I don’t remember my parents bringing me to London as an infant asylum seeker, but I do know we arrived in relative safety by plane. There were risks in coming to Britain to flee war in Somalia, but physically crossing the border didn’t put our lives in danger. Last year, at least 44 people died trying to cross the English Channel in small boats to seek asylum in the UK. Boris Johnson’s recent announcement that the processing of asylum seekers will be outsourced to Rwanda promises to make the journey to safety yet more dangerous for those looking to gain refuge in Britain.
Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. A Minnesota jury yesterday found the former Minneapolis police officer guilty on three counts – second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter – for kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he suffocated and died on 25 May last year. In the days following Floyd’s death the world watched him gasp ‘I can’t breathe’ and knew, long before the jury was empanelled, that Chauvin had killed him, in public and in cold blood. That a jury found him criminally responsible may mark a historic moment for the United States. Such verdicts are vanishingly rare. In Britain, they are even rarer.
Cressida Dick is replacing Bernard Hogan-Howe as the Metropolitan Police commissioner. She is the first woman to hold the post in its 200-year history, which has spurred hope that she will reform the Met in a period of uncertainty and strain. The budgetry perils the force faces are real: Hogan-Howe said recently that his successor’s biggest challenge would be ‘money’. But Dick has another problem too. She was the senior officer in charge during the 2005 operation in which Jean Charles de Menezes was killed. Firearms officers emptied eight rounds into the Brazilian electrician at Stockwell tube station after wrongly suspecting him to be a suicide bomber.
My parents brought me to London when I was two years old, seeking refuge from Somalia’s civil war. To guarantee our safety they left behind a home, friends, family and much of what was familiar in the world. Their siblings were scattered. My grandmother and a few of her daughters found homes together in Canada. Some of my uncles came to the UK before we did. Other relatives went to the United States, settling in Minnesota where today a large Somali community thrives. Had my aunt and other Somali-Americans made that journey today they would have been barred from entering the US twice over – for being refugees and for coming from Somalia.
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.
Last Thursday, Sadiq Khan announced that from April next year there will be 400 more firearms officers in London. ‘Nothing is more important than keeping London safe,’ the mayor said in his first major announcement concerning the capital’s policing. The Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, had asked for more armed police after last November’s terror attacks in Paris. On 1 April, Downing Street announced that £143 million would be spent on ‘increasing the number of specially trained armed officers’. But senior figures in the police are telling the BBC that still isn’t enough.
In 2014, police across England and Wales recorded 26,000 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument. Yet on Saturday 5 December the Met was quick to announce that a stabbing at Leytonstone Tube station was being treated as a ‘terrorist incident’ because of reports that the culprit had said ‘this is for Syria.’ A bystander told him: ‘You ain’t no Muslim bruv.’ The phrase was quickly picked up from mobile video footage of the incident and trended across social media, even being parroted by David Cameron. Muhaydin Shire has been labelled a ‘terrorist’, a ‘jihadi’, ‘no Muslim’, ‘barbaric’. He is accused of attacking not only the people he sent to hospital, but Britain as a whole, in a politically motivated assault on Western freedoms. According to his family, however, Shire was no radical, but a young man with mental health problems, including paranoia.
Since 1990, 1518 people have died in police custody in England and Wales. Not a single law enforcement officer has been convicted for involvement in their deaths. Last month, campaigners from England – including Shaun Hall, Kadisha Brown-Burrell, Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett and Marcia Rigg, whose brothers all died in police custody – travelled to California to take part in the Caravan for Justice, a tour through eight counties where communities have been affected by law enforcement abuses.
Home Office Immigration Enforcement officers seize up to forty people a day. They carry out raids in communities with large ethnic minority populations, without warning, and snatch their unsuspecting targets, who are often uninformed about their rights, from their places of work or off the street. Immigration Enforcement (IE) replaced part of the UK Border Agency in 2013 to carry on the work of tackling so-called ‘immigration offences’. According to Home Office statistics, there were more than 4400 ‘enforcement visit arrests linked to information received’ last year, leading to over 1000 ‘subsequent removals’. In total there were over 12,000 enforced removals for breaches of UK immigration law in 2014. How many of them were the result of the 10,000 indiscriminate (i.e. not ‘linked to information received’) raids isn’t clear. Many of the people who aren’t deported end up in detention centres; others are released. Again, the precise figures aren't published.