No Justice over Ricky Bishop

Rocky Bishop is just one of the 1,619 people have died while in contact with the police, whether in custody, being pursued, or shot since 1990 – around one every six days on average.

Of course not every one of those is a result of police actions; a few will have died of natural causes, some may have taken their own lives, but the great majority of them are previously healthy people who have been killed, some accidentally but others deliberately by the actions of police. It’s hard to know how many we should describe as manslaughter and what fraction as murder, but a very large number died as a result of actions that had they been carried out by a member of the public would have resulted in convictions.

But, as you may know, and as certainly many of us at the sixth anniversary of the shooting by police of Mark Duggan did know, not a single police officer has been convicted of any crime for these many deaths.

Whenever someone dies at the hands of the police, the first reaction is always to cover up. Police deliberately spread false rumours about the victim – he was a drug dealer, he choked swallowing a package of drugs, he was carrying a gun, he was a dangerous criminal, a gang leader…. And the papers and media broadcast these falsities, creating an atmosphere where the public believes the victim had it coming to him.

One of the most blatant cases was that of an innocent Brazilian electrician, catching the tube on his way to work, gunned down as he sat quietly in the carriage at Stockwell Station. A few days ago it was Rashan Charles, where police spread the lie he was a drug dealer and swallowing drugs. As so often, once the idea had been firmly lodged in the public mind, they issued a correction, which got much less publicity.

Not only this, there is seldom if ever a proper investigation. If we were a suspect in a possible murder or manslaughter case we would be questioned at length, almost certainly arrested and statements taken, but after these lethal incidents occur there seldom seems to be any proper inquiry. Often we find the officers involved have not been questioned days or weeks after the event.

Doreen Jjuko, Ricky Bishop’s mother holds white roses

Sixteen years after her son Ricky Bishop died in Brixton police station, Doreen Jjuko is still calling for justice. He was in a car stopped by police who searched him but found no drugs, and taken to Brixton police station, though not arrested. Four hours later he was dead. The judge at his inquest denied the jury the possibility of a verdict of manslaughter and brought in a verdict of death by misadventure.

Sister Unity had also brought flowers in memory of Ricky Bishop

His family are convinced the 12 officers concerned are guilty of murder, and as they marched through the centre of Brixton they and their supporters shouted out ‘Who Killed Ricky Bishop?‘ with the answer ‘Police killed Ricky Bishop!’ and going on to name each of the 12 officers, calling them murderers.

The march went very slowly along Brixton’s main street, stopping for some minutes in front of Brixton’s busy Underground station, blocking one lane of the road, but getting their message across to those in the busy street. A police car with two officers drew up beside the march, blocking the second lane – and thus the whole of the north-bound traffic, and the officers got out to tell the marchers they were obstructing the highway and putting themselves in danger, trying to persuade them to leave the road and walk along the pavement.

It seemed an act of senseless naivety, but the protesters were surprisingly polite in their refusals, simply telling the police that if they stopped murdering people they arrested and investigated crimes by fellow officers properly they would not be marching, but otherwise they ignored them and carried on their slow march to Brixton Police Station for a rally at the tree outside, which they call the ‘lynching tree’.

This tree was for some years adopted by the community as a memorial to those killed at Brixton Police Station, with pictures and tributes to Ricky Bishop, Sean Rigg and others. But when police knew that all the family members would be at the annual United Families and Friends march in Whitehall on October 31st 2015, police stripped the tree and have kept it bare since. Their action showed an appalling disregard for community relations, disgusting many.

Rhonda, Ricky Bishop’s sister tapes the flowers to the memorial tree

There were speeches and Sister Unity performed her poem ‘The Lynching Tree Down Brixton Way‘ which she wrote after hearing an interview with Doreen Bishop in 2004, and then there was a silence and candles were lit in memory of Ricky. Had he lived he would now be 41, the same age as my elder son.

Doubtless soon after the vigil ended, the police would come out and remove the flowers, the pictures and the candles. At least I hope they at least waited until the vigil had ended, but I had to leave shortly before.


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