By Clara McGill, Glasgow Marxists
Almost five years after the suspicious death of Sheku Bayoh in police custody the Scottish Government has agreed to hold a public inquiry. Sheku Bayoh, a black trainee gas engineer from Fife, died in 2015 of suffocation after being brutally attacked by several police officers ‘restraining’ him using CS gas and batons. They had been called to the scene looking for a man with a knife, yet Sheku was completely unarmed. After the brutal beating, which left him with over 50 injuries including head wounds, a fractured rib, facial injuries and bruises all over his body he never regained consciousness and 90 minutes later was pronounced dead.
However, the tragedy didn’t stop there. The police involved in Sheku’s death were then allowed to get together and set their story straight. Sheku’s family were lied to about his death – first being told he’d had a machete on him, then being told a member of the public had found him and the police had not been involved. Another arm of bourgeois power, the media, was then rolled in to assist the cover-up with stories splattered across the papers suggesting that Sheku was involved in terrorist activities or that he’d had a fight with his best friend and was distraught, all which turned out to be lies. Other papers ran stories describing hi, as a ‘massive’, violent man attacking a small female officer, despite the fact he was average height, below average weight, and there were 8 officers not one attacking him. It is clear that the aim of these stories was to deflect attention away from the police and try to justify the completely disproportionate amount of force used.
Sixteen months following Bayoh’s death, the Police Investigations Review Commissioner (PIRC) who investigate deaths in police custody in Scotland, submitted their investigation. However, PIRC is not independent from the police, and more than 70% of investigators on the case were former police officers with a vested interest in protecting their chums and the public image of the police force. At the end of the three-year investigation the crown office made the disgraceful, yet not surprising decision not to prosecute a single office involved in Sheku’s death despite the evidence.
BBC Scotland then uncovered further video evidence showing the police very violently attacking Sheku on the ground, disproving many of the police claims. It also came out that one of the officers involved in the attack had a history of racism and violence and had previously expressed that he “hates all blacks”. Yet despite this, the court once again made the decision to grant the police officers involved in this racist murder immunity from the law. While the fact that there will be a public inquiry now is a step forward, and will hopefully bring much sought for answers for Sheku Bayoh’s family, it is important to remember that no matter the findings of the inquiry the policemen and policewomen involved in this crime will still be immune to prosecution.
While the family’s lawyer Aamer Anwar expresses his faith in the legal system, it is clear to see that bourgeois law works to protect privilege rather than to safeguard ordinary people against violence and racism. We will not put our faith in the legal system to do anything but will continue to organise to demand that the police officers who beat and killed Sheku Bayoh face justice for this racist crime.