Paul Hanes of Fourman Films has posted this video from Saturday's United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) protest from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street against deaths in police custody, in prison and in secure psychiatric care. There are also photos on Indymedia UK and Harpymarx (Louise took the great photo below).
I wasn't able to make it on Saturday because of a promise to see friends in Brighton (one I've known for 30 years) who are heading to new jobs in Europe. But for a decade, I was one of the principal organisers of this annual remembrance procession along the same route down Whitehall. After the tenth year and with UFFC essentially wound down as a campaign, those of us left making arrangements for the march decided to call it a day. Although it had gradually been ignored completely by the government and the press, without doubt the procession's most important element was the gathering together of bereaved families, acting collectively and in solidarity with each other. However, it was also emotionally difficult for many families and harder to explain how taking the same action every year was making any impact. The small group that planned each procession was just too exhausted after ten years to come up with anything else that was quite as powerful. We also really missed the crucial contribution made to the planning of the annual march by our friend Gilly Mundy, whose sudden death in 2007 was such a huge loss, politically as well as personally.
Nevertheless, there is still no other national gathering of custody-death families and that is why I was personally relieved when, after a break last year, others have stepped in to pick up the UFFC banner. From reports, it seems that the police at the gates of Downing Street refused to accept a letter from the marchers, as has been customary in previous years, which is itself a reminder that protests don't just happen but need considerable organisation. The intense security around Downing Street meant that a delegation to No 10 to hand in a letter was only possible with prior negotiation each year with the police. That didn't happen this year. One conclusion to draw from this is the need for greater skill-sharing - those of us who previously organised the march need to pass on what we know to avoid a repeat of the same problem in the future.
But another conclusion is to consider whether it is possible to hold a wider caucus or convention of custody-death families that can collectively help to organise an annual protest, ensure that it is bigger and that it reflects the true scale of the state's betrayal of bereaved relatives and their loved ones. As a trustee of INQUEST, the charity that supports families following a death in custody, I would be keen to see such a national gathering, one that enables bereaved families to meet, debate, plan and organise - and perhaps succeed where some of us failed after ten years and organise a protest every year that is as powerful as the remembrance procession, but with a far greater impact on the state and on public awareness of its failure to protect those held in its custody.