Tuesday, 5 July 2011

My March for Justice: by Talia Bennett

Talia Bennett

Dear Diary-March for justice for Kingsley Burrell

(All times are approximate)

Saturday 2nd July - 8:00am

After attending the 'Who Polices The Police?' public meeting - which, I feel I should mention, was truly a night to remember: all the speakers (Merlin Emanuel, Samantha Riggs, Benjamin Zephaniah and Jody McIntyre) were truly worthy of the ardent applause - especially Jody; as it's definitely worth telling you all that he received a 30-second-long standing-ovation just before the end of his speech! His ability to bring sarcasm and quick wit to everything to engage, intrigue and entertain - somehow without retracting from the importance and seriousness of the subject, and somehow also managing to still clearly get his point across - does amaze me...
But anyway, back to the beginning.
After attending the public meeting, my mum and I somehow managed to miss the coach to Birmingham. Which ended up with us staying in a hotel for the night - something we didn't expect, but was definitely fun - and then changing our tickets and catching another one in early morn'. Now, it's a beautiful sunny day; still slightly lethargic (why, I do not know - I slept like a sleep-deprived baby the night before), but I'm getting over it pretty quickly because all of a sudden the feelings I described in my other diary of the march are too potent to ignore... the simply demand my attention, right NOW. Not later, not in a moment - all I think about is how it's going to look, who am I going to see there, what kind of atmosphere will there be... again, the sense of being a part of something immensely, quite impossibly important sneaks up on my mind and gives me a little jolt of familiar disbelief that I - twelve-year-old-average-Talia - am attending an event that's actually going to be pretty amazing and momentous in the grand scheme of this situation. It's still unbelievable to think that I'm a part of this cause, and to feel the sense of strength and unison that radiates just from the Official Campaign 4 Justice 4 Kingsley Burrell - well, unless you're a part of it, it's hard to describe, and I'm a little apprehensive of how much more powerful it's going to be in real life.

"         "  - 12:00pm

My mum and I have just arrived at the march site, and - please excuse this - but it is damn hot. The atmosphere is already electric, but as before at the Smiley Culture march, slightly laid-back, too - a lot of people lounging on the grass, chatting, tapping at phones, dotted about the grassy field-plane-thing just around the corner from the street Kingsley Burrell lived on in clumps of people. It's much hotter than it was on Saturday 16th April - so much hotter - and the only thing I can do at the moment is take a couple of placards, collapse onto the grass and try not to crumble into a little ball of ash, whilst looking around with a frown of disbelief: my face must be giving off 'Am I actually here?' signals at the moment, because that's sure what I'm feeling at the moment. I'm viewing everything kind of dreamily - as if I need certain things to remind me that this is actually happening and that I, average me, am here too.


"         "  - 1:00pm

We've begun the march now, heading down a long, hot street with - and I'm both surprised and deeply pleased by the amount of people we've already managed to get looking out the windows of both cars and houses, and standing on the steps of houses to see exactly what this is all about. It's actually really good to see that the attention we managed to capture on the day of Smiley's march hasn't waned - and I  feel a deep flush of pride for all those marching along with me today as we receive looks of open curiosity and admiration from the onlookers lining the streets, and an even deeper flush of pride when we all come to a standstill outside the Mary Seacole House on Lodge Road, descend into a two-minute silence and all raise our fists in the air. It's a brief period of time where nobody - not even the babies or children - talk or whisper or hardly breathe at all: even the dog I saw being carried by one of the campaigners has put a damper on its snuffling and snorts. It is a powerful moment, and an emotional one at that, and in it everything seems perfect: the sunshine, the charged silence, the fascinated stares of the onlookers we've drawn from their houses onto the streets... it's a moment that's impossible to forget, and one that I'll relive with pride forever.


"         "  - 1:30pm

We've moved on from the house now, heading steadily down the street towards the main road, and over the sound system Lee is alternating between chanting to the crowd and playing music with a bass that ultimately makes your chest shake. Although nobody seems to have the strength to dance in the face of the sun, we've certainly got the passion to shout and stomp our way through the streets - we've made enough noise to catch the attention of all those who were previously residing comfortably in their homes, or on the way to some place or other, and have enough policeman marching grim-faced and irritated beside us to arouse a decent amount of curiosity in the majority of them.

Lee Jasper

"         "  - 1:45pm

Fifteen minutes later, I realise that the amount of attention and people who have heard our shouts and pounding music and come out in their curious masses far exceeds the amount we received before - only because now there are too many of us to squeeze onto the road and therefore some are forced to walk on the pavements, which then catches people's eyes and draws questions about what exactly we're protesting about from the most curious of the onlookers. The scarlet and black placards we hold when gathered in masses make a noticeable status; we're holding up the cars and buses surrounding us, and the sheer volume and catchy rhythm of our chants and music exceed that of the noisy traffic.

"         "  - 2:16pm

Further down the road, where the march slows down outside some corner shops, my mum points out one of the police officers talking to an onlooker - replying to the question of what exactly was going on, obviously with a big load of utterly rubbishy lies by the bewildered look on the woman's face. I quietly sneak towards them to try and catch a snippet of what he's saying, but as soon as I come close enough to hover he simply cuts the conversation short, glares pointedly at me and stomps off. Which, to be honest, really does make me laugh: what kind of coward whispers lies into somebody's ears, then gets scared by a ferocious-looking twelve-year-old girl coming to see what he is saying? If he was so brave, he wouldn't have cared whether I'd listened in or not, would he?


"         "  - 3:00pm

Now, the police are actually trying to physically stop any more people from joining the protest by keeping the van so close to the rear end of the march nobody can get close to it! Lee calls out to the police that we aren't going to be intimidated and tells us all to sit down on the road and pavement until they move it away - which actually works, and pretty quickly, too: an example that if you're unyielding to a bunch of petulant bullies' games, and show them that any kind of subduing tactics aren't going to work, you can actually force them to yield to your wishes - even if they are very blatantly doing it begrudgingly.

Later on I also notice one of the police officer's - a small, stout sweaty man who smiles nastily at me when I glare at him - carrying what I'm guessing is some sort of weapon: a small, thin black cylinder with a black strap going diagonally across his hand to keep it in place. He's keeping his hands clasped at the fingertips behind him, with the sleeves pulled right down over his fingers: and what I'm also noticing is that he is the only one doing it. I haven't seen one other officer on the whole march with one of these little cylinder things, and the way he walks and stares with a little smirk on his lips... if we're not careful round all these officers who are perfectly poised for a fight, then trouble's going to be coming our way very soon.
The temple we pass by is a large, beautiful building and the people inside display, as Lee quite perfectly put, 'solidarity and unity with the campaign' by offering everybody juice drinks - which, on such a dry, hot day is a welcomed relief.


"         "  - 3:55pm

Arrival at the West Midlands Police Headquarters begins calmly enough, despite my growing unease because of the officer's who walk so close to me, with a grim expression of barely masked contempt on their faces. We walk onto the wide street before it chanting, passionately but not angrily or in a threatening way. Nothing overly dramatic happens for the first three or four minutes - my mum and I go up onto the pavement outside the HQ to join in with the chanting, but no violence or threats yet -
And then I realise we're actually surrounded. I didn't realise it until I look around and see them blocking the paths that go off onto other streets in a curving line of officer's that most probably goes around the building opposite the Police HQ. It doesn't take long for the realization to spread throughout the entire progression that we're practically caged in, and by the time it does, we've already exploded into angry, alternating chants of 'Murderer! Murderer!' and 'Justice!' that are shouted into the officer's faces - very literally - with a pent-up ferocity that almost scares me: and I'm not the one on the receiving end of it, I'm the one chanting it, so I can't imagine how the row of silly little armed bullies are feeling now they're getting the amount of fury they quite rightly deserve.

"         "  - 4:45pm

The speeches have started now, and the speakers - including Kadesha Brown, Jodie Fraser (Demetre's mother), Merlin Emanuel, Mikey Powell's cousin, Brother Hughie and Marcia Riggs. All the speeches have the same effect on the members of the march progression: they animate and excite and keep the feeling of unity, passion and strength alive in everybody; they stir up the emotions into a vat of revitalized sentiments that leaves you breathless with exhilaration and excitement... apart from the speech of Brother Hughie, the Black Panther, who you all probably know of, whose speech doesn't exactly... well, tie in with the running theme of 'unity'.
Kedisha Brown-Burrell


Marcia Riggs


Merlin Emanuel


"         "  - 5:23pm

The speakers have stood down, the banners are being folded and packed away, those who travelled from London to Birmingham by 'coach  are heading towards the vehicle to mill around it. The atmosphere seems to have loosened from 'tense, angry and ready-for-battle' down to 'tired, relaxed and ignorant of the ridiculous bullies around us' - the way it was after the Smiley Culture march. Nobody's ready to leave yet, or move away from the HQ, and I'm quite happy to sit and chat and smile pleasantly across at the petulant officers.

"         "  - 7:15pm

Sitting on the coach now, with aching feet, eyes stinging from hayfever, body heavy with lethargy, I'm both exuberant and miserable - exuberant because of the memories I can hold with pride of marching along the streets, chanting, stamping, signature-collecting and having one of the best times I may have ever had; miserable because it's over so soon, and the next March is now two whole months away in September!

By Talia Bennett

 All photographs of the march by Dee Constantine-Simms (C) - many thanks.