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Deaths in custody: memorial procession

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UFFC, memorial procession, deaths in custody, Join the memorial procession leaving Trafalgar Square at 12 noon on 29 October 2016.

The fight against state violence, police brutality and deaths in custody is, among other things, undoubtedly a feminist issue.

For – among other things – when state violence kills, it is so often mothers, sisters and aunts who are left behind to fight for justice.

The United Families and Friends Campaign is a coalition of those affected by deaths in police, prison and psychiatric custody in the UK, and supports others in similar situations.

And on 29 October at 12 noon members of the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) and their friends and supporters will make their annual memorial procession through the streets of London.

Established in 1997 initially as a network of Black families, over recent years the group has expanded and now includes the families and friends of people from varied ethnicities who have also died in custody.

The campaign is calling for:

Prison deaths to be subject to a system of properly funded investigation that is completely independent of the Prison Service;

Officers involved in custody deaths to be suspended until investigations are completed;

Prosecutions to automatically follow ‘unlawful killing’ verdicts;

Police forces to be made accountable to the communities they serve;

Legal Aid and full disclosure of information to be made available to the relatives of victims; and

Officers responsible for deaths to face criminal charges, even if retired.

On 29 October, as every day, the  UFFC procession remembers friends and family members who lost their lives at the hands of the state: inside prison cells, at the hands of the British police, or in the living rooms of their own homes.

Police brutality particularly affects men of colour, especially black men, in the UK and worldwide.

And state violence often falls on the shoulders of our most vulnerable and oppressed men; migrants, or those with mental health issues or learning disabilities.

Men like Sean Rigg, who was killed by violent police in 2008 instead of receiving the mental health support he desperately needed.

But black women and women of colour are killed by the police too.

Women like Joy Gardner a 40 year-old Jamaican student, who in 1993 was gagged and bound with 13 feet of tape in the living room of her home by the Metropolitan police who were trying to deport her. She died from her injuries.

No police officers ever went to prison for her murder.

If we stay silent when women like Joy Gardner are killed, we are saying that it is acceptable to use violence and extreme force to protect our borders and enforce immigration control.

And as feminists, we must not ignore the violence perpetrated by our prison system.

More than 53 per cent of women in our prisons were abused as children and up to 80 per cent are survivors of domestic violence.

Suicide in women’s prisons has risen 28 per cent in the last year alone.

The rise in suicide is tragically unsurprising when vulnerable women face increasingly heavier criminal penalties for minor crimes committed for sheer survival.

Self-inflicted deaths in prison are the result of a violent state that ignores abuse inside and outside of our prisons and fails to offer people the support they need.

And women in prison are 5 times more likely to have mental health problems than women outside.

Women like Sarah Reed, who in January this year, at only 34 years old, died in Holloway Prison following a catalogue of violent failures and indignities by police, prison staff and mental health services.

Sarah Reed needed kindness, support and compassion and instead she was ignored, bullied and deprived of the medical care she needed to survive.

If we stay silent when black women like Sarah Reed are killed we legitimise racist, sexist violence as a means of controlling mental health.

If we stay silent when survivors of abuse are left to suffer and die in our prisons then it should be no surprise when the government continues to cut the vital specialist services we need to survive.

When state violence kills, it is so often mothers, sisters and aunts who are left behind to fight for justice.

And so the march on 29 October is also to honour and support the incredible work of women like Marcia Rigg, Carol Duggan, Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett, Janet Alder and Sheila Sylvester in their powerful fight for truth.

The UFFC’s annual procession is supported by 4WardEver, Migrant Media, INQUEST, BirminghamStrong Justice 4 All, Tottenham Rights, the London Campaign Against Police & State Violence, LARAG, Newham Monitoring Project (NMP), the Pan African Society Community Forum, Defend the Right to Protest, Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA), Institute of Race Relations, Edge Fund, UNISON, RMT, FBU, UNITE, and UCU.

Join the UFFC memorial procession leaving Trafalgar Square at 12 noon on 29 October 2016.

The hashtag for the event on Twitter is #UFFC18

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