Film Review: Injustice


“The police are not concerned about protecting me or any of the working class, because they are put here by the ruling class to protect the interests of the rich from the poor. To enforce their laws that keep together their system, that keeps them at the top and the majority at the bottom”.

In recent weeks we have seen the reopening, in the media, of the debate about arming the police across the water in England and Wales. Reignited following the gunning down of PC Sharon Beshenivsky in Bradford, there have been calls from serving and retired senior police officers and tabloids like the Sun, to ‘bring back the death penalty’ and ‘arm the police’. This implies that the police aren’t armed, and yet it remains the case that the police force, often symbolised with reference to the unarmed bobby on the beat, in England and here have murdered a staggering amount of working class people.

Cries of condemnation from the ‘great and the good’ were a bit thinner on the ground 6 years ago when working class Londoner Harry Stanley was murdered by two armed cops. More recently the Met have been more blatant than the RUC were ever permitted to be about carrying out a shoot to kill policy which almost immediately resulted in the state killing of Charles de Menezes in a London tube station. The hypocrisy and contradictions of a state calling for greater capability to murder in the name of ‘self-defence’ are all the more starkly laid out in injustice-a documentary feature film that follows the struggles for justice by the families of people that have died in police custody in ‘suspicious circumstances’.

If anyone was in need of a more compelling, documented case against the oppressive role of the state in policing working class communities, and more often than not black communities in England this is it.

Since David Oluwale became the first black person to die in police custody in 1969, over one thousand people died in police custody under suspicious circumstances in England between then and 2001(an since too). Not one cop has ever been convicted for any of these deaths. Injustice puts on record how Brian Douglas, Joy Gardner, Shiji Lapite and Ibrahima Sey met violent deaths at the hands of the police and documents a five year period when their families came together to fight for the truth. Two cases can be briefly highlighted. In December 1995 Wayne Douglas was arrested for suspected burglary. He collapsed and died while detained at Brixton police station. In March 1996 Gambian asylum seeker Ibrahima Sey was forced to the ground, sprayed repeatedly with CS gas, and then held face down for 15 minutes. When he went totally limp and stopped breathing, an ambulance was called. He was dead by the time they reached the hospital.

Injustice took seven years to produce. Since its launch in July 2001 the police have tried to censor the film. The Police Federation and individual police officers threatened legal action against cinemas and the film its makers took it on a national tour showing it anywhere they could. The audience took over one cinema and projected the film when the cinema manager, under threat from the police, refused to. Critically acclaimed in its own right, Injustice also gained news coverage across all national channels as well as on CNN.

This is a deadly blow by blow account of the relentless struggles of the families as they find out how they lost their loved ones in extremely violent deaths at the hands of the police officers.

The documentary uses powerful exclusive footage filmed over a five year period and witnesses the families’ pain and anger at the killings. It documents the fight to retrieve the bodies for burial, the mockery of police self-investigation and the collusion of the legal system in the deaths. The amazing strength and solidarity behind the campaign is shown throughout the film, despite the cover-ups and silence from the mainstream media and much of the left.

What the film fails to do is relate the issue of police brutality to the very nature of the institutions of states which ensures a minority rule and organise our lives in their interests. In the end we are simply left with the question, why is an accused killer in a police uniform is not judged by the same  standards as the rest of society?

Copies can be obtained from:
Migrant Media
P0 Box 47412
N13 5WG

First published in Working-Class Resistance no 11 2006