Wed, 10 Jun 2009

Pan African community evening about abuses to our civil liberties

Yesterday evening, I was invited to speak about the DNA database and my experience in getting on and then off it. The event was organised by the Pan African Society Community Forum (PASCF) and happened near Oval. Even with the tube strike starting at the same time as my presentation the room filled up with what looked like more than sixty people.

The black community is disproportionally represented on the National DNA Database (NDNAD). As mentioned in the earlier post Sentenced to genetic probation, figures compiled a few years ago show that 37% of black men have their DNA profile on the database compared with 13% of Asian men and 9% of white men. Data published last year indicate an increase in the number of DNA profiles of black males to 42%. It is estimated that three quarters of young black men aged between 15 and 34 have their DNA profiles on the database. Innocent young black people are far more likely to be on the database than innocent young white people.

Other speakers were Doreen Bishop speaking about her son Ricky Bishop who died in police custody on 2001-11-22; Samantha Rigg-David speaking about her brother Sean Rigg who died in police custody on 2008-08-21; and Minkah who was arrested and charged after enquiring about two white men, who happened to be police officers, questioning a young black man, and who spoke about stop and search and the involvement of the black community in refusing this police violence. The meeting was very well chaired by a kid from the Marcus Garvey Next Generation (MGNG), an organisation for young African people who want to contribute to a unified approach to tackling issues related to young people. It's great to have people of all generations involved in such events. (Doreen, Samantha and Minkah were speaking at the Stop the violence event last month and you can find videos of their speech on Indymedia.)

Every year, usually on the last Saturday of October, the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) organises a silent procession along Whitehall. At last year's event a give away listed the names of 2,533 individuals, whose name was known, who had died since 1969 in the care of the Police, prisons, secure psychiatric units and immigration detention centres. See the list in the post Deaths in custody & Jean Charles de Menezes inquest.

There was great interest in practical measures: what to do to get off the NDNAD, how to raise awareness of all the deaths in custody (the Rigg family is holding a vigil outside Brixton police station every Thursday), how to get more people out at demonstrations (the United Campaign Against Police Violence (UCAPV) will organise a protest at the IPCC on 2009-07-10), etc. It felt like many of the attendees were keen to do more than just spend a Tuesday evening hearing a few speakers; this is the aspect I found most encouraging. Discussions continued well after the end of the formal presentations, and the evening was both productive and very enjoyable. To those who attended and may be reading this post, the website I recommended is

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