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Wretch 32 & Swiss remind us that Black (British) Lives Matter

13 Jul 2016

Wretch 32’s almost prophetic release of the visuals for the track ‘Liberation’ landed on our screens on the same day that we lost another brother to institutional contempt and disregard for black life.

Our hearts ache, our bodies feel heavy and our eyes begin to warm if we spend too long on videos, news articles and photos of men who go from father to hashtag in the firing of a gun. Every day we get on with it, doing what we need to do to survive but that brutal reminder that any moment your body can be disposed of by routine state violence will always hurt.

The aptly titled ‘Liberation’ sees Wretch address the relentless and interminable police repression that black British communities, as well as many white working-class ones have endured since our existence. Throughout the video, Wretch 32 depicts his conception of liberation through reimagining interactions between him and his boys and a series of police officers.

“Up in my ends, they’re killing my dargs, tell me who’s sane, I feel like Saddam, rage in my veins” – Wretch 32, ‘Liberation’

In the video, shots of him standing on top of a police van are just the tip of the iceberg as he goes on to portray a role reversal in which a police officer is handcuffed and put in the back of a vehicle by legendary Tottenham-bred activist and campaigner Stafford Scott, activist and campaigner on police brutality.

But of course, state repression and structural racism goes far deeper than the occasions on which a life is taken. Watching little boys of primary school age sit trapped in the back of a police car before Wretch frees them, you can’t help but wonder: how many who spend their lives in and out of jail were just kids when they were thrown into the system? What use is a justice system which criminalises our children before they have had a chance to grow?

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired and fricking violated from racial profiling, I am impatient” Swiss, ‘I Can’t Breath’

The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile last week spurred So Solid rapper Swiss into releasing a track he had made following the death of Eric Garner. Explicitly bringing the Black Lives Matter conversation over the Atlantic, Swiss cries in frustration “when Mark Duggan was shot dead, where were you guys?” His palpable distress and lyrical barrage will force this track under your skin and into your heart almost immediately. Using cuts from the audio of Eric Garner’s death, Swiss journeys through the mind of Garner in his last moments before delving into his own exasperation and helplessness, suffocated by the weight of the unceasing injustice.

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“What will it cost to solve this injustice across the globe, I’m disgusted, I’ve lost my focus, I’m flustered and claustrophobic”- Swiss, ‘I Can’t Breath

For too long now British institutions have comfortably wagged their fingers at racism in the US without turning the analysis onto our own issues of structural racism and police brutality. Mark Duggan’s killers were protected by the law just as Eric Garner’s and Tamir Rice’s. It is clear from how we resonate with the struggle that it is something we are familiar with. Although the names Sheku Bayoh, Sean Rigg and Smiley Culture are not nearly as household as Trayvon Martin or Mike Brown, a third of deaths in police custody in the UK are from BAME communities whilst we represent just 14% of the population. It was only five years ago that Mark Duggan’s death led to riots across the UK which mainstream media associated with the criminality of an ungrateful generation essentially refusing to accept that police brutality was a factor.

Since then many more have come to the forefront to speak out against the systematic disregard for black life in the UK. A campaign for justice for Sheku Bayoh, who died in custody in Glasgow, caught a lot of attention last summer, largely pushed and covered by Media Diversified. A crowd funder for the documentary 1500 and Counting surpassed its target by almost £1000 this year, enabling Siana Bangura and Troy Aidoo to begin working on an analysis of deaths in police custody.

As the Black Lives Matter movement gathers force, more and more people will begin to acknowledge that this issue touches our society too. The voices of Swiss and Wretch 32 provide pertinent reminders of the extent to which we feel this and of course Stormzy’s powerful Instagram post makes a clear statement too. Enough is enough and we will act in solidarity with our siblings across the Atlantic, and for our own freedom here in the UK.

Follow @1500ANDcounting and check out the BFI funded film, ‘The Hard Stop’ for an in depth look into the death of Mark Duggan and the riots which ensued.