Thursday 16 Mar 2017

Justice in Custody

On 21 August 2008, 40-year old black British musician Sean Rigg, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, died while in police custody at a police station in South London. For Marcia Rigg, Sean’s sister and a civil rights campaigner, his death – and the fact that no-one has yet been found responsible for it – is unacceptable. 

“Sean was not a criminal,” said Marcia to the 300 La Châtaigneraie students in attendance. “He was someone who was suffering and needed medical attention. Instead, he died at the feet of police officers.” Explaining the difficulty of trying to obtain answers about her brother’s death, Marcia pointed to the deliberate vagueness and indecisiveness of the commission charged with investigating any wrongdoing in the case. 

In school, we learn about “the three Rs”, i.e. reading, writing and arithmetic. But it was another lesson that Ecolint students learned with Marcia and British filmmaker and political activist Ken Fero, who spoke alongside Marcia: the three R’s of resistance, research and responsibility. “For every death in custody, people fight to obtain justice,” Ken explained when defining ‘resistance’. For research, Ken encouraged students to find out more about these occurrences. Lastly, he urged students to take responsibility and get involved, to step out of their comfort zones, talk about difficult issues and spread the word about such tragedies. 

“Hope is very important to keep fighting and achieve justice,” Marcia continued, citing the 2001 documentary Injustice as an example. It won many awards for shedding light on issues of policing and human rights abuses in Europe and the resistance to them. Beginning with the story of David Oluwale who died in police custody in 1969, it features the relentless struggle of families who have since tried to find out how they lost their loved ones and why nobody has ever been held accountable. Bringing families together and creating widespread awareness about deaths in custody, Injustice forced the British government to abolish the police self-regulatory system and replace it with a new, more efficient, one. 

“There must be a political decision and will to make sure that cases of deaths in custody are seen as human rights abuses,” concluded Marcia. For Ecolint students, immersed in an environment of inclusiveness, respect and intercultural understanding that stems, amongst other things, from Ecolint’s historical ties to the United Nations, Marcia’s testimony will only reinforce students in their defence and promotion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its declaration that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”.

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