In a step towards developing a "global conversation" on deaths in custody sparked by recent high profile cases in the UK and internationally, family members of those who have died in British police and state custody have joined #BlackLivesMatter campaigners in California for the UK-US Justice Tour 2015 which began last weekend.
This follows on from the Ferguson UK Solidarity Tour this February when #BlackLivesMatter co-founder, Patrisse Cullors, joined deaths-in-custody justice campaigns from the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) on a speaker tour across the UK.
In comparing the British experience to that of the United States, Patrisse commented that, "Britain has done a great job painting itself as the humanitarian, with the U.S. being the torturer. But that is not true." She added that, "the similarities between the UK and the USA is that both of our countries are invested in racism...the same thing is dealt to victims of police and state violence - which is no accountability."
Whilst the UK has managed to evade the international gaze now poised Stateside following cases like those of Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray, the police and state forces of Britain are far from guiltless. Since 1969, over 4,800 people have died in custody in just England and Wales, with 0 convictions.
It's impossible not to mention the heavily racialised nature of police brutality in Britain, as is the case in the USA. Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) people constitute a disproportionate number of those killed in custody, as well as being between 2 and 6 times more likely to be stop and searched than their white counterparts.
The deadly consequences of racial profiling by the police are made apparent by the example of London, where one-third of the 249 deaths in Metropolitan Police custody have been BME. The excessive force used against these groups is justified through classic tropes of the Black threat; the apparent inhuman strength of the Black men in custody, or the danger that ordinary Black and Brown people seem to naturally pose to trained police officers.
As the tour has made stops across California, the many similarities continue to be drawn out. Last Sunday in Sacramento, the case of Bobby Henning, murdered by police during an episode of ill mental health, recalled the fate of Sean Rigg and Kingsley Burrell, both Black men killed in British state custody suffering from mental health issues.
British cases of police brutality may seem to lack the spectacular violence of their US counterparts, often explained away by the fact that UK police don't generally carry arms. Although this clearly didn't save Mark Duggan, executed by police gunfire in 2011, finding cases outwardly similar to those like Michael Brown, gunned down with his dead body left exposed in the street for hours, are more scarce in the UK.
But drawing this comparison alone ignores the violent and often morbid manner in which police brutality here is carried out, often behind closed doors: necks broken; restrained to the point of suffocation; battered and left to die on cell floors; alleged 'suicides' carried out while handcuffed in physically impossible feats.
These are all stories and experiences shared by the UFFC campaigns including those travelling on the delegation this week, among them: Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett, sister of Leon Patterson who was found dead in a Stockport police cell in 1992, Shaun Hall, brother of Mark Duggan, Kedisha Burrell-Brown, sister of Kingsley Burrell and Marcia Rigg, the sister of Sean Rigg.
(Photo credit: Brooke Anderson)
Joining the UFFC families on the tour are members of the NUS Black Students' Campaign and Defend the Right to Protest, with the aim of building alliances, showing support and discussing ways to remedying the epidemic of police violence at an international level.
The tour runs until October 10 and stops will include various cities in California including Oakland, home of the Black Panther Party for Self Defence - founded 49 years ago this month - Sacramento, Fresno and Los Angeles.
Malia Bouattia, NUS Black Students Officer, said: "The violence of the state has been waged against Black people in the UK for decades under various agendas; Black students are by no means insulated from this violence, nor can we isolate their experience as students from the wider Black experience in Britain."
"It is for this reason that the Black Students' Campaign campaigns against Black deaths in custody and are drawing together with organisations like UFFC and Defend the Right to Protest to take this issue global, because until we draw together the similarities in these struggles, Black communities will be condemned to suffer alike but organise alone."
For more information about the Tour, visit: http://fergusonsolidaritytour.com/