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Metropolitan Police roadshow crashes in Brixton

By Jeremy Dewar
On a windswept, rainy Thursday night on 11 February, around 40-50 people gathered in front of Lambeth Town Hall to voice their opposition to the police.
The all-white panel, lecturing Brixton residents on "community confidence"

The all-white panel, lecturing Brixton residents on “community confidence”

The occasion was the “consultation” exercise run jointly by the London Mayor’s Office and the Met, which is touring all 32 London boroughs: MOPAC.

Left Unity’s mobilising leaflet made three demands on the police:

• An end to deaths at the hands of the police

• An end to harassment of local people through the use of stop and search and “safety advice”

• No more criminalisation of protest.

If the lobby outside, called jointly by Lambeth LU, Defend the Right to Protest, Brixton Black Revolutionary Socialists, London Campaign against Police and State Violence and Brixton Rebels, was a success, then what followed inside the Town Hall surpassed it.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Greenhalgh kicked off the meeting, explaining that their aim was to cut crime by 20 per cent and increase public confidence by 20 per cent. He was followed by fellow panellists, Met Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmonds, and the departing Lambeth Chief Superintendant, Matt Bell.

But if the top table were encouraged by the polite silence that greeted their presentations, the first question soon disillusioned them about their “welcome”. It proved the lull before the storm.

“Why did the Met spend so much money to smear the family of Stephen Lawrence?” asked a young black man. Simmonds struggled to answer, “Can’t say much right now… allegations… wait for the review…” He was loudly heckled for his evasiveness – after all, the story broke because a former undercover cop from the “Special Demonstrations” squad admitted his role in the disgusting affair.

Worse was to follow for the cops, when a woman from Lambeth independent Custody Visitors harangued them for drastically cutting the number of volunteer visitors, who monitor the care of those in custody, from 40 to nine. They are only allowed to visit once a week – to cover a total of 40 cells! – and were waiting for three months to get a response to their questions and concerns.

Next up was another woman asking why there were hundreds of wrongfully convicted teenagers languishing in jail, under the misuse of a 300 year old law of “Joint Enterprise”, little used until 10 years ago. Essentially, this is used to bang away any young person who happens to be close to a crime scene. Some innocent bystanders have been handed 20 year sentences as a result.

The sister ended her contribution by stating what many of us were thinking: “There have been 1,433 deaths in custody since 1990, yet not one conviction. Why?”

The pathetic answers to both sets of questions were evasive and untruthful – even denying there had been any “deaths after contact with the police” since 2010. Mark Duggan? Calls of “Police executioners” rang out. Council leader Lib Peck had difficulty keeping order.

Next up was Lee Jasper, who reeled off a list of statistics proving the police are still institutionally racist; black people are “50% more likely to be charged if caught with cannabis, 70% if caught with cocaine, more likely to be injured during arrest…” then Jasper broke off to point to Greenhalgh – “He’s reading something – let’s hope it’s Frantz Fanon!” The hall burst into laughter, followed swiftly by the first of three spontaneous renditions of, “No justice, no peace! Fuck the police!”

Jasper ended with asking why the Mayor and the Met thought it acceptable to come to Brixton asking for more confidence with an all-white top table. Greenhalgh’s response defied satire. He cited the recruitment of thousands of new officers, “some of whom were black or ethnic minority”, he shouted above the howls of derision: “there is no finer thing you can do as a Londoner than to become a police officer!” More laughter.

More piercing questions and contributions followed. A black man who feared for his life during a “hard stop” in which he was called “black scum” asked, “Why did a police officer who lied about an MP gets a year in jail, but after a million lies about black people, no policeman ever goes to jail?” Someone asked why Carol Duggan’s house was burgled but only her laptop was taken? Another, why homeless people were being criminalised?

Fittingly, the last word went to a young woman, who asked why the only time black people receive a hearing from the police was when there has been a death in custody. While the microphone was handed to the Deputy Mayor for summing up, no one could hear him above the heckles.

Lambeth Left Unity took a bold step in calling for this protest. Without submitting to the reformism of Lee Jasper and his friends, who fawned in front of departing Brixton chief of police, Matt Bell (and remained silent about former mayor Ken Livingston’s record in office), or the sectarian International Bolshevik Tendency, who stayed outside in fear of “sowing illusions in Mayor Boris Johnson”, we placed clear demands on the police while joining in the community’s defiant display of anger at them.

MOPAC – mo’ anger! Let’s lobby the remaining 32 boroughs!

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