Mzee Mohammed’s death in police custody, just like my brother’s, shows that Black Lives Matter isn’t just a US issue

Sean Rigg, Joy Gardner, Cynthia Jarrett, Roger Sylvester, Leon Patterson, Christopher Alder, Paps Ullah, Philmore Mills, Brian Douglas and many more have all died while in the custody of the British police

Marcia Rigg
Monday 18 July 2016 11:34 BST
A Black Lives Matter protest in the USA
A Black Lives Matter protest in the USA (Getty)

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Yet another black man has died whilst in police custody. Mzee Mohammed became “unwell” and died while being detained outside a shopping centre by security staff and police in Liverpool. We do not yet know the cause of his death, but questions are being raised as to whether his name will be added to the 142 BAME deaths that have occurred in British police custody since 1993. As someone who lost their brother whilst in police custody, I send my deepest condolences to his family.

My brother Sean died at Brixton police station in August 2008. He suffered with mental health issues and was extremely unwell when restrained in the “prone” position by four police officers using “unsuitable and excessive force” according to the inquest into his death. He was transported to Brixton station in a collapsed state where he later died on the floor, in a caged holding cell outside in the yard, surrounded by police officers who claimed they did not recognise his illness.

No words can describe the distress I felt seeing my brother die on camera; no duty of care was given when he so obviously needed medical attention. Sean was loved by many and needless to say by his family, and I have campaigned vigorously to find out the truth surrounding his death. Eight years later, we are still waiting for justice.

Thousands Join Black Lives Matter March in London

When people talk of Black Lives Matter, the names invoked are those of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown or, more recently, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. These African American men unjustly lost their lives at the hands of the police – but violence towards black people by law enforcement isn’t just an American issue. I’d like to add to that list of names. I’d like to add my brother’s name Sean Rigg, Joy Gardner, Cynthia Jarrett, Roger Sylvester, Leon Patterson, Christopher Alder, Paps Ullah, Philmore Mills, Brian Douglas and many more who have all died while in the custody of the British police. Investigations are also ongoing into the deaths of Sheku Bayoh, Osaleni Lewis, Leon Briggs and Adrian McDonald.

There are also the names of Jermaine Baker, Mark Duggan and Azelle Rodney who were shot by police. Older cases such as those of Colin Roach and Cherry Groce should be of serious concern to the public, especially as none of these loved ones were killed holding a gun at the time they were shot.

There have been 11 BAME deaths from police shootings since 1993 – that’s 18 per cent of the overall total. According to the 2014 UK census, the black community make up 3 per cent of the overall population. Of course people of all races are dying in the UK following contact with police officers, but if you look at recent and controversial cases of deaths occurring as a result of police actions or while in police custody, we can see the fact that victims are disproportionately black.

Furthermore, experiences of black people interacting with the police are as brutal as they are banal. Not only are black people killed by police, they are the targets of police stop and searches. They are 17 times more likely to be searched on suspicion of carrying illegal drugs, weapons or stolen property than their white counterparts.

This is why we urgently need to recognise that both British and American black lives matter. When we protest on the streets across our country we shout out the names of those who died at the hands of police in the US and now we want the world to be aware of the names of those who have died in the UK too, and for them to be remembered during this struggle. We need to build connections between those tragic deaths in the USA and the UK of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Freddy Gray and many more. Now is the time to build up solidarity for our families as part of an international Black Lives Matter movement.

Black Lives Matter is about showing the world that black people’s lives are just as important as any other. When black lives matter, all lives will matter. That is the world we want, where all lives truly matter.

Marcia Rigg is the sister of Sean Rigg, who died at the hands of Brixton police officers in August 2008 and co-chair of the United Families and Friends Campaign. This piece was amended from a blog post published by Defend the Right to Protest.

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