Badreddin Abadlla Adam, an asylum-seeker from Sudan, used a knife to attack people at the Park Inn Hotel in Glasgow on Friday. He was then shot dead by police. Six other people were injured in the incident and were all taken to hospital. One of them was discharged from hospital on Tuesday. Four others were said to be "stable", and one was described as being in a "critical but stable" condition.
Two of the injured people were staff members at the hotel. Another - David Whyte - was a police officer. Three were asylum-seekers. Like Badreddin, they were living at the hotel having been forcibly transferred there by Home Office contractor Mears from the flats they had previously been living in. The move was a response to the pandemic and the Park Inn Hotel is just one of a number of Glasgow hotels being used as temporary accommodation for around 400 asylum-seekers. Some say they had only an hour's notice of the move. Since meals are provided by the hotels, they lost their £37.75 a week allowance and were left penniless.
Many have complained of poor conditions, loss of liberty, and mental health problems. Mears failed to carry out any vulnerability assessments on the people they moved. A Syrian man, Adnan Olbeh, died alone in his room at McLay's Guest House on 5 May. Residents in the guest house had previously raised concerns over Adnan's mental health.
The incident at the Park Inn Hotel came three weeks after thousands of people joined unprecedented Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Edinburgh and Glasgow, in solidarity with the protests in the US against the killing of black people by police there. And it came just 16 days after a protest in George Square by No Evictions Glasgow against the unsafe living conditions that asylum-seekers are experiencing. The protestors had to leave the square after police disgracefully failed to protect them from far-right thugs. The racists had in the first place planned to gather in George Square to protect statues supposedly threatened by Black Lives Matter activists. Prior to the demo, racists had already made social media posts targeting the No Evictions protest. Predictably enough, they turned from "protecting" statues to attacking asylum-seekers and their allies.
After these events David Hamilton, the Chair of the Scottish Police Federation, issued an astonishing statement equating racists and anti-racist protestors. There was no "heirarchy of culpability", he claimed. All were described as having defied the coronavirus lockdown law. Politicians who failed to condemn the protestors, including the No Eviction protestors (though Hamilton avoided even recognising the existence of their demonstration) were described as "mealy-mouthed". Their position was characterised as "appeasement". This amounted to an attack on Nicola Sturgeon and Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, amongst others.
The No Evictions protestors were acting on urgent necessity, as should now be absolutely clear to everyone. It would not be hard to argue that their actions were legal, if the coronavirus regulations are read - as the Scotland Act requires them to be - in tandem with the European Convention on Human Rights. David Hamilton evidently understands neither the law1, nor morality nor political principle. The language he used could hardly be more offensive to anyone concerned over racism.
The only appeasement going on was police appeasement of racists.
Police Scotland's official position isn't quite the same as the Scottish Police Federation. Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said on 26 June, hours before the Park Inn Hotel incident and in anticipation of demonstrations on the weekend:
"We live in a democratic society and Police Scotland is absolutely committed to respecting people's rights to freely and peacefully express their views."
But Bernard Higgins' ackowledgment of democracy was spoiled by a rather ambiguous claim that people had hijacked an unspecified recent peaceful event "with the intention of violence and thuggery". This appears to be a reference to events on the previous Saturday - 20 June.
Stand Up to Racism had called for a socially-distanced protest in George Square that Saturday in solidarity with the No Evictions campaigners driven from the Square the Wednesday before. Police responded by imposing a Section 60 Stop and Search order throughout Glasgow. Possibly they were on the look-out for statue-daubing materials. If so, they would have been using statue-protection as a device to intimidate anti-racists, just as the National Defence League does.
The anti-racist protest passed uneventfully enough, until the end. Then a group of people who had come to join the protest were kettled by police and marched off to their presumed homes in the East End. Police Scotland said on twitter:
"We identified a group as football risk supporters, who we believed posed a threat to public safety."
The "football risk supporters" were the Green Brigade, who have a fine record of opposing racism and standing up for asylum-seekers and Palestine. They had participated in the Black Lives Matter protest on Glasgow Green on 6 June and had put up alternative street signs to replace those that commemorated people who had benefitted from slavery. Cochrane Street became Sheku Bayoh Street. Buchanan Street became George Floyd Street. Wilson Street became Rosa Parkes Street.
So the "football risk supporters" were in fact committed anti-racist activists, sure of a welcome at any anti-racist event. The police response to them was partly just a reflection of familiar police bigotry. But it was also an indication that police were not prepared to let anti-racists have the last word. Stand Up to Racism had out-manouevred the police politically, so the police made their point by targeting the Green Brigade.
Victims of the UK asylum system
Badreddin Abadlla Adam and the six people injured on Friday would almost certainly all be alive and well today if the mass transfer of asylum-seekers into temporary hotel accommodation had not happened, or if the concerns raised by No Evictions Glasgow had been urgently acted on. All of them are to some degree victims of the UK asylum system. But this is especially true of Badreddin and the two injured asylum-seekers.
An asylum-seeker accomodated in McLay's Guest House told the The National:
"It’s like a mental hospital in here, when you take all these people and put them together like this, with all their trauma and flashbacks."
Badreddin had been in the Park Inn Hotel for about three months in a room with no daylight, another asylum-seeker told the Mail Online. He added that Badreddin had to isolate in his room for 20 days. A member of Glasgow's Sudanese community (known just as Almadi - he asked for his full name not to be used) told the BBC that Badreddin "had spent a month isolated in his room due to symptoms of Covid 19."
Home Office minister Chris Philip MP claimed on Monday, in answer to a question from Alison Thewliss MP, that there had not been a single confirmed case of coronavirus amongst asylum-seekers accommodated in hotels. But in fact, no one has been tested.
Almadi also told the BBC:
"He [Badreddin Abadlla Adam] was mentally ill and actually his mental health deteriorated very badly when he stayed in the Park Inn."
The immediate cause of Badreddin's death wasn't the asylum system, it was a police bullet (or bullets). It appears to be the first time that anyone has been shot dead by police in Scotland since 1969, when James Griffiths was shot by a police officer in Springburn after fleeing from police and going on a rampage in which he shot 13 people, one of whom later died.
But Badreddin Abadlla Adam was armed with nothing but a knife. There may, just possibly, be circumstances in which firearms are the correct response to a knife, but they will be very rare.
David Hamilton, when asked why a taser was not used instead of a gun is reported by Bella Caledonia as saying that some officers will have a taser, but not everyone.
The Times says (from behind its paywall):
"It is understood that officers including PC David Whyte, 42, who is recovering in hospital after being injured by Adam, fired Tasers that failed to stop the knifeman."
It would be sensible to treat this unattributed statement with caution. It seems rather odd that multiple tasers proved ineffective.
The Times says that Badreddin Abadlla Adam was then shot at by "at least one" officer.
Tasers are very problematic. If there is a justification for their use, it is as a less lethal alternative to a firearm. If they are carried by some officers, but not automatically carried by all firearms officers, that suggests that police are using them for the escalation, rather than the de-escalation, of violent incidents. If they are unreliable, then they are a doorway to danger for any officer carrying them, besides the dangers they pose for people targeted by them.
The police response to the incident was commendably fast. That speaks of planning and training. The equipment that a firearms officer grabs when responding to an emergency should not be down to chance, and probably isn't. If an officer picks up a gun and nothing else, his actions are shaping events towards a fatal outcome.
At some point several asylum-seekers were handcuffed and held outside for several hours while police cleared the building. None of them have been charged with any offence and police are said to have apologised to them. Photographs of them have appeared in the media, to their great distress.
Shoot-to-kill, or a débacle?
For the moment, it is difficult to say whether Badreddin died because of policies that amounted to shoot-to-kill, or because of a débacle.
A delivery man who was in the hotel at the time of the incident told Sputnik News:
"The guy [Badreddin Abadlla Adam] had run back up to his room. The police had come in, went up to the room, the armed response mob shot the guy and ... it was absolutely f**ing carnage."
If Badreddin was indeed in his room when shot, there may be no civilian witnesses to the shooting.
Within a couple of hours Police Scotland had announced that the incident was not being treated as terrorism. But it seems very likely that the police response was in the first place shaped by a perception that a mass stabbing by an asylum-seeker could be an act of terrorism. The terrorism label shouldn't matter, but it does.
"Terrorism" is a racially and politically charged word. It repels reason. Fears that a terrorist knifeman may also be equipped with explosives are sometimes enough justification for police to shoot first and ask questions afterwards. They are also enough to allow a disturbed person with a spoof suicide vest to commit "suicide by cop". Few will mind if a terrorist misses his day in court. He may have had a tale to tell of foreign conflicts and entanglements with British intelligence and security services.
Badreddin has not been dubbed a terrorist and his tale probably will be heard, at least in part. It will become part of the long, desperate struggle to secure decent treatment for asylum-seekers. But the struggle will be hollow unless the police, as well as the Home Office, are made to answer for their actions.
Police Scotland say they cannot provide further details because PIRC (Police Investigations and Review Commissioner) is investigating the shooting. This should not be taken too seriously. PIRC investigated the death of Sheku Bayoh in police custody in 2015. Its findings have not yet been made public. Sheku's family say they were let down by PIRC. As it stands at present, PIRC is not fit for purpose. It is the subject of an ongoing review by Dame Eilish Angiolini into the handling of complaints in relation to policing. Eilish Angiolini issued a preliminary report in June 2019 and a final report is scheduled for August 2020. Three of the 30 recommendations in the preliminary report are of particularly immediate relevance to the shooting of Badreddin Abadlla Adam:
- Recommendation: Police Scotland should accelerate its plans to expand the use of body‑worn video technology.
- Recommendation: Subject to the fundamental right to silence or privilege against self‑incrimination of a suspect under Article 6 of Convention Rights, police officers should give every assistance after a serious incident. That assumption of co‑operation should be put beyond doubt in the primary legislation, including in the wording of the constable's declaration.
- Recommendation: Where a serious incident is being investigated by the PIRC, the investigators should also have a power, where it is necessary and proportionate, to compel police officers to attend within a reasonable timescale for interview.
The UK (and therefore the Scottish legal system) has an international obligation under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to conduct an investigation into any killing by state agents. The investigation must be open to public scrutiny and is the responsibility of the state itself; it cannot be left to the family of the person killed. But states rarely have much difficulty in sidestepping this obligation unless energetically pursued by a grieving family.
The UK's asylum system has been designed to drive people to the edge of madness, in the hope that they will prefer to return to their home countries to face the dangers they fled from in the first place. It has continued to operate in that way during the pandemic, despite the fact that return is impossible. If we accept that someone driven beyond the edge of madness can then be killed by police without too much fuss, none of the rights we are campaigning for have any value.
Racism dogged Badreddin Abadlla Adam's stay in the UK at every step. It has followed him beyond death. He was tormented by a racist asylum system. He was killed by a police operation influenced by racist counter-terrorism policies. And demands for answers over his death are being muted for fear of antagonising racists.
All this happened alongside an inspirational Black Lives Matter movement and a counter-current of public-order policing designed to undermine anti-racist activism and appease racists. It remains to be seen whether all black lives really do matter in Scotland.
Photo: Badreddin Abadlla Adam. Home Office photo published by Police Scotland
- 1. The statement carried a footnote saying: "There is NO exemption for the purpose of protest (political or otherwise)". But the Scotland Act requires laws enacted by the Scottish Parliament to be interpreted in a way that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. If a law cannot be interpreted in such a way, the entire law - not just the problematic portion - is invalid. The rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are not absolute rights, but it is questionable whether a total ban on political protest is compatible with the Convention. It is easy to imagine that the Scottish Government would prefer this point not to be tested in court. But fools rush in...