by New Worker
ALL AROUND the world hundreds of thousands of people marked United Nations Stand up to Racism Day on Saturday 19th March with marches nad rallies and in London some 20,000 gathered outside the BBC headquarters in Portland Place to march to a rally in Trafalgar Square.
The main theme of this year’s event in London was: “Refugees are welcome” and that Britain should do much more to take in and accommodate the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from African and the Middle East into Europe – especially as Britain is one of the chief imperialist nations responsible for the wars and interventions that these people are fleeing from.
All the major trade unions were present: Unite, Unison, PCS, RMT, NUT GMB and many more, as were people from a wide spectrum of faiths and communities.
There was music and there was good humour and laughter and dozens of progressive anti-fascist and other campaigning groups.
As the march passed Piccadilly Circus a small group of neo-Nazi racists from the Britain First group stood holding placards – barely visible behind the massive cordon of police that protected them from the anger of the masses who passed and passed in numbers that racists could only dream about.
There was a lot of shoving and pushing at the police line and many epithets exchanges with the racists but they were unable to disrupt the march.
Speakers at the rally included Dianne Abbot MP, actress Vanessa Redgrave, Claude Moraes MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, comedian Jeremy Hardy, children’s novelist and poet Michael Rosen, journalist Gary Younge, Dave Ward from the Communication Workers’ Union, the NUT general secretary and many more.
Lee Jasper from the Movement Against Xenophobia spoke about the Black Lives Matter campaign in the United States and here. He told the crowd which packed Trafalgar Square that since the human race originated in Africa: “You are all honorary Blacks, and can join the chant ‘Black Lives matter’.”
Diane Abbott spoke of her visits to refugee camps in Calais and other parts of Europe, of the dire living conditions in those camps and the need for these people to be allowed to enter Britain and find safety to begin to rebuild their shattered lives.
Marylin Reed, an activist in Families United, the organisation for those who have had a family member die in custody, and mother of Sarah Reed, told the crowd in Trafalgar Square of the tragic end to her daughter’s life in a prison cell when she should have been getting treatment for her mental health issues.
Marylin said: “She kept writing to me and other family members saying: ‘Please help me to get out of here; I shouldn’t be in here; I’m not being treated’.
“Her priority in every letter was: ‘I need my medication’.”
When Marylin visited her daughter in Holloway prison on 2nd January she was dismayed to find Sarah looking unwell and behaving strangely. She remembers a prison guard asking her: “Have you got any idea what’s wrong with her?”
It was a disconcerting question because prison staff should have known that Sarah Reed had serious, long-standing mental health problems.
Nine days later Sarah, 32, was found dead in her cell. The family was told first by the prison that she was found hanging and later that she was found lying on her bed, with a “sophisticated ligature”.
She was at the centre of a police brutality case in 2012, when a Metropolitan Police constable, James Kiddie, was caught on CCTV yanking her by the hair, dragging her across the floor, pressing on her neck and punching her several times in the head. The footage of the assault is very painful to watch.
Kiddie, who accused her of shoplifting, was convicted of assault, dismissed from his job, and given 150 hours community service.
Speaking about her daughter’s death, Marylin says she feels that Sarah was the victim of a “collective failure” by prison officers, doctors, social workers and lawyers: “I knocked on all of those doors, I pleaded with all of them. I believe she was failed by many, and I was ignored by many, especially building up to the time of her dying. My voice hit the floor and nobody answered.”