Justice for Sheku Bayoh campaign launch
July 30, 2015 — Comment
Written by Harmit Athwal
At the event organised by Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), a press conference was held, followed by a conference with the families of those who have also lost loved ones through a death in police custody.
On arrival, photographers and TV cameramen were lined up outside the venue, which was an unusual sight for anyone who has attended such press conferences in England. And over 150 people packed the venue in central Glasgow – shocked into action by Bayoh’s death.
The lawyer for Bayoh’s family, Aamer Anwar, made the opening speech and laid out the details of the death known so far:
‘I never knew Sheku Bayoh, he wasn’t a rich or a powerful man but what I have learned in the twelve weeks since his death is that he had a stubborn family, who love him a great deal, three sisters, his mother, brother-in-law Adie, and his partner Colette who all refuse to be bullied, lied to or silenced. Six-month-old son Isaac and 4-year-old Tyler will never see their father Sheku again. Sheku Bayoh was a well-liked, healthy young man, a trainee gas engineer who at the age of 31 had no previous history of violence. He moved to Kirkcaldy when he was 17 to live with his sister Kadi.
On Sunday the 3rd May, he left home sometime between 7 and 7.15am and walked an approximate distance of half a mile down to Hayfield Road. The family were told that police officers who were in the midst of a shift change at Kirkcaldy Police Office responded to an alert following calls from members of the public that a black man was walking down the street brandishing a large knife. Two police vans, three marked police cars and one unmarked car went to the scene and a minimum of nine uniformed police officers attended along with two CID. We understand that three male police officers and one female officer arrived in two separate vans and engaged with Sheku. Within 45 seconds Sheku Bayoh was face down on the pavement never to get up again …
In the last eleven weeks there has been a deliberate attempt to paint disturbing images of violence – ascribing repeatedly to a large 6 foot plus man, with stereotypical characteristics of superhuman strength and dangerousness in a deliberate attempt to blame Sheku for his own death.
All journalists have been briefed off the record about toxicology, some journalists present today were even briefed about Sheku having been involved in genocide in Sierra Leone having arrived a few years ago except he didn’t, he came to the UK when he was a 14-year-old boy.
The character assassination and rumours are nothing new, but a standard tactic adopted by sections of the police in many deaths in custodies. Sheku’s family know his behaviour that morning was completely out of character but they also know that he had no previous history of violence.
It has repeatedly been claimed that a 6ft plus male was brandishing a knife at the police and the media was told early that morning a police officer had been stabbed. The family now know as fact that when the police arrived Sheku was carrying no knife, never threatened them with a knife, nor was one ever found on him.
The family have heard much about Sheku’s actions but little about what the police did when they arrived. The family believe “negative imagery” has deliberately been used to enforce an image of “mad” and “dangerous” man. None of this has been helpful in searching for the truth.
The family have known for weeks that the first actions of the police officers on meeting Sheku was to use CS spray, Pava spray (a form of pepper spray) and raise their batons.
The family of Sheku Bayoh want the Chief Constable Stephen House to explain to them why his police officers believed that Sheku was a terrorist threat and whether that had any role to play in his subsequent treatment.’ (You can read Aamer Anwar’s speech in full here.)
Anwar’s speech was followed by a few words from Kadi, Sheku’s sister and Ade, his brother-in-law. Deborah Coles from INQUEST shared her experiences of dealing with the official bodies and authorities after such deaths.
Moving speeches also came later, from Janet Alder (sister of Christopher Alder who died in April 1999), Marcia Rigg (sister of Sean Rigg who died in July 2008) and Saqib Deshmukh from the Justice for Habib ‘Paps’ Ullah campaign (Habib died in July 2008). They shared their experiences and their long campaigns for accountability. There were also calls for the Sheku Bayoh family to join the annual United Families and Friends Campaign deaths in custody remembrance march in October this year (or to hold a simultaneous demonstration in Scotland).
Numerous people from Kirkcaldy spoke to share their condolences with Bayoh’s family and to promise their support. At the end of the day, one of the attendees gave a brave impromptu acapella performance of a song: ‘Truth and justice for Sheku Bayoh!‘ and soon had the audience singing along and stamping their feet. The song visibly moved Sheku’s family and all those present.
IRR News: Spinning the death of Sheku Bayoh
IRR News: Sixteen years of marching
IRR News: Deaths in custody news round-up
IRR report on BAME deaths in custody: Dying for Justice
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.