Akwe Amosu: Hello and welcome to Strength and Solidarity. I’m Akwe Amosu, here with episode 41 of our podcast about the tools, tactics and strategies being used to defend human rights. And this time
Fighting to end the violence of a systemically racist police force in the UK
and in the Coda, a journalist longer beguiled by the romantic view of his profession
AA: It’s 2012. A teenage girl in London hears that a childhood friend – a young black boy – has been killed in a fight. To the media, to police, to elected officials, it’s just another statistic in gang wars. But for that young girl, her friend’s death was to provide a shocking and chilling moment of clarity about how her community was viewed, and it moved her to action. Temi Mwale was just 16 when she set up 4Front – a group to support young people of colour living amid violence in her north London community. But it wasn’t long before she began to realise that the way her community was policed by London’s Metropolitan police force was itself part of the problem. Her determination to learn how to defend her community led her across the Atlantic, at barely 20 years old, looking for tools she could bring back and use. In the years since, she’s become a prominent campaigner and leader on abusive policing, flawed judicial processes and a racist prison system. Over the same period, the Met, as London’s police force is known, has been exposed as badly broken. Repeated deaths of black and ethnic minority men while in police hands; sexist and sometimes sexual abuse of women – as exposed in the case of a white woman, Sarah Everard who was murdered by a policeman; or the abusive use of strip search on school-age girls, as in the case of Child Q – to name only some of the recent scandals. And not to mention the corrupt efforts to cover up wrongdoing and evade responsibility. The long standing critique by black communities has begun to resonate with a wider constituency… but it’s not easy to challenge an opponent as powerful as the police. I wanted to learn from Temi Mwale how she found her way and what she thinks is needed now to scale demands for racial justice.
AA: Welcome Temi
Temi Mwale: Thank you.
AA: So before we get into the broader topic of racial justice in the UK, can you just say something about founding 4Front? What is 4front and when did you found it and what does it do?
TM: Yeah, thank you for having me. 4front is a youth organization and we are supporting people to reimagine peace and justice, bringing healing to the forefront. So we support young people who have experienced racial injustice, trauma, violence, and we fight for their rights. We support them to heal and empower them to build communities where they’re nurtured, protected, and respected. And yeah, it really came out of my own experience as a young person of having a friend who was murdered and not getting any support for that and none of my friends. And, you know, I speak about it often, but nobody, nobody ever asked me if I was okay until somebody heard me speak about it in a talk maybe 10 years later. That was the first time. And that’s the kind of culture that we have, that tells young people in the UK that, you know, that type of violence is just normal and should be accepted.
AA: And expected.
TM: And expected., you know, something can be common, but it doesn’t make it normal, doesn’t make it right And I think because the issue of violence, how it’s framed in the UK is very racialized, there is racism at the foundation for how it’s understood and explained. So there’s something around, you know, black people being framed as just inherently violent, inherently criminal. We’ve seen historically in the UK that continues to be perpetuated with how, you know, so-called, as it’s framed, knife crime, so-called gang violence. And I say so-called, and I put that in quotes because actually these kind of labels are stereotypes and have the impact of further criminalization and further harm. So at the beginning, 4front was very much about raising awareness of that particular issue and then soon after that became about, well, how can we provide support for ourselves? And so it was very much about supporting, creating things that would be of support to young people that have had those experiences. And about political education as well, young people knowing our rights and learning about the law too.
AA: So it was a campaign, but then it sounds like you were building an organization. Did you have any experience at doing that? Was that something you’d seen done?
TM: Well no, I was 16 , so I didn’t have, I did not have any, I did not have any experience of, of building an organization.
AA: I’m, I’m just curious, like how did you do that? Where did you turn for resources and for, for systems to do it? I’m just fascinated by having to do that so young and never having done it before.
TM: Well, somehow there was a project, a really small like micro grant fund and I don’t even remember how I heard about it. You know, actually I can remember now I was , I was part of the UK Youth Parliament and I was quite disillusioned I thought we were gonna make some real change there but it was not to be the case, but it was out of this process I had the idea around trying to challenge this narrative, I felt that because my friend was labeled as a gang member by the media, I felt that nobody cared about him. And then I learned about this micro fund. I applied for it, it was simple. It was directed at young people, it was maybe, I wanna say it was like 300 pound. I was successful and I used this to make a film. And that’s how 4front started. It started with a documentary that I made with some of my friends from school where we interviewed lots of young people, we interviewed some of our teachers. We interviewed, um, some youth workers from the local area around this issue of violence and how it affects our community. And so that was, you know, when we launched that film, we had a screening and that was the day that was the official launch of the organization, 2012.
AA: So before we talk more broadly about what’s needed in the racial justice field, I, can you bring us up to date? I mean, we’ve been talking about these earlier years. You know, what did 4front become, organizationally speaking? How would you define it?
TM: There was definitely a shift for me as I learned more and understood more. We always spoke about root causes. But I think my understanding of what those root causes were, evolved. And separate to 4front, I joined the Justice for Mark Duggan campaign and I was 18. I was 15 when Mark was killed by the Met Police. But I was 18 when I went to a public meeting. And when I joined that campaign, it was like, it was a whirlwind, it completely opened my eyes. Because after that I met lots of other families that have had their loved one killed by the police or by the state in other ways. And I couldn’t believe how little was known about this. And, you know, it was a real eyeopener for me and made me really think more about policing, a lot more about policing. And the more relationships we built with young people, the more we were being asked to come and support somebody who’s been arrested at the police station, support a family member who, who wants us to go to, to court with her child or, you know, we were going into these different criminal legal system spaces, police stations, courts, prisons, and just seeing, having this wide view and having this deep insight into like how these systems work every day. This interest in understanding how criminalization works and what that means for us, it was there from the beginning, but it only evolved to then become a really clear, you know, agenda for us, that actually the only system we have to deal with harm is inflicting more harm in our community. The violence of policing, the violence of prisons, the violence of the state. And so we don’t think the police are keeping us safe. We know that they’re not, we know they’re not preventing violence and actually we have a lot of experience of how they are violating us as well and they are causing violence. We are not being asked, what would repair actually look like in these different situations? What would accountability look like? And that’s really important because actually when it comes to accountability, the state wants to hold young black people in particular to a different standard than it would hold itself, through things like “joint enterprise” where they’re held collectively responsible for things that they might not have even done.
AA: Maybe just say what joint enterprise is because I think there’ll be a lot of people internationally who have no idea what that meant, may think it’s a corporate thing.
TM: Yes. Joint enterprise is a legal doctrine in the UK which means that you can be held responsible even if you are not the so-called principal offender. So we actually have young people who are in prison for murders – they weren’t there, they weren’t at the scene, they had nothing to do with it, but because these narratives of gangs, you know, can be utilized, the courts will say that they did know about it. They had some kind of foresight that something would happen. You know, even issues where young people are carrying weapons because they don’t feel safe and this idea that “you must have known your friend, cause he had a weapon you must have known he’s gone out there with the intention to kill.” And it’s just not the case. So there’s been a lot of campaigning work around that particular issue. But to the point I was making, this is an example of how the state will hold young black people collectively responsible whilst at the same time when we look at institutional killings, we have only had one successful prosecution of a, of a police officer who, who, you know, killed somebody whilst on duty and they weren’t convicted of murder, they were convicted of manslaughter, and that’s the case of Dalian Atkinson in, in 2016. So with that in mind, in terms of 4fronts evolution, it became much more central to focus on this systemic violence and systemic harm and what is the root of the harm that we experience in our community.
AA I’m curious about how you gained more insight, more experience about how to understand this field and, and learn about how to organize a response to the issues you were concerned about.
TM: If I didn’t travel to the States when I was, yeah, I was maybe 21 when I went, I met all these groups and that influenced me so much. And I said, “wow, I’ve seen how they’re doing it and I’ve not seen any of these kind of organizations in the UK!” And I thought, well, 4Front has to do this. Here’s some different examples how we can do. And literally like there’s direct lineage. Like I saw Chucos Justice Center from Youth Justice Coalition; I was like, I want a justice center! I love that framing. I love that narrative that actually they’ve repurposed a building that was used to incarcerate young people and now it’s a healing hub for the young people. It’s an organizing hub for young people. And I was like, “yeah, we’re gonna have one of those” and now we have it. So it’s like, we are not sister groups because we are, we are disconnected in that way. But you can be influenced by what is happening. A hundred percent, 4Front would not be the organization it is without the influence of a lot of comrades from the US and being able to observe how they were doing things and how they write about things; how they frame things has hugely influenced how we work and what we have shared with others who work in the country, so it has directly influenced the wider movement around policing and prisons for sure. We would not have been able to do it without them.
How did the visit to the US come about?
Funnily enough, it was a fellowship program – Winston Churchill. And it’s a traveling fellowship that’s for any, you know, British citizen, age 18 and up, you can do it on any issue at the time. Maybe it’s changed a little bit now they have some like issue areas. And the only qualification is like, you have to make some kind of report. You have to come back and share your findings with the UK. So I wanted to look at organizations that were working around healing approaches and dealing with violence. This was even before we had that real framing around the systemic harm and state violence so I was looking at a range of organizations that were doing some kind of, some stuff that I wouldn’t say now is really progressive. But it was helpful to see them and be able to say, I don’t think that’s really gonna change things. So I went to LA, I went to New York and I went to Chicago. I also went to Rio and spent a month in Brazil, which was very, very eye-opening. And that’s when, yeah, Like the scale was just so different. And like, I’m meeting people that were still hopeful, that were still doing the work. I’m like, huh, well if they can do it in that context, we really don’t have an excuse. That’s what I kind of took away from that. But more practically, you know, seeing the different ways different groups were mobilizing. This is when I saw youth organizers, youth movements that were really changing laws around policing and prisons, shrinking the size of policing and prisons, stopping prisons being opened, closing prisons that were, you know, harming young people for generations. Like that time was a key moment in “Close Rikers!” I got to visit Rikers and I was just like, this was around the time that Kalief Browder story had come out that, oh, it was, it was really intense. But we kept those connections and this was before Zoom, this was before the pandemic. So when I came back, I’m like, we’re gonna have a big youth conference. We Skyped them in. We had conferences where we were learning from them, and talking about our shared issues, especially around things like gang policing. After the uprisings in the UK, David Cameron brought Bill Bratton and other, you know, police chiefs from across America to teach the Met what to do. Now we have these gang databases that we wanna challenge. So I met Erase The Database of Chicago. I saw Youth Justice Coalition were doing expungements, they were doing clinics for people – and all of these ideas, I said, yep, clinics, know your rights, all of this stuff, we need it! So I’m just gonna take it and just do it in this context.
AA: Did you know before you went to the US that you were gonna find that kind of wealth of experience?
TM: My goal, was to meet and connect. I knew there was more to know, to learn. I remember, ’cause I sat down with my mum and I said to her, “Mum, I’m doing this program and I’ve searched online the most dangerous cities in the world and I’m gonna travel to a few of them.” And she was just like, “What?” No mother wants to hear that! I’m like, “Yep. I need to go to the places where it’s most violent because those are the places that are gonna be having the most solutions.” So I literally searched like, well the most violent cities, some of them I felt were inaccessible if I didn’t speak language and stuff like that. I really wanted to go to Brazil. And other than that I was like, okay, there’s a, the connection between America and UK is there, so it would make, be important to go there. You could go to up to two continents as part of the fellowship. And they paid for everything, even translation. I had no idea how transformative it would be until I went there. And yeah, I don’t know who I would be if I hadn’t gone on that trip, ’cause I was so young as well at the time. Now looking back, I’m thinking, who was I, going at 21, just, people were like, “How old are you? Like why are you here?” Like on my own, just in the middle of all these places, in the middle of Rikers prison.
AA: So 2020, in so many places around the world, you saw this huge surge in anger about racial injustice triggered, by the murder of George Floyd, such an egregious and public act. But of course it had been building over a series of horrendous killings and mistreatments. And having seen that surge in anger was in the UK too. I’m curious to understand how that changed the environment from when you started doing this work 10 years ago. Did, did you experience in 2020 a kind of moment of change, a shift in ideas in the wider society and more, more, more recognition of the problems you’re talking about?
TM: There was more recognition, but I think we also took a lot of control ourselves to shape the narrative. And that was really important because for us, when those early protests happened, that were solidarity with George Floyd and his family and what was happening in America, millions of people mobilizing across the world, taking to the streets. And that very much did happen across different cities and areas in the UK as well. And our message was clear that international solidarity is really important and we support that. At the same time, if you are going to come out on the street for George Floyd, you should know who has been killed in this country by the police on your doorstep. You should know the names of those people. You should know their stories and you should be just as willing, if not more so because it’s on your doorstep, to come out for them.
AA: And was that messaging necessary because in some way, as all too often in so many different fields, what happens in the US seems to matter more than what happens anywhere else?
TM: Well it’s framed as – it’s worse there, it’s an American problem. Because, as I said earlier, those of us organizing around institutional killings, it’s not a very big community. There are not a lot of people that really seem to know about this and how common it has been and how many families there are and how many decades – some of them have been fighting for justice for more than 30 years, and more, you know, actually, because there’s only been monitoring by a charity since 1990. So sometimes we even frame our advocacy around all the, you know, institutional killings since 1990 ’cause that’s when we have the data. But there’s been institutional killings from way before that, you know. So I think that was part of our message – let’s look at home on the doorstep. But another key part of our message was that these kind of killings are only the tip of the iceberg. And actually policing is an inherently violent institution that harms people every single day, and that is violent every single day. And you should be very concerned about that because that is how these kinds of killings happen. They are the extreme on the spectrum, but violence happens every day and it’s part of the culture of policing. It is inherent to what it means to have institutions like policing. And I think for us, 2020 was a moment where people were receptive to look and hear that. So they were looking and we were ready to speak about that.
AA: And when you say “people,” who is in your mind?
TM: I’m talking about the wider white community in the UK especially, and, and others too. But I, you know, I think that was the key distinction that we saw, that there’s a lot of white people that are interested to know about this. More willing to, yeah, be in, be in solidarity – we need solidarity within the country because communities are impacted by things differently. And so it was interesting that there’s this international piece, you know, as black communities impacted by police violence in the UK, we can still be in solidarity with our comrades who are organizing on the same issues in different parts of the world – not just America; Brazil, even the continent, look at #EndSARS – like it is very broad. This is about policing as an institution globally. We’ve seen increased securitization, militarization, they’re very well connected also, so these struggles are connected. They share training, they share weapons. You know, there’s a lot of inter-connection between policing as an institution across the world. There actually have been institutional killings that have impacted white people, but its disproportionately impacting racialized communities and especially the black community in the UK context. So with that in mind, the wider society of white people, it seemed like they were more willing to be in solidarity with the black people across the pond than your own neighbor. Why is that?
AA: So how did that effort go to try and bring that message home to a British population that is not fully aware?
TM: How did it go? It is interesting now, looking back on it three years later, because I think a lot of us are really frustrated because a lot of promises were made in all different kinds of way. There was a lot of – every organization, if they didn’t put some kind of statement on their website, make some kind of commitment… You know, we call it “black square summer,” everybody put a black square. Some people put some commitments, and how long did that last? And we really see these ebbs and flows and there will always be these kind of trigger moments and momentum will build. That’s the most momentum I’ve seen in the 10 years I’ve been doing this, you know? And I think something that’s sustained as well, because it wasn’t just at the time, I’m thinking when Mark Duggan actually was killed and there were uprisings across the country, et cetera. But that was different in some ways because it was very much localized in the UK. Whereas now we are talking about international mobilization, yes, in solidarity, but all the countries that are saying, yes, France, this happens here. Yes, in the UK it happens here, across Europe. People saying we are marching for George Floyd and everybody that’s been killed in our country too. So it felt different to previous times. And yet, looking back now three years on, I don’t think a lot of those commitments had been realized. It doesn’t feel like the, the level of support anywhere close to the level of support, attention, has been sustained at this point. I feel like our efforts have enhanced – not just 4Front, but the wider movement – I feel like there’s more coordination, there’s more connection, there’s more, um, support. Our framing is different. So in that way I think we have been building since then. But in terms of the solidarity, the wider society, it feels like that has come to an end and came to an end quite soon after.
AA: And I suppose it is not that surprising. It – on any issue, it is around the moment of crisis that you see the surge of sympathy or, uh, activity or solidarity. And then, you know, it becomes layered over by new events and new crises and people kind of lose track and forget. And so I, I guess the question I want to ask you is, being that that’s the case and looking back at the way you responded at that moment and raised your game, what do you think you might have done in the way of organizing that could have changed that outcome?
TM: There’s something that happened at the time that I wanna speak about. It’s only in hindsight been able to reflect on it. What we usually see is a trigger moment, a catalyst, and it’s usually police violence. When you look at kind of uprisings that happen, that usually is the trigger point. Then it invites a wider conversation about all of the ways that racism takes place. Now we’re talking about the broad racial injustice that is experienced. And there’s support for that broader racial injustice, not just policing at the time. And then a lot of what happens is very much focused on those other manifestations of racial injustice and very rarely has that effort been really targeted and concentrated around what triggered it. So for those of us – and there’s not as many of us as there could be working specifically around policing, around police violence, around prisons – it feels like that gets sidelined even though it’s what prompts this wider outrage. And I wanna make it clear that there’s so many intersections. Yes, there’s health and there’s racial injustice with regards to health, education, social care and, and, and so many more things. And yet it just feels like we’re so quick to shift the conversation –
AA: Away from policing.
TM: Away from policing and those of us that are doing the work on policing, you know? And I saw this specifically around even funding, because there was a lot of funding that was mobilized. And now in hindsight, I’m looking back and reflecting on how much of that money actually went specifically to challenging the kind of policing violence that led to why people were so angry at the time. And that’s a criticism that I have. And I feel something I would have felt maybe we could have done differently at the time was to, to see that playing out and to make that point, to keep it focused? We do need that wider support. So that’s also why being really connected in the organizing around various issues, that’s why that part is important. But I would’ve tried to do more to keep it really focused on policing, um, and, and the criminal legal system more widely. Because I think that is really some of the sharp end of the violence that we see that always prompts people, but doesn’t get the attention in a sustained way.
AA: I mean, it’s even more extraordinary in a way, because even if you take out the racial violence that’s associated with violent policing, there’s been plenty of other evidence of really big race problems in the police, you know, all the revelations that came out about the racist phone messages that were being exchanged by police officers. You can see that there’s you know, a consistent flow of stories about the problems that there are in the police around race, and yet it still doesn’t stay high on the agenda.
TM: I agree. I agree. And yet I think something interesting is happening now, which would be good to reflect on, which is that we are seeing policing as an institution being targeted from different angles and following the murder of Sarah Everard, the woman’s movement has really mobilized around policing. And this is where coalition can come, and I think it’s important to say there are intersections because of course, there are black women that have been speaking about the harms of policing from that angle of racial injustice for a very long time. And black people in general – men, women, non-binary people, trans people – treated differently by the police. So I think the wider white women’s movement now reckoning with, well, you know… there has to be a connection between these things because I actually think the, the survivor’s movement around sexual violence have been making points around policing for a long time in that when we experience sexual violence, we don’t feel we can go to the police. We don’t feel like they take it seriously. We can see from, you know, everything from rape convictions, et cetera, and treatment, the court process, everything, that there are real issues that impact women who are experiencing violence in the society. So there’s a connection there between this notion that policing equals safety, police is what is going to keep us safe, we need police, if we don’t have them, we’ll all be unsafe. And different communities coming out and saying, well, how are they keeping us safe? We are not actually safe. And sometimes they are the ones that are harming us. Like in the case of Sarah Everard. And I think when you saw those protests at the time – these are white women on the floor that are being abused and brutalized by the police, so now –
AA:There’s scope for an alliance.
TM: – people Are looking and thinking, what’s that’s Wow. And that has been sustained. And since then we’ve had, obviously we’ve had the Casey review and report, and now we’re seeing a steady flow of revelations just, it seems every week something is coming out around policing. So I feel like there is a shift that’s happening because it’s now more into the mainstream. That’s strategic for us. Our reason might be different. We might want to shine a light on a specific manifestation of that. And yet what we share in common is this connection that we all want to be safe. We really all wanna be safe, and we are all acknowledging for different reasons that policing is not as an institution keeping us safe. Where I think it needs to evolve is what the solution looks like. Because if a wide range of different actors and communities are gonna come and present different solutions, that’s where there might be a challenge.
AA:I mean, I think from outside and, and, you know, I want to acknowledge, um, that I am too far away, but if I think back to my own, um, teen years in the anti-Nazi league and, uh, activism around, you know, things like the murder of Blair Peach or, uh, subsequently of Stephen Lawrence, and I think about how frequently the response has been, as you say, to marginalize activism and put all the focus and the attention on a commission of inquiry or a report and, and and from the report is supposed to stem reforms. And, and it makes me want to ask whether both the model and the volume of the organizing around these issues is what you would want it to be. Is there a way to prevent the capture that we keep seeing over and over again, somehow thinking about new organizing models? Or do you think that actually that isn’t where the solution lies?
TM: You asked if I’m happy with how the organizing – like no its a valid question and I’m reflecting on it and my answer is no. I don’t think it’s enough. I don’t think we are doing enough. I don’t think the tactics are enough. No. And it’s what I reflected that, because especially when it comes to racial justice, racialized communities, we’re going through so much on every angle, every institution we have to deal with in this country. There’s disparity in every single institution. We’re treated differently. There’s evidence for this across the board. And so it can be difficult to focus on one area. And of course there’s huge intersections between them. So I think it comes from being pulled in so many different directions because of the nature of that interlocking compound oppression that we’re facing, that just makes it really hard to organize. That’s the first thing. The second thing I think for those of us that are focused on, yeah, the issue of policing and the criminal legal system, the prison industrial complex, I don’t feel like there’s enough sustained work in that specific area. It feels like a small organizing community. And I would love to see that grow. I would love to see more people come. And I think a question that you asked before in terms of what we could do differently, I think one thing that in reflecting back on 2020, I think one thing that we didn’t clearly do was make a call. I don’t think we made a specific call. We said, be with us. We said, look at what’s happening to us, but we didn’t really direct. There wasn’t a coherent, and this is what we want you to do about it. And now I’m looking back and I’m, what did we think would happen? Maybe it’s because we didn’t spend enough time really mobilizing around, well, strategizing around, well, what can different groups do? I always say, I think there’s a role for everybody, but I’m looking, reflecting personally as somebody that has had a platform to speak about these different issues. I don’t think I’ve really done enough to communicate to different people who have asked, “well, what can I do, something tangible?” We haven’t done the mapping to say, this is what lawyers can do. This is what you can do if you are a teacher, this is what you can do if you, you know, a transport worker, this is what you can do if you’re just in the hood…But I think that that part of being able to clearly articulate a call and being able to do the mapping of what would be helpful to us, because there’s us mapping our own organizing, how we’re gonna work more collaboratively within the movement, how we can build together, we can build coalition, we can work together in a more sustained way. And then there’s another piece of, well, what can everybody that’s actually not part of our core movement. What do we want from the day-to-day person that’s gonna see us maybe saying something on the news and think, that really resonates with me. I care, I do, I wanna do something, but I have no clue what to do.
AA What you’re saying makes so much sense. Part of the challenge is that it takes time to do this kind of work. And, and, and oddly enough, you probably have to do it when there’s no crisis, but the time when everybody really wants to get active is in response to a crisis. So yeah. I’m just curious about how does one meet the moment? You know, if you’re looking back and saying, I wish we could have done X in 2020, that probably means you’d have had to do something else in advance in 2017 or 2018.
TM: Well, in our UK context, we are not just thinking of the UK, you know, we know that there’s people organizing, mobilizing internationally around the same issues. And actually oftentimes they are driving more of those moments where there’s momentum growing, than what we’ve been able to do as a smaller country. Right? And I think it is getting closer in the sense that there was a lot of mobilization at around 2013, 2014; 2013 with Trayvon Martin, 2014, Mike Brown, 2015… That period of time it felt like there was, there was stuff happening that felt different. And for 2020 to be the next juncture, I feel like that’s pretty close in the grand scheme of things, when you look historically, and I do think social media, et cetera, has played a role in that. So 2023? Its not gonna be long, til that time comes again.
AA: Right and If you know that, if you are thinking that way, you don’t have to wait. You can say, okay, I know there’s gonna be another peak sometime.
TM: No, we can’t wait , we absolutely cannot wait. It’s those ebbs and flows. what I mean by that is you can get pulled out in different directions. You don’t know how much momentum is gonna build around something. So I’m thinking that, you know, in 2022, we had, um, Child Q, you know, a real huge attention around strip search, which is an issue that’s been happening for a long time that nobody really knew about. And all of a sudden, you know, that was a really important time for us at 4Front as an organization because we had been working with young people impacted by strip search for years. And, and it felt like nobody knew how routine it is, how young the people are, how that experience is. And why I say it’s really important to be prepared is because when, when the incident happened with Child Q, – and for those that don’t know, she was a young black girl who was at school, who was accused by her teachers of smelling like cannabis, that they called the police who came to her school and strip searched her in the school while she was on her period. She was made to remove her sanitary products. And it’s just completely inhumane, degrading, horrific, horrific treatment of a child that I don’t think we could say would have happened if that child had been not black, really. And so this, you know, forced a lot of conversations around also the encroaching of the criminal legal system into education. Why do we have police in schools anyway, let alone why would teachers call the police on a child, the war on drugs, these, all these wider conversations. But for us at 4Front, this was a, a time when here’s something that we’ve known about, that we’ve cared about, that we’ve collected data on, that we’ve been doing stuff around. So now everyone is talking about it, we have things to say and we can point people, not just to statistics, which people were doing FOIs to get stats and stuff like that, to real stories of real young people that have had this experience of state-sanctioned sexual violence routinely. So I’m, I’m making that point to say along the way, since 2020, there have been other heightened moments where there’s a lot more public attention and scrutiny around policing as an issue. And I feel like we continue to build upon each one, but uprisings happen every decade or so. If we look historically, around policing, we had what happened in the eighties, and since then steadily, and it hasn’t happened since, you know, Mark Duggan was killed in that way. And look at the conditions, look at what young people are experiencing in society today. Conditions are a lot worse than it was in 2011. So it seems like even at that level, it’s only a matter of time before there’s some kind of uprising that will happen again. That’s just what history shows us. and it’s about how that movement can be ready to, to talk to the masses, all the different people who are in the country who should be caring about this, so that we can mobilize towards something tangible that will shift
AA: And be ready for that moment.
AA: Thank you, Temi.
TM: Thank You.
AA: Temi Mwale is a campaigner on racial justice and policing in the UK. You’ll find a transcript of our conversation and further reading on our website, strengthandsolidarity.org.
AA: Time for the Coda – usually we hear from a human rights worker about the ways they find inspiration, but this time, we’re hearing about the opposite – a moment when a harsh truth about the work of defending rights – in this case, freedom of information – has to be faced. Jonathan Bock is the director of FLIP, the Foundation for Press Freedom in Colombia. As a journalist he’s covered armed conflict in his country and has always felt the passionate commitment to this work famously articulated by one of Latin America’s most famous journalists, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
EL OFICIO MÁS BELLO DEL MUNDO (The Mose Beautiful Job in the World)
“No one who was not born for this and is not prepared to live for this and this only can cling to a profession that is so incomprehensible and consuming, where work ends after each news run, with seeming finality, only to start afresh with even greater intensity the very next moment, not granting a moment of peace.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Jonathan Bock: That was the speech that Gabriel Garcia Marquez gave 40 years ago and it was about journalism and how he understand that it was the most beautiful job in the world. That idea that journalism is the most beautiful job in the world, it was always with me and also with every Latin America journalist, because it is like the big phrase. That you can love the job you do. But at the same time was a little bit contradictory because Latin America is the most dangerous place to be a journalist. Every year at least 20, 25 journalists are killed. it’s not only the violence, it’s also a structural problem. There are not good salaries and the conditions are very bad. You are under constant pressures and threats so how it’s possible that Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the best writers ever in Latin American and also a great journalist, that you can handle the beauty of the job, but also these conditions.
JB: Recently one journalist, Oscar Martinez from El Salvador, he wrote a book, Los Muertos y El Periodista. It’s an essay but also a very deep story about a gang killer in El Salvador. And he not only tells the story about the killing but also he is constantly reflecting about what it means to be a journalist in a country like El Salvador, where you have all kind of threats. And the phrase he uses – I like to read it because it’s also very strong, he said, “
“Today I live this job with penitence. I’m not selling anything, I am undressing. Hunger and thirst, that’s how I live journalism, hungry and thirsty all the fucking time. Never satisfied.”
JB: He said that he’s against that idea from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, it’s not the most beautiful job in the world. He argue that you have to live with a lot of pain, and you have to see constantly the horror of the world, no? And that’s the paradox he’s trying to, to say. And I think that maybe we can say that in some way, both reflections are very strongly connected with the idea of journalism but I think that maybe the approach from Oscar Martinez, it’s like more accurate that you can describe how a journalist live in Latin America.
JB: After I read the book, it was like a punch for one of those ideas that you never try to, to contradict. But at the same time it’s like what Oscar Martinez is saying, it’s very tough, It opens my eyes and punch a very emblematic idea of what journalism is.
JB: Oscar Martinez is a very well-known journalist in El Salvador who are facing a dictator, Najib Bukele, who is constantly fighting against El Faro, the digital newspaper where Oscar Martinez works. And when he launched the book a lot of journalists said, okay, you are right, no? Finally, someone said it is like with a lot of love for Gabrielle Garcia, Marquez, but at the same time, it’s OK, we are facing very difficult times so, you cannot romanticize the idea of this hard profession, and especially for young people who wants to start studying or start working at a newspaper that maybe it’s a very beautiful job but also that it’s a very hard job and you, you are going to face a lot of troubles.
AA: Despite that bracing insight, Jonathan Bock continues to bring passion and determination to his work defending press freedom in Colombia.
AA: And that’s a wrap on Episode 41. If you have comments about anything you hear on the show, positive or negative, we are very keen to hear them. Just drop us a line at email@example.com. And if you would like to receive the email we send with every new episode, providing context for the interviews and sometimes some bonus content, sign up on the website, or just send your details to the same address – firstname.lastname@example.org. From producer Peter Coccoma and me, Akwe Amosu, thanks for listening.