An ugly story of police racism and brutality

Protesting in Cardiff  following the death of Mohamud Mohammed Hassan, photo by Cardiff SP, photo Cardiff SP

Protesting in Cardiff following the death of Mohamud Mohammed Hassan, photo by Cardiff SP,   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Joe Fathallah, Cardiff East Socialist Party

The BBC Wales documentary ‘Death of Two Black Men: Police in the Spotlight’, shines a light on the horrific deaths of Mohamud Hassan and Mouayed Bashir, immediately after contact with South Wales Police.

Mohamud Hassan, of Somali origin, was arrested at his home in Cardiff on 8 January 2021, and released without charge the following morning.

His aunt Zainab Hassan, who is interviewed in the documentary, said that he left the police station “with lots of wounds on his body and lots of bruises… He didn’t have these wounds when he was arrested and when he came out of Cardiff Bay police station, he had them.” Mohamud tragically passed away later that day, having encountered 52 officers in the run up to his death.

Mouayed Bashir, living in Newport with his family, died in hospital on 17 February 2021, just hours after being forcibly restrained at his home by Gwent Police.

He was facing possible deportation, and suffered a breakdown, causing his family to call 999. Police officers attended the scene as well as paramedics.

Mouayed already had a wound from having been stabbed a few weeks previously. He was restrained by officers, causing this wound to bleed, and he passed out. By the time an ambulance had been called, it was too late.

The documentary features interviews with grieving family members of both men who, a year down the line, are no closer to justice for their loved ones. They have faced a wall of silence from the police forces involved, and the Independent Office for Police Conduct, supposedly set up as a watchdog, simply says that investigations are ‘ongoing’.

The suffering of the families has been beyond description. The footage of Mouayed’s funeral in the programme, where the whole community came out in support to remember their friend, was close to bringing me to tears.

At the time of writing, six officers are facing investigation in relation to the death of Mohamud. However, none have been suspended. No misconduct notices have been served relating to Mouayed’s death.

The programme also includes an interview with Mikael Boukhari, a black man who was brutally beaten by an officer in Newport in July. The attack was filmed by a friend and shows Mikael with a baton being pressed against his neck, in scenes sickeningly reminiscent of the murder of George Floyd.

Mikael was treated in hospital for his injuries. Black people are statistically six times more likely to have force used against them by police officers than white people.

In response to these killings, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in South Wales gained new momentum. Friends, family, and community members were rightly enraged by the deaths of Mohamud and Mouayed and demanded answers.

The documentary asks the question of how to rebuild trust in the police in black and ethnic minority communities. However, even if some individual police chiefs genuinely want to push back against institutional racism in their forces, potentially in fear of an all-out war resembling the situation in many American inner-city areas, the role and function of the police in a capitalist society puts limits on how far that process could go.

Under capitalism, the primary function of the police is, in the final analysis, to protect the power and property of the ruling elite. This has become clear to working-class communities through experiences such as the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike when the police effectively became a paramilitary force, acting in support of the Coal Board and the Thatcher government.

‘Divide and rule’, and the targeting of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and communities, are necessary tools to performing this function.

The Socialist Party participated energetically in the BLM protests and uprisings, raising the demand for committees democratically elected from local communities to have control over the police.

This would include powers to fire racist officers, and to ensure the release of the bodycam footage of Mohamud’s arrest, which has conveniently never seen the light of day. These measures would make it possible for Mohamud and Mouayed’s families to get justice for their loved ones and prevent similar tragedies happening in the future.