In solidarity with UFFC; why deaths in custody are a feminist issue
Monday, October 24, 2016
On the 29th of the October at 12pm the United Families and Friends Campaign will make their annual memorial procession through the streets of London. On this day, and every day, Sisters Uncut stand with UFFC to remember friends and family members who lost their lives at the hands of the state; inside prison cells to the bully vans of British police to the living rooms of their own homes.
Police brutality particularly affects men of colour, especially black men, in the UK and worldwide. As feminists we recognise that the power, control & violence inflicted by & expected by racist state violence often falls on the shoulders of our most vulnerable & oppressed men; migrants, those with mental health issues and learning disabilities. Men like Sean Rigg who was killed by violent police in 2008 instead of receiving the mental health support he desperately needed.
But black women and women of colour are killed by the police too and we want to lift up their names alongside those of our brothers. Women like Joy Gardner a 40-year old Jamaican student, who in 1993 was gagged & bound with 13-feet of tape in the living room of her home by the Metropolitan police trying to deport her. She died from her injuries. No police officers ever went to prison for her murder.
If we stay silent when women like Joy Gardner are killed, we are saying that it’s acceptable to use violence and extreme force to protect our borders and enforce immigration control.
More than 53% of women in our prisons were abused as children and up to 80% are survivors of domestic violence. Such an obviously violent police and prison system can offer no real justice to survivors of violence. We are discredited, disbelieved and re-victimised when we do seek help, especially if we are black, disabled, transgender or working class.
Suicide in women’s prisons has risen 28% in the last year alone. As feminists, we must not ignore the violence perpetrated by our prison system. The rise in suicide is tragically unsurprising when vulnerable women face increasingly heavier criminal penalties for minor crimes of survival. Like Vikki Thompson, a 21 year old trans woman imprisoned for theft, who took her own life because of bullying in all-male HMP Armley in November 2015. Self-inflicted deaths in prison are the responsibility of the violent state that ignores abuse inside and outside of our prisons and fails to offer people the support they need.
If we stay silent when survivors of abuse are left to suffer and die in our prisons then it should be no surprise when the government continues to cut the vital specialist services we need to survive.
Women in prison are 5 times more likely to have mental health problems than women outside. Women like Sarah Reed, who in January this year, at only 34 years old died in Holloway prison following a catalogue of violent failures and indignities by police, prison staff and mental health services. Sarah needed kindness, support & compassion and instead she was ignored, bullied and deprived of the medical care she needed to survive.
If we stay silent when black women like Sarah Reed are killed we legitimise racist, sexist violence as a means of controlling mental health.
When state violence kills our loved ones, it is so often mothers, sisters and aunts who are left behind to fight for justice. And so when we march on 29th October, it is also to honour the incredible work of women like Marcia Rigg, Carol Duggan, Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett, Janet Alder and Sheila Sylvester in their powerful fight for truth.
The fight against state violence, police brutality and deaths in custody is, amongst other things, an undoubtedly feminist issue. We urge our sisters (and our male allies) to attend this march and show your support to UFFC and all other victims of state violence.
Join the UFFC memorial procession at 12pm, Saturday 29th October, 2016 at Trafalgar Square.