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Hard Stops

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Mohammed Yassar Yaqub, a 27-year-old man from Huddersfield, was killed last Monday during a ‘pre-planned policing operation’. Reports of his death suggest that the car Yaqub was travelling in on the M62 was ‘hard stopped’ by firearms officers: the police ambushed the car, boxing it in and immediately drawing their weapons. The few images of the scene which have circulated in the past week show several bullet holes in the car’s windscreen. How Yaqub died is pretty clear. To learn why will take some time.

But some people have been quick to defend the taking of Yaqub’s life, and even to celebrate his death. When I tweeted the news, one of the replies I got called him a ‘known drug dealer and firearm handler’. ‘One less scum off our streets,’ it went on. ‘Well done police.’ The right-wing provocateur and Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins tweeted: ‘Dear Bradford just so you know … Beyonce won’t be getting involved in this one. Well done our boys in blue.’

Hopkins didn’t specify whom she was addressing as ‘Bradford’, but it may be worth noting that last year she expressed outrage after being taken in by a hoax photograph purporting to show a road sign in Bradford with the names of the towns on it translated into Arabic (in 2015 she got the city confused with Birmingham). As for the mention of Beyoncé, Hopkins – who has never been a friend to the Black Lives Matter movement – seems to think that there will be no solidarity between those who have stood up against the killing of black people in police custody and the British Asian community which is affected by Yaqub’s death. But the history of anti-racism in Britain and the current politics of Black Lives Matter UK both suggest that assumption is wrong.

The ‘hard stop’ tactic was also used against Mark Duggan and Azelle Rodney, young black men who both, like Yaqub, lost their lives to firearms officers. They, too, were demonised after being killed, and were said to have been so dangerous in life they may as well be dead. The grief of their families, tributes from their friends and protests by their communities spoke against that view. Yaqub’s family, friends and community have had to do the same.

The fear of black gangs in the public imagination is today twinned with a more recent fear of Muslim gangs. There is a natural affinity between black anti-racist campaigns and standing for Yassar Yaqub. No matter what he did in life, we should be able to say his life mattered. Whether or not he dealt drugs, possessed weapons or was a violent individual, his life mattered.

In 2009, Yaqub stood trial for attempted murder. The judge halted proceedings at the end of the prosecution case and entered a not guilty verdict. Yaqub will never be able to stand trial for whatever crime the police were investigating last week.

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