progressively disturbing matter, with 2019 statistics indicating that minors in 74 percent of Taser deployments in London were of BME background.

Judah Adunbi with supporters outside Bristol Magistrates Court

Disproportionate Taser usage against black people can be attributed to a combination of factors, namely: the persistence of racial stereotypes relating to black criminality; the over-policing of BME communities; and institutional racism in policing – all of which can be grouped together under the banner of structural racism. The potency of the black criminal stereotype is epitomised by the case of Judah Adunbi, a black race relations adviser for the police who was tasered by his own police force after being mistaken for a wanted man – and who, a year later in 2018, was mistaken by the police for the same wanted man again. Taking this into account, we see how racially disproportionate Taser deployment can be understood as both a product and an intensifier of structural racism. The way in which Tasers entrench structural racism is evidenced in a recent analysis by Dr Michael Shiner, associate professor at LSE and member of StopWatch, which demonstrates that disproportionality between black people and white people is markedly higher when the police use high-degree force, such as Tasers and firearms, compared to low-degree force.[1]

There has also been significant controversy over the growing use of Tasers against those with mental health problems, given the significant pain (the UN Committee Against Torture determined that the pain inflicted by Tasers is intense enough to be considered a form of torture), distress and health problems they can induce. In fact, in the year from 1 April 2017, Tasers were used against mental health patients in healthcare settings 96 times. It is a well-known fact that black people are overrepresented in mental health statistics and systems, illuminating how multiple forms of inequality coalesce in the experiences of black Britons, rendering them increasingly exposed to the dangers of Tasers. Addressing how Tasers exacerbate intersecting inequalities, Dr Kerry Pimblott, lecturer at the University of Manchester and member of Resistance Lab, said, ‘Tasers are used by police in ways that reinforce systemic racism and other interlocking inequalities with disproportionate and potentially lethal consequences for black communities and individuals with mental health conditions in particular.’[2]

The long-term impacts of Tasers

Jordan Walker-Brown

The recent case of Mr Walker-Brown, paralysed by a Taser, demonstrates the fact that Tasers can result in lifelong injuries – contradicting the Metropolitan Police’s definition of Tasers as a weapon which ‘temporarily interferes with the body’s neuromuscular system’. The Metropolitan Police also define Tasers as a ‘less lethal’ ‘single shot weapon’ – yet 18 people in the UK have died after being tasered since 2003, and coroners have identified Tasers as having caused or contributed to the deaths of Marc Cole, Jordan Begley and Andrew Pimlott. Clearly then, Tasers are indeed lethal, and when not lethal, can engender long-term health problems. Potential long-term impacts of Tasers include injuries from uncontrolled movements and Taser probe penetration of sensitive body parts.

It is important to note that Tasers can cause not only long-term physical harm, but also long-term psychological trauma for the individuals affected and the communities they belong to. As such, Tasers contribute to existing police practices such as stop and search which induce trauma collectively, principally within BME communities. In an open letter to the Greater Manchester Police regarding the Taser incident involving Mr Mombeyarara, the Northern Police Monitoring Project highlighted the issue of collective trauma, saying that the ‘The taser appears to be deployed without warning or justification, and without any regard to the lasting impact that witnessing such events will surely have on the child, and our wider communities – particularly those that are already familiar with police violence.’ Similarly, a parent articulated to the NGO ‘Kids of Colour’ how the incident added to extant trauma within the black community:

As a mother, I would like to say that it has really traumatised me. It’s really made me feel as a mother of 3 black sons aged 21, 15 and 10 that there’s no protection or support for them. I just feel very scared and fragile at a time like this, that certain systems are not taking accountability of these behaviours. We keep seeing these behaviours over and over again, and the trauma it has for our children and young boys in the community, we need to find a better way that police are responding to young black males. It’s out of hand, it’s disrespectful. My son is really upset by it, he’s 15.

In an interview, Dr Rebekah Delsol, Programme Manager for the Fair and Effective Policing Project at the Open Society Justice Initiative and member of Stopwatch, remarked on the worrying near-absence of research concerning the psychological trauma Tasers cause to BME communities. In light of this, she called for research to be carried out on the diverse ways in which Tasers engender trauma within over-policed BME communities, stressing that research should be realised by BME academics embedded within those communities.

Policing: inertia and impunity

On 24 March 2020, rights groups Open Society, Inquest, Stopwatch and Liberty announced their resignation from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) independent Taser advisory group in protest, stating that no significant steps are being taken to address the disproportionate use of Tasers against BME people. In a joint resignation letter to the NPCC, the rights groups explained, ‘We are increasingly concerned that the NTSAG [National Taser Stakeholder Advisory Group] is now regularly sidestepped, while the group’s existence is relied on to legitimise current use of Taser.’

The fact that three Taser incidents – in Tottenham, Greater Manchester and Haringey – occurred within six weeks of the rights groups quitting the police body underscores the police’s continual refusal to acknowledge and tackle the excessive discharge of Tasers against the black community. Part of the reason for the police’s inertia to concerns regarding disproportionality can be attributed to their apparent impunity in unjust Taser usage. The statistics show that police officers are practically never suspended or arrested for wrongful use of Tasers. In fact, since 1990, 1,745 people have died in police custody in the UK, but not one police officer has been successfully convicted of homicide or assault.

Concerning the Taser incidents involving Mr Walker-Brown and Mr Mombeyarara, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has stated that it will conduct criminal investigations into both cases. Regarding the Taser incident involving Mr Scott, the Metropolitan Police’s review found ‘no indication of misconduct’ and said the incident did ‘not meet the criteria for a referral to the IOPC’. Despite Wretch 32 sharing the footage on Twitter, which gained nearly 2 million views, drawing widespread criticism from the likes of Sadiq Khan and Amnesty International UK and leading the IOPC to reassess the incident, the IOPC ultimately decided on 15 July that they will not conduct a criminal investigation into the Taser incident of Mr Scott.

Though the cases of Mr Walker-Brown and Mr Mombeyarara will be investigated, it should be noted that an IOPC criminal investigation does not necessarily mean that criminal charges will follow – and given that police are rarely held accountable for their actions, the likelihood of this occurring is not promising. Thus far, none of the police officers involved in these three cases have been suspended. Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, said, ‘The test of the IOPC will be what comes out of those investigations and whether or not it results in anybody being held accountable.’

Considering the police’s resistance to address disproportionate Taser usage combined with their evident impunity, it becomes clear that institutional racism is deeply embedded within the structures of policing as well as within the bodies that regulate it. Speaking about how the IOPC has consistently let down the families of those who died in police custody, Lisa Cole, sister of Marc Cole, who died after being tasered whilst suffering a mental health crisis in 2017, said,

‘There’s no accountability. That comes back to the government. The government protects these officers at all costs. And I’ll say it again, it’s another example of state violence. You know, it’s the systemic refusal and the systemic discriminatory policing practices [that] are protected by institutionally racist systems. We cannot talk about policing and accountability unless we talk about the systems that deliberately protect them.’

Growing frustration about the failings of the IOPC coincided with the Black Lives Matter protests in the UK, part of the worldwide movement since the death of George Floyd. As a result, the United Families and Friends Campaign, a coalition of family and friends of people who died in state custody, of which Lisa Cole is a member, drew up a plan calling for the abolition of the IOPC, amid concerns that it is not truly independent, and for the immediate suspension of police officers implicated in deaths until investigations are concluded.

The paradox: increasing Taser usage

Despite the deaths caused by Tasers, evidence of racially disproportionate use, and the severe lack of research on their physical and psychological impacts, in September 2019 the government announced that it would be spending £10 million on arming 10,000 more police officers across England and Wales with Tasers. This is cause for great concern, as the use of Tasers increased by 39 percent in 2019 alone as more officers were equipped with them.

Image of taser used by UK Police

The government’s mass Taser roll-out plan has been widely condemned by rights groups. Rosalind Comyn, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, drew attention to how greater Taser usage will drastically change the nature of policing, stating that the increase ‘risks escalating, rather than reducing, violence on our streets and will further corrode the fractured relationship between police and the communities they serve.’ This point is highlighted by a 2018 study which demonstrates that police officers carrying Tasers are causally linked to a 48 percent increase in the use of force. In this vein, many groups, such as Liberty, Amnesty International UK and StopWatch, have highlighted the need to limit Taser usage to ‘highly-trained specialist officers’ and ‘critical situations’.

Rights groups, academics and family campaigns have also questioned the government’s decision to allocate £10 million to a Taser roll-out scheme as they argue the money could be better spent investing in oft-neglected areas such as health, education and housing services of vulnerable communities. Speaking through the concept of defunding the police, Rebekah Delsol, Lisa Cole and Deborah Coles all emphasised that spending £10 million on a Taser roll-out scheme will further perpetuate violence within deprived and BME communities, whilst investing holistically in those communities would address the underlying causes of violence, thus reducing it.

Towards change?

Responding to the recent spate of Taser deployment against black men and mounting pressure from rights groups and the Black Lives Matter movement, on 12 June the National Police Chiefs Council announced that it will commission an independent review into racially disproportionate Taser usage. Whilst an independent review may signify a step in the right direction for some, there is still a great deal of doubt amongst the family members of those who died in police custody. Lisa Cole voiced her mistrust, questioning how independent the researcher appointed would be, saying, ‘Anybody who says they’re independent and working on behalf of investigating the police or independent reviews, we seriously question. How independent are they?’  Deborah Coles added that it is imperative that the chosen researcher in any review consults the families of those who have died or suffered lasting injuries after being tasered, in order to understand and address their concerns.

‘End Taser Torture’ campaign

Moreover, mirroring David Lammy’s recent call to implement changes recommended by Angiolini, Baroness McGregor-Smith, Lammy’s own and the Home Office Windrush Review to tackle structural racism in the UK, Lisa Cole stressed that beyond reviewing disproportionate use of Tasers, it is absolutely crucial that the recommendations are implemented. To this effect, the families of Marc Cole and Adrian McDonald started an ‘End Taser Torture’ campaign in June 2020 to demand the enactment of policy changes, such as the prohibition of ‘prolonged and multiple Taser Electrocution’ on vulnerable persons and the complete revision of police Taser training. In an interview, Wayne McDonald, brother of Adrian McDonald, also stated that the police should seek medical assistance immediately for anyone tasered longer than five seconds. This is absolutely critical for Wayne McDonald, as Adrian was tasered for 25 seconds according to his family, and died in the back of a police van unattended to, begging for assistance whilst saying ‘I can’t breathe’.

Reflecting on the views of researchers, family members and campaigners who talked to IRR News, it is clear that disproportionality is not the only issue related to Taser usage. In and of itself, it is evidently a problematic feature of British policing that unequivocally necessitates further scrutiny and immediate systemic change. Taking a step further, Resistance Lab and Northern Police Monitoring Project have expressed their support for abolishing Tasers altogether, citing their lethality and ‘an ever-growing body of evidence that the police simply cannot be trusted with such power, particularly where Black and Brown communities are concerned’.[3] If no action is taken, then it is inevitable that the incidence of Taser-induced injuries, deaths and trauma will rise. In the words of Wayne McDonald, ‘We have to do something, and now is our time’.

Justice for Rooble Warsame

Tue, 07/14/2020 - 07:14

A campaign is launched to demand justice following the death of Rooble Warsame in a local police station in Schweinfurt, Germany in February 2019. 

On the evening of 25 February 2019, 22-year-old Rooble Warsame was arrested and taken to a local police station in Schweinfurt, Germany. Within a few hours, he was declared dead.

Rooble was seeking asylum in Schweinfurt, Bavaria, living in bleak conditions at an Anchor centre, collective accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees.[1] Bavaria is a conservative region of Germany which has seen an increase in far-right and anti-immigrant sentiment in recent years. Before his death, Rooble experienced racism frequently as a young Black refugee from Somalia. Having learnt to speak German at an immigration detention centre in Austria, Rooble would always stand up for himself and wouldn’t hesitate to confront people who were racially targeting him.

Details are missing from the period of police custody, but a few hours later, police declared that Rooble had committed suicide in his cell. Suspicion has arisen due to the extreme unlikelihood of Rooble acting in this way after two hours in a police cell, but also at the police’s reluctance to cooperate with his grieving family, and the fact that the man Rooble was arrested with (possibly the only witness to Rooble’s death except the police officers themselves) has been missing for over a year. Police released him the day after, not considering him a witness to Rooble’s death, and failed to keep track of his whereabouts. The investigating agency (Staatsanwaltschaft) also failed — willingly or unwillingly — to record whether they investigated potential witnesses or not.

Initially, the police did not grant Rooble’s family access to see the cell where he died, and they were only permitted after persistent calls and demands. The Chief Officer claimed that Rooble used the cell bars to hang himself, but was unable to provide further explanation or evidence of the material that he would have used to do this. Rooble was given a relatively thick blanket, which police claim he tore to prepare a noose. However, the family says the bars were not strong enough to take the entire weight of a person. Rooble’s cousin Mohammad Yassin, who visited the cell, recalls: ‘The cell was two [by] four metres long. We searched everything. It is not possible to commit suicide in this space. Unless one continuously bangs one’s head against the wall, or strangles themselves with their own hands. There were no [things] in the room…no hook, no rope, no opening to attach anything to.’ These call to mind the circumstances around the death of Oury Jalloh in 2005 and Amad Ahmad in 2018, both in German police custody.[2] Authorities claim Jalloh set himself on fire, despite having his wrists and ankles chained to a bed in a holding cell, and Ahmad is alleged to have set his own cell on fire, despite a report commissioned by the ARD television program Monitor stating this as highly questionable.

Rooble Warsame

Mohammad Yassin also recalls that the police did not expect Rooble to know his rights, or for anyone to file a complaint against them. They refused to cooperate until the family had legal assistance. The family say that the police were eager to cremate Roobles’ body as soon as possible, only prevented by the mosque community who insisted on giving Rooble an Islamic burial in the presence of family and friends. Those who saw Roobles’ body before he was washed by the Imam claim they saw horrific injuries, clearly indicating a struggle rather than a suicide. He was, they say, covered in fresh wounds, nail scratches, a knee injury, and no marks indicating self-strangulation.

Uniformed and non-uniformed police officers were present on the day of the burial, but the reason for this is unclear. Police surveillance of campaigners, a premature conclusion of investigations, systematic cover ups and the ruling of deaths as suicides despite clear indications to the contrary are frequent in such cases, as seen not only in the campaign for Oury Jalloh, Amad Ahmad and Adel. B, but also in the case of Yayya Jabbi, and many more. The Deaths in Custody Campaign has researched 159 cases of deaths in custody at the hands of the police, in state ‘care’ facilities, or due to negligence and misconduct in Germany between 1990 and 2020. Their research shows that Black people and people of colour are disproportionately at risk of death at the hands of the state.

Rooble’s family and friends are convinced that he did not commit suicide; he was in close and consistent contact with his family, and never expressed any suicidal ideation. The autopsy does not rule out murder, and officers have failed to provide evidence of how one would commit suicide in the way they claim Rooble did. Despite this, the public prosecutor’s department decided not to pursue charges against anyone involved, ruling his death as a suicide. The family’s lawyer has appealed, demanding the investigation be kept open, but this has been obstructed by the initial autopsy which states that suicide is a ‘possibility’.

The Justice For Rooble Campaign, led by his family, demands that:

  1. The truth behind Rooble Warsame’s death be exposed to the public and never forgotten;
  2. The missing witness be located, his accounts included in the investigations, and his safety and legal status protected;
  3. The case is kept open, and police officers involved in Rooble’s death stand a fair trial.

To support and stay up to date on the campaign, please follow @Justice4Rooble and @Justice4RoobleDE (for the German page) on Twitter. We will soon be launching a crowdfunding campaign for an independent autopsy into Rooble’s death, and a petition to put pressure on the Bavarian government to continue investigating the case and reveal the truth.

‘I’m from St Raphael’s estate’: an interview with George the Poet

Fri, 07/10/2020 - 03:07

IRR’s Jessica Perera continues her examination of the human cost of estate regeneration by talking about pride and potential with a north-west London poet.

George Mpanga is a London-born spoken-word poet and host of the award-winning ‘Have you heard George’s Podcast?’ If you have not yet discovered the podcast, you might be more familiar with its accompanying advertising posters: ‘it’s hard to listen when you’ve never been heard’ that are dotted across the capital. Concerned that his community on the housing estate he grew up on, St Raphael’s in the north-west London borough of Brent, would not be heard during the current regeneration consultation, George recorded a poem explaining the fears the community had regarding the redevelopment plans.

The interview took place before the coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, both of which George has commented on elsewhere. However, with recent policing of ‘block parties’ on estates in multicultural areas of London during the coronavirus lockdown, the interview has taken on a new meaning as we witness the type of community connection that George talks about. Though some parties may have broken social distancing rules, so too have Liverpool football fans and sun-seekers flocking to beaches in their millions. The difference is the former comprise a section of society that is stigmatised and subjected to violent policing, beatings, arrests and fines according to their race, class and locale. While the latter, at the very most, get a slap on the wrist. While estates teem with excited youth, happy to be reunited with their family and friends, many of whom they live close to but have been unable to see, their wrists remain exposed to cuffs.

Jessica Perera: Can you tell me about what’s happening with regards to the regeneration of St Raphael’s estate, where you grew up?

George the Poet: Brent council decided in November 2018 that St Raph’s required regenerating for a few reasons. One is that there is a lot of overcrowding and apparently the estate, as it currently stands, does not maximise the land available for residential accommodation. But, another reason is that a redesigned estate could, it has been suggested, better deter ‘social challenges’ like ‘gang’ activity and crime. The argument is that an estate with better facilities would help St Raph’s residents who struggle with unemployment and low educational attainment.

JP: In a nutshell, Brent council want to ‘design out’ the ‘social challenges’ faced by the community at St Raphael’s?

George: Some people on the estate are opposed to the idea of regeneration. There’s a lot of suspicion. We haven’t always had the greatest relationship with the council; we are largely from ethnic minority communities and have often felt powerless when it comes to engaging with the state. Some are curious about the plans, however, and are interested in what opportunities regeneration might bring. But ultimately the community want to be consulted by the council and architects. But we’re figuring it out, there is a mixture of tenures; the majority of residents are council tenants, but there’s a minority of homeowners.

JP: Brent has the second highest rate of housing overcrowding in London. This is a huge issue for families and also the council, which needs to build a lot more housing to support working-class people. We hear shocking stories from communities across the capital who are often promised the social housing they need through regeneration, but later find out they will be displaced. Do you think St Raph’s could turn into another exclusionary regeneration project?

George: There is always the possibility of exclusion when the people most affected by these decisions are not sufficiently engaged in the decision-making process. At the moment, while Brent council has assured us that it will seek maximum engagement and no one will, apparently, be moved on from their homes. I want greater reassurance that my community will be informed at every turn, that is why I wrote the poem.

JP: Sixty-five per cent of Brent’s population is black, Asian and minority ethnic and for one in five residents in the borough English is not the first language according to an official report. How do language barriers affect the flow of information from council to community?

George: It is a very real problem that bugs me. Some of the residents have been asking their children to translate during meetings, but when they are not around it makes full comprehension very difficult. This breeds insecurity and distrust in people.

Nico Hogg / Flickr ©

JP: What I loved about your poem George is your pride as you express your affection for the estate. For many who have never grown up on an estate, they can be seen as scary places, especially with all the negative media coverage. But we know they are really the only places left that any semblance of community exists. In the poem you say: ‘everywhere I go people wanna know why I’m like this, I tell them straight, I’m from St Raphael’s estate, and I say that with chest’. What does St Raph’s mean to you?

George: I went to a grammar school as a child, and I was very conscious at the time that I came from a council estate and the middle-class kids were obsessed with that fact. As I got older, I learned about outside stigma attached to council estate life, and at the same time, about the real problems facing my demographic, among a dispossessed and disillusioned group of young men in particular. It overshadowed my teen experience. Now that I am older, I am able to see my upbringing at St Raph’s gave me blessings that others may not recognise. I want to empower other people like me, who have a stigma attached to the area they’re from, to embrace the good in their neighbourhood.

JP: You also describe St Raph’s as your ‘thinking and breathing space’ and that you ‘could never really leave this place’. Those are profound words that resonate with me – my estate and area are imbued within me. And that is why I feel the regeneration of our estates and of our multicultural working-class communities is devastating. For people not from ‘the block’ it might be hard for them to understand estates are more than just concrete; they are spaces and places where ‘community’ is lived, where communal social reproduction flourishes.

George: Yes, I notice that more and more. Looking back on my youth, the way that we interacted and grew together as a community, it is not commonplace. To have residential areas that also have communal playing spaces, and where kids go to the same schools and make their own cultures parallel to the mainstream – that’s very special. And when you think about forms of music that emerged from these contexts, they have filled us with potential, enriched us and given many of us careers. Grime and other genres emerged off the block and have provided a platform for the inner-city experience. This wasn’t a government initiative and it wasn’t state supported, but because of the community that we had growing up we were able to generate a lot of opportunities from it and it has saved lives.

JP: In Sian Berry’s report into youth centre cuts in London, I noticed that Brent council had cut its funding between 2012/13 and 2018/19 by 15 per cent (Berry states that no new financial data has been provided by Brent council since). What effect do you think a decade of austerity has had on young people?

George: Life is hard for young people, but it’s hard for them to know what they’re missing. There’s been no example of fully functioning services in their lifetime. When I was younger there were so many play-schemes on weekends, in half-term and during the school holidays all run in local spaces like schools, sports centres and youth clubs. As an example, I used to attend a big project called the Brent Summer School, which kept me very busy, broadened my social group, and equipped me with new skills – it was a very positive experience that young people now are unable to access. But these experiences helped me to develop my interests – creative, technical or otherwise. And that was big man. Summers would have been very different without those services. Now that these council provisions have been removed, communities have to find new creative ways to keep our young people sufficiently engaged. But there is another problem, there are, generally, no designated spaces for young people to explore, learn and build. Working-class children and young people’s youth are not being protected, nurtured or honoured, and because of this they are being forced to grow up quickly. Because our parents are at work a lot of the time, our young people cannot be supervised inside or outside all day either. But we cannot rely on the government to help us, their budgetary trends indicate they will not find practical solutions to help us; we will have to change things for ourselves.

As frustrating as the situation is, with the removal of our protected spaces and the mischaracterisation of our youth in the media, we need to step-up in the absence of state support and ensure that the incoming generation of working-class youth are supported by us, by new social businesses that we create. In some respects, we need to let go of the idea that government has a sophisticated understanding or sufficient interest in working-class life and the challenges we face. We’re going to have to use our expertise on the ground, in our communities, even if we’re still developing our own skills and CVs. We must continue to create community on our own terms. Now, I’m not saying we should give up political campaigning altogether, but we must practice mutual aid in the meantime. We need all bases covered.

JP: A lot of my work focuses on how the 2011 rebellions, perceived by the political class as ‘crisis’, allowed the state to reshape the narrative on estate regeneration. The depiction of estates as ‘ghettos’, where ‘gangs’ operate, allows the state to win consent for renewal. In terms of Brent, home to many housing estates, has the depiction of particular areas as crime-ridden been used by councils and the state to initiate redevelopment plans? I noticed in your poem that Brent councillor Eleanor Southward explicitly states in the video that regenerating St Raph’s provides an opportunity to ‘design out crime’.

George: The government’s reaction to the ‘riots’ was absent of any economic analysis, because it is widely imagined as, and this phrase really irritates me, ‘senseless violence’. And similarly, every time a young person is murdered on the streets – which is obviously a tragedy that I’m sure so many young people would reverse if they could – the phrase ‘senseless violence’ is thrown around.

The idea, that crime and community trauma perpetuated by young people is ‘senseless’, is insidious, because it feeds into the idea that there is no logic to these people’s problems. But the logic is profoundly economic. When I was younger, I was offended and felt bitter about some of the things I had witnessed and gone through on the estate; I didn’t know how to understand it – we have a lot of frustrated, abandoned young people. In order to understand the true complexity of these issues we need to move past clickbait headlines and ask commentators to really scrutinise what is happening in people’s lives.

Those that talk about ‘designing out crime’, ‘gang activity’, ‘senseless violence’ and ‘knife crime’ neglect context, in fact, it would seem they are not interested in context. But what it allows is this continued demonisation of a group in society that are excluded from these conversations. When you look at the prison population and specifically young offenders, in 2006 I think there were 2,831 young offenders in this country, by 2019 there were 894 – so that population has decreased by about two thirds. But why is it then, that the proportion of white young offenders has fallen by about 70 per cent, whereas in the same period the proportion of black young offenders has doubled at a time where there’s been a significant reduction. The media has a lot to answer for, why is it not interrogating these issues and conducting proper analysis? A lot of the issues that are most relevant to me and my community, the government and media ignore, unless it’s attached to a racy headline about us. We have young people killing each other on the streets and being imprisoned at an alarming rate, and the government’s response is Chicken Shop box campaign, that tells you a lot.