There was a phenomenal turnout in Liverpool on Saturday as up to 1000 people came out to show their solidarity with the family of Mzee Mohammed – demanding truth and justice with regards to his death in police custody last Wednesday.
Mzee’s family led the march chanting “Justice for Mzee” and “Black Lives Matter”. The love and affection felt for the “l8 solja” was visible in the huge numbers of friends attending the march and the moving testimonies shared at the spot where Mzee had lain collapsed, surrounded by police on the floor. “We want to know minute by minute everything that happened” said the family “and we want to know why he was taken from us.”
On Wednesday 13 July Mzee had said good-bye to his mom, Karla, as he left home to go into the city centre. She was later to hear on the news that a young man had died in police custody in Liverpool but was not informed until 2am by the police that the young man was her son.
Footage taken by a member of the public has since emerged showing Mzee lying face down, handcuffed and unresponsive while surrounded by police officers, dogs and cars.
So why did a fit healthy young man end up dead after what police describe as a “medical episode” while in their custody? Why were so many police officers (with dogs) along with six police cars deployed to deal with one Black teenager? Why was Mzee left in handcuffed as lay there un-responsive, attended to by paramedics and carried on a stretcher?
And why, once again, was a mother not informed immediately of the news that her son (whose identity was known by the police) had died?
The family has urged anyone who witnessed anything to come forward.
Over the last week Black Lives Matter solidarity protests have taken place all over the UK and if there’s anything to take from the events of the past week it’s this: #BlackLivesMatter is as relevant here as it is in the U.S.
Speaking at a London March for Mzee on Sunday a family friend told the crowds: “I won’t keep calm, I have a Black son, this cannot happen in today’s society, let’s stand and unite for Black Lives Matter.”
During the five hour march, protesters stopped traffic – leading to long tail backs on major roads – telling passers-by about Mzee and the need to support our call for justice.
The march also stopped outside the IPCC, CPS and Royal Courts of Justice and News Corp HQ: institutions that have a long history of failed investigations, refusals to prosecute, flawed trials and complicity in racist narratives which blame the victims of custody deaths before their loved ones have even had chance to bury them.
Speaking outside of the IPCC, Marcia Rigg whose brother died while surrounded by police at Brixton police station said: “The IPCC – families have not been able to depend on. The IPCC is a governmental organisation and ex-police officers are usually the ones fronting the investigation and there’s no independence in that.”
Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett then spoke about the horrific death of her twin brother Leon Patterson outside the Royal Courts of Justice. These are the courts where an Inquest Jury concluded that Mark Dugan had been “lawfully killed” despite being unarmed when he was shot dead by police.
Leon was killed in Stockport police station 24 years ago this November. “He was so badly beaten I didn’t recognise him” said Stephanie. “His knee caps were on the side of his legs, he had truncheon marks all down his body and the tips of his toes and nose were missing.” The police claimed Leon’s injuries were self-inflicted.
At every stop people talked about the many Black people who have died in police custody in the UK. Joy Gardner who was shackled and suffocated to death after 13 feet of tape wrapped around her head by police and immigration officials in 1993. Christopher Alder who died on the floor of Hull police station police made monkey noises in 1998. Cynthia Jarret who collapsed and died of heart failure during a police raid in 1985. Sheku Bayo who died after being restrained by four officers and subjected to CS gas and pepper spray in 2015. These and many other individuals; the brutality inflicted on them by the police and the struggles for justice waged in their name must become part of our collective memory, especially at this time.
Speaking at the end of the march in Liverpool, Karla told the crowds: “my son will not be a number, he won’t be a statistic, my son’s death will not be in vain. I will not rest, I will walk in my son’s shoes until I get answers, and anyone who had a hand in my boy’s death will be brought to justice.”
It is enraging and heartbreaking that another young Black life has been taken in a week where so many have taken to the streets to assert and demand that Black Lives Matter. In the coming days, weeks and months we must all show we are standing shoulder to shoulder with Mzee’s family in their determination to get justice for a son, brother, cousin, nephew and friend who went out to the shops and never came home.
Aadam Muuse is NUS Black Students Officer
Hannah Dee is Chair of Defend the Right to Protest
If you’d like to support the family, one way you can do that is to contribute to the family’s funeral fund
The United Families and Friends Campaign is having their annual memorial procession this year on Saturday 29 October 2016, in central London. See the Facebook event page.