Saturday, August 23, 2014

Filmmaker Ken Fero on Deaths in Police Custody

Joy Gardner
There's a reason why everyone in my neighbourhood in South London knows who Trayvon Martin was.

A few months ago, a local public meeting was held. The posters all featured a photo of Trayvon. No caption, no explanation. But everyone in this area knows that similar things happen here.

I know Trayvon was not killed by the police, but his killing was sanctioned by the courts.

BFI London South Bank recently held a day on deaths in police custody, as part of the African Odysseys ongoing film series.

Filmmaker Ken Fero, director of numerous documentaries including the multi-award-winning Injustice, spoke in the morning and screened clips from his films. In the afternoon, two of those films were screened.

Injustice chronicles the fight for justice of seven families whose members died in police custody. None of the police officers involved in these killings have been prosecuted or disciplined. Six of the families are Black (African Caribbean), the seventh is Irish. An Irishman was gunned down as he walked through Brixton carrying a wooden table leg. The police stated they thought he was armed with a gun.

All of these families are still continuing to fight for justice.

Injustice has never been shown on UK television. When it was first released in 2001, every time it was due to be shown in cinemas, the police would phone the cinema about 15 minutes before the screening was due to start, threatening legal action. They claimed the film “might be libellous”.

Ken Fero, filmmaker
However, as Fero explained at the BFI, the audience inevitably contained someone who owned a business or ran a community centre or another venue. So the audience would decamp down the street, and the film would be screened.

Like a lot of people, I was very keen to see the film, and I saw it in a barbershop in South London. All I can say is, if you haven't seen Injustice, you need to see it.

Fero has made many other films about human rights abuses committed in Britain and other European countries, notably Germany and France. It was, frankly, disturbing to hear him say how many times he has filmed some of the same families. For example, the family of Joy Gardner, a Jamaican citizen who died in police custody in 1993.

Joy Gardner suffocated whilst in police restraints. The press labelled her an illegal immigrant and, as Fero pointed out, ignored the fact that other labels could equally be applied to her. Like “student” and “mother”.

He also said that, between 2001 and 2011, another 1,000 people died in police custody. This is an escalation, as more than 1,000 deaths in police custody had occurred in the previous 30 years.

Fero said he makes these films in order to inspire people and educate them about how to take action. He told me that he doesn't want to continue to make these films but, as I am sure he would agree, it is vital that he does.

And while we are collectively mourning Michael Brown, Eric Garner and all the others, we are aware that these things also happen here.

Please join us for the International Summit on Nonviolence today.

No comments: