Journalist, Producer & Researcher

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Campaign launched to prevent West Midlands Police Takeover

Privatisation of our police services. It is a scheme the Coalition government is pushing for with the first stages set to be rolled out in the West Midlands and Surrey as early as February 2013.

But how much do we really know about who is in line to run some of our critical police services.

Very little. That is why a number of Birmingham based organisations have come together to launch a campaign to prevent the privatisation of the West Midlands police and to expose those human rights violators who may be the future leaders of our police services.

Dubbed "Human rights first! Stop the corporate takeover of West Midlands Police," the West Midlands Against Policing for Profit is supported by the Birmingham Trade Union Council and a number of other activist based organisations. The aim of the campaign is to not only prevent human rights violators from being awarded the contracts to run critical services within West Midlands police but to protect West Midlands police from any private sector takeover. 

Only a few weeks into the launch and the campaign is already creating awareness in the Birmingham community mainly through social networking and street campaigns. An online petition, hosted by the popular human rights group Avaaz, has also been gaining considerable attention. And this is no surprise. 80% of people polled in the West Midlands had no idea that their public safety was in the process of being handed over to private companies. According to one campaign organiser:

"The majority of people in the West Midlands are unaware of the private companies bidding for the contracts. It is our duty to expose these companies for what they truly are...human rights violators."

Do we want the people who built Guantanamo Bay to run our police services?
Included among these private companies to run critical police services is the US firm Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) which helped to build the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention camp. KBR has been successfully awarded exclusive contracts from the US government to provide services to support the invasion of Iraq. KBR's subcontractors have also engaged in human trafficking and have utilised forced labour to provide its services in Iraq.

Another company on the shortlist is security firm, G4S which has a strong track record of human rights abuses both in and outside the UK. G4S is known for its abusive treatment of detainees and its discrimination towards asylum seekers. In 2010, it lost a Home Office forcible deportation contract after the death of an Angolan deportee, Jimmy Mubenga, while being restrained on a flight back home.

The Coalition government is also being questioned as to why such an organisation was awarded the contract to handle security for the Olympics.

If KBR and G4S are awarded the contracts, they will be running critical police services not only in the West Midlands but across the country where the privatisation scheme is set to be eventually rolled out in various locations. Critical police services include bringing offendors to justice and investigating crime, detaining suspects, managing 'high risk' individuals, disrupting criminal networks and responding to and managing major incidents.

These services play a major part in engaging with communities and dealing with sensitive information. As a result, these companies can easily access personal data and use it to their advantage.

Do we really want the guys who built Guantanamo Bay to hold our personal data? What would be the outcome of this? 60% of people polled said they would less likely to report a crime if they knew a third party was handling their data. That's just a third party. What if KBR or G4S were actually running the police services? I'm sure this figure would increase tremendously.

Let's not also forget what this would do to the strong partnerships already in place between the police and communities. Trust, legitimacy and reputation are crucial for effective police-community relations. I cannot imagine having KBR or G4S operating any activity which involves engaging with communities would be beneficial towards enhancing police-community relations.

Where is the voice of the community?

But it's not just human rights that this campaign is defending.

West Midlands Against Police Privatisation is also looking at civil liberties and the cost effectiveness of privatisation of police services. Over £2m of police source funding is being utilised to roll out this venture. A report produced by Unison and Unite argues that no police privatisation has ever provided value for money and that police accountability and civil liberties will suffer if police services are privatised.

What is also unsettling is the process in which the Home Office has set out for the implementation of this privatisation scheme. There has been minimum consultation with the public and police staff despite this decision playing a major impact in their lives.

The measures in place to roll this out are also set out in such a way that come the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) elections in November, if the elected PCC was to oppose such an endeavour, these companies on the shortlist could easily file major law suits against the government.

One has to wonder why the closed doors.

The Home Office is insisting it is not privatisation but a transformation of our police services. Transformation, privatisation whatever you want to call it, these changes will play a major impact in communities and police staff across the country. So why aren't the people having a say? As West Midlands Police Against Privatisation argues:

"The shortlisting of companies infamous for their poor human rights record demonstrates the dangers of privatising policing. These companies are implicated in the killing and maiming of people across the globe. The people of the West Midlands deserve better than this."

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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Featured in the Birmingham Press

Monday, 4 June 2012

Killing Without Consequence: Why Are Palestinians Not Allowed the Right to Justice?

Meet Moira Jilani. She is the wife of Ziad Jilani who was shot and killed by Israeli border police in East Jerusalem on 11 June 2010.

Almost two years later and Moira Jilani and her three daughters, Hannah, 19, Mirage, 17, and Yasmin 10, are still awaiting answers from Israeli police as to why their beloved father and husband was killed.

Ziad's Tragic Story

Ziad was only 41 when he was shot. On 11 June 2010, the Jilani family was preparing for a day out to the beach as a treat for their daughters on completing their exams.

Ziad set out for Friday prayers but on his return to pick up his family for their day outing, he was involved in a routine traffic accident. According to a report by The Electronic Intifada, Ziad was trying to get out his truck to seek refuge in a safe place when Israeli border police officer, Maxim Vinogradov, walked towards Ziad, kicked him in the head put his foot on top of his neck, and with his M-16, let off three shots.

A number of Palestinian passerbys were also injured in the shooting and witnesses who were present at that time, described the shooting as 'crazy.'

Israeli police claim that Ziad had attempted to run them over with his car in what they called a "terrorist attack." However, Residents of Wadi al-Joz - the East Jerusalem neighborhood where Jilani was killed - said, that Jilani's car swerved towards the police only after a rock hit his windshield.

Ziad's family insists that he was never involved in such activity and is calling for the Israeli high court to take action against the police officers who were involved in the shooting.

It has been almost two years and the Israeli police have failed to investigate the events of that tragic day.
Ziad's family wants answers and those responsible to be held accountable for their actions. They have taken their campaign online with a petition entitled Killing without consequence to challenge Israeli impunity and demand justice for Ziad.
Already gaining more than 2000 signatures, petitions and media awareness seem to be the only way to put pressure on the Israeli courts to consider the Jilani's case and hear the evidence.

When it comes to justice, why is it different for Palestinians?

When I signed the petition, I was explaining to a colleague of mine who knew nothing about Israel and Palestine, the story of Ziad. The response I received was "Why are they allowed to get away with it?" I was at a loss of words because I really couldn't provide an intelligent answer.

Ziad isn't the first and will not be the last Palestinian to be killed as part of the Israeli government's discrimination against Palestinians. It is estimated that Israeli security forces have killed more than 6,450 Palestinians since the beginning of the second intifada, and that in this time, no Israeli soldier has been charged with murder of a Palestinian.
What is even more disturbing is that Israeli police officers are allowed to do this without consequence. A video report by Mondoweiss reveals the extent of the Israeli police's detestation against Palestinians.
Israel is supposedly a democratic country with strong support by western superpowers. But why are those that represent them allowed to kill without consequences? Why does it take an online petition and mainstream media reporting for Ziad's family or any other Palestinian to receive answers to the deaths of their loved ones?

It led me to think if a similar situation was to occur in Britain or any other western country. If a British police officer was to shoot at an individual for no reason, there would be condemnation, an enquiry and criminal proceedings. Why is it different for Palestinians? Do they not also deserve humanity? Isn't that what western governments are promoting; democracy, accountability and peace for both Israel and Palestine?

As Moira Jilani rightfully puts it, 'there is no justice when it comes to Palestinians. Our blood is cheap, whether Christian or Muslim, Palestinian blood is cheap.'

Even though Moira Jilani holds American citizenship, the Jilani family refuses to leave their homeland until those that are responsible for Ziad's death face the consequences of their actions.

Published in The Huffington Post UK

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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