Tenacious and savvy, Black groups challenge verdicts in mysterious deaths

By Thomas L Blair © 26 April 2012

Cherry Groce & son, Lee

As a child of eleven, he awakened to the fearful gunshot that crippled his mother. Now, Lee, the son of the late Mrs Dorothy Cherry Groce, campaigns to install a commemorative plaque at their family home. “It commemorates my mother, an innocent woman who was victim to the police shooting 26 years ago, which sparked the Brixton 1985 uprising”, he said.  Paralysed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair, against all adversity she was the matriarch of her family and an icon amongst her community, said Lee.

The community suffers when we remain silent

Across the Thames in north London, Alex Pascall, journalist and educator, says there is increasingly solid forensic evidence on the mysterious death by burning of a relative, Kester David.

Devon Thomas of the Black Heritage Group is sowing the seeds for Black youth leadership in distressed neighbourhoods in riot-prone Brixton.

Clearly, they have taken a decision to push their protests forward. Observers say this could be the start of an unrelenting onslaught on the justice system. Some accuse law enforcers of evading previous commitments to reduce unsolved race hate crimes and deaths in custody, thereby raising concerns about the likelihood of race-related civil disturbances.
Crunch issues are police misreporting, suspicious coroner’s inquests, long delays in court proceedings. Disrespect and inadequate information and lengthy response times are common complaints.

Alarm bells ring:
When access to crucial documents is denied
When the core role of advocates is excluded

The controversial question of access to legal advice is also likely to come up in the coming months. Confidence is growing since the partial victories won by Doreen and Neville Lawrence in the race-hate murder of their son, Stephen.

The big news is that the legitimacy of Lee, Alex and Devon’s initiatives is ringing the alarm bells for aggrieved families. All agree that widening support can show that Black citizens will not tolerate reduced transparency in mysterious death cases.

Many of the proposals on the table are commendable; they repair family wounds and rebuild confidence. However, justice delayed is justice denied. The burden on surviving relatives is great, hence the urgency.
They are also part of highly complex issues. They come in the wake of a spate of incidents there young black men have lost their lives at the hands of the police.

Disproportunate numbers of black men die in police custody, said the Equalities and Human Rights Commission report Entitled ‘How Fair is Britain?’

(The disturbing case of Mark Duggan, whose shooting by police marksmen in August 2011 this year, triggered the most serious scenes of civil unrest that have been seen across the country in a generation. Moreover, the deaths of Reggae icon Smiley Culture, Kingsley Burrell-Brown  and Demetre Fraser are still at the forefront of the community’s consciousness, and are of national concern for Black Britain, reported organisers of the Black Mental Health UK in association with the London School of Economics Students Union.)

Kingsley Burrell-Brown/The Voice

Finding solutions requires expert advocacy. Building strong teams of lawyers and campaigners is essential. A confident Black press, elites, parliamentarians must join in the struggle. Moreover, in this digital age an army of youth have to spread the message on their smart phones:

Think. Organise. Act for Justice

When Lee, Alex and Devon were asked, “What types of further action would you like to see,” all agreed that “strengthening our ability to handle our bereavement and gain justice for our lost loved ones,” is paramount.
We want police, judges and politicians on our side, not in our faces

Organising an over-arching collective organisation may be a possibility in the longer term. There are formidable obstacles to overcome, however. Individual grieving families are not up to the task at present.
However, the day may come when each camp will join forces with another, and another in a collective organised response to their shared tragic histories. Why not a coalition of aggrieved families with civil rights groups, minority ethnic associations,media activists, faith representatives, community leaders and concerned citizens to organise their discontent?

This suggests a rare opportunity to say it loud: organise, lobby, encourage, teach, publicise and win equality in law enforcement.

Alex Pascall, OBE
Devon Thomas