Get your guns off our streets

SACC Statement, Monday 15 August

Britain's police forces must get their guns off our streets. Police violence started this month's riots, but police forces across England are now using any excuse they can find to get their weapons out. Armed police threatened a group of children in Wythenshaw, Manchester on Saturday and one of them pointed his gun at a 15 year-old child. This is unacceptable and illegal. Greater Manchester's Chief Constable, Peter Fahy, should be sacked before he gets someone killed, and criminal charges should be considered against the officers involved.

Scotland has so far been unaffected by the disturbances in England. But we need assurances from Scottish police forces and the Scottish Government that firearms will not be produced on Scottish streets except in response to a direct, immediate and evident threat from a firearm or comparable lethal weapon. And we need assurances that in absolutely all circumstances police will ensure that they do not put the lives of children at risk.

The rioting in England took on extraordinary dimensions because these are extraordinary times. The world is enduring an economic crisis that world leaders either cannot or will not solve. But the riots, though shaped by the wider crisis, were made by police violence. They were the consequence of the killing of Mark Duggan by Metropolitan Police officers on 4 August, and the subsequent contempt shown by police to the victim's family and community. If the police hadn't shot Mark Duggan, not a single one of the incidents of rioting and looting that have occurred since then would have happened. If there had been the slightest prospect that the officers concerned would be held accountable under the law, the riots might still not have occurred. Everyone who has been harmed as a result of the riots needs to place the blame where it belongs - with the Metropolitan Police, and with a legal system that treats police as above the law.

The looting was in large part directed against the property of retail chains. But it also led to the death of three innocent Birmingham men - Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir. Birmingham has a recent history of tension between sections of its Asian and Afro-Carribean communities. Many people view the three deaths in the context of that tension. The risk of fresh conflict has so far been avoided thanks to the courage and wisdom of the victims' families. SACC offers them its sympathy and its respect and gratitude.

There are three steps the Government needs to take to prevent further riots.

  1. Police killings must stop.
  2. Police who kill and threaten must be held accountable under the law. The law doesn't give police a licence to kill or to irresponsibly brandish firearms. Prosecutors and courts shouldn't do so either.
  3. The Government must tackle the financial system that allows bankers and financiers to smash the livelihoods of millions, and must stop piling the burden of the economic crisis on the shoulders least able to bear it

The last of these steps is probably beyond David Cameron's paygrade. The first two steps could be taken right now. Even by themselves, they would go a very long towards preventing further disturbances and making Britain a better place.

There are also things that ordinary people can do. We must build solidarity between all communities. We must stand in the way of every action that divides us. We must try to speak openly, accurately and calmly about racism and communalism wherever they occur, because inter-communal hatred thrives on rumour and uncertainty. We must refuse to join the witch-hunt against people accused of minor offences, especially while police who are reasonably suspected of crimes of the utmost seriousness go uninvestigated. And we must show zero tolerance for police violence and intimidation. The riots were started by the police. They can't be used to justify further police violence.

Notes

The intimidation of children by police in Wythenshaw involved armed police taking action against a group of children that is reported to have included a child of 11. A photograph shows a police officer pointing a gun at a child reported to be 15 years old. Police initially denied pointing the gun at the child, saying the officer was merely "holding" the gun. In a apparent change of tack they later said that an officer is entitled to point his gun at a suspect if the threat is "sufficient."

The police say that were acting in response to a call from a member of the public who believed he had seen a gun being passed from one youth to another. It does not appear that any firearm was evident when police attended the scene, or that there was any obvious threat to the public or to police. A 17-year-old was later charged with possession of an imitation firearm in a public place while an 18-year-old received an adult caution for the same offence.

In SACC's view there can be no justification for police threatening people with guns solely on the basis of hearsay. In this case the police were also in breach of their duty of care towards children. They needlessly created a situation in which a rash action by a child could have resulted in his death, and they behaved in a way very likely to cause serious trauma to a number of other children. Police say their action was unconnected with the riots and was a "standard" response. We say their standards need to change.

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