The Brixton crush and its aftermath are steeped in anti-Blackness – only community justice will do

Brixton Academy where the Brixton crush happened. people are calling for a public inquiry
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On 15 December 2022, a crowd crush at the Brixton 02 Academy led to Rebecca Ikumelo and Gaby Hutchinson dying. Many more people were seriously injured. The aftermath of this tragedy has, heartbreakingly, been yet another example of entrenched societal and institutionalised anti-Blackness in the UK. A public inquiry is now needed. 

The Brixton crush: a timeline of events

On 28 April, we – Black Protest Legal Support UK – sent an urgent open letter supporting our communities’ calls for accountability via a public inquiry. This followed the completion and publishing of our community-led investigative timeline. It documents what happened on the night of the Brixton concert crush during a concert by Nigerian musician Asake. As we wrote in our open letter:

Doors at the venue opened at 7pm. Witnesses and attendees, the majority Black, have said that the Venue filled up early because many people gain entry before the show began, meaning hundreds of fans with tickets left in freezing temperatures outside at around 8pm… Reports of a crowd surge began at around 8:30pm.

Police and security did nothing to manage the crowd at first, and were ineffective when they did. Further, as we wrote, police were actually “endangering lives by forcefully kettling those present”.

Rebecca and Gaby died. However, concert goers themselves were then initially framed as responsible for the tragedy, by corporate media and the police.

We are calling for a public inquiry to answer the following questions:

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen and who is to blame?
  • What must be done to prevent this from happening again?
  • How did the factor of race play into the response from the venue, the police, security staff, and the media?

Concerning parallels, concerning procedures

Our open letter pointed out the parallels between this incident and the Hillsborough disaster. We highlighted concerns about the police’s ineffective crowd safety measures leading to deaths, the discriminatory and stereotypical reporting by the authorities, and the corporate media blaming victims.

Read on...

We stated that a public inquiry is particularly urgent given the reports of previous concerns about security at the venue. These included overcrowding at a performance by Fred Again only a week before the Asake concert.

Complaints had also been made to the venue, Lambeth Council, and the Health and Safety Executive. These came after witnesses reported security staff taking money on the door for admission to the standing area at a concert in March 2022.

Moreover, Lambeth Council has also failed to explain why it had not already revoked the venue’s licence. This was after safety concerns were raised in early 2020 regarding its doors, which were too weak and needed to be changed.

More details are being uncovered in the aftermath of this tragedy that show why an urgent investigation is needed. 

The Brixton crush: community-based justice is needed

The event was one with a majority Black attendees, who historically face injustice (and continue to do so) in this country. Yet the media reporting was quick to blame people outside the venue, who were subject to the crush. It did this rather than question why the venue did not keep everyone safe that night, and why it had not put proper crowd safety measures in place.

The valuation of the victims’ lives in and of itself is ignored to favour an anti-Black, victim-blaming narrative. Our community timeline supports claims from concert-goers online that the police did nothing to ensure crowd safety when they arrived. However, the police watchdog has said it will not look into the actions of the officers on the night of the crush.

Further, the senior coroner Andrew Harris granted permission to adjourn the inquest into Rebeca’s death while the criminal investigation by the Met Police is carried out. There are serious procedural concerns with this approach. It risks uncertainty, confusion, and disengagement on the part of victims. This will leave them in doubt as to whether the full extent of the circumstances surrounding the deadly crush, including the police failures, will be properly and thoroughly investigated.

We have thus also since launched a public petition to the government, calling on it to address and action the community’s concerns. The letter also demands accountability and justice.

It is of particular importance that a community-based approach to justice is centered and mobilised. As we have seen, the efforts so far have been incapable of putting aside society’s endemic anti-Blackness to seek true justice for Rebecca and Gaby, along with those injured at the crush – plus the many more that remain traumatised.

Anti-Blackness pervades society

Afro-pessimists remind us that the Black subject is exiled from the human relation, which is predicated on social recognition, volition, subjecthood, and the valuation of life itself. 

Given the rampant anti-Blackness of the state and the police, we are adamant that any conversations about the venue’s future must be led by the community, and persons directly impacted by the tragic events of that day. We are all too familiar with the farce that has been the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire – an inquiry that has shown a lack of care for the victims and their families.

We are aware of a recent petition that demands that Lambeth Council does not permanently shut Brixton Academy. It had around 110,000 signatories at the time of writing. However, the petition focuses solely on saving the building. It does not even mention the names of Rebecca and Gaby. Nor does it centre safety concerns about the venue.

We are adamant that the desires for safety from the community are centred. People, not profit should be centred. Alongside the community, we welcome the suspension of the 02 Brixton’s licence on 16 January, and the venue’s current closure.

However, this is not enough. Without a public inquiry, those responsible for the tragic events of 15 December 2022 will not be held accountable. Moreover, the systemic failures in security, licensing procedures, and policing that led to this tragedy will continue unchecked.

Only a public inquiry into the Brixton crush will suffice

Ultimately, any investigation must not be led by the Met. It is an organisation which clearly lacks the trust of the Black community. Time and again, Black people have faced racial discrimination, harm, and violence at the hands of London’s police.

This is especially so given the lack of individuals who have come forward to give evidence to the Met Police – as evidenced by their renewed appeal for witnesses on 17 March. Moreover, this is in the context of the Casey Review. It found the Met to be institutionally racist, misogynistic, and homophobic.

Given these factors, and London’s Black communities’ manifest distrust of the police, it is vital that this investigation should not be led by the Met. There must be independent assessment and scrutiny of the Met’s own failures and responsibility for the crush.

A public inquiry is essential to ensure proper accountability, as well as to ensure that future tragedies are avoided. We encourage you to support our demand for accountability and truth by signing our petition here.

Ife Thompson is a founding lawyer at Black Protest Legal Support UK.

Read the group’s investigatory timeline of events below:

Featured image via Drew de F Fawkes – Wikimedia, resized to 1900×1000 under licence CC BY 2.0

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  • Show Comments
    1. One aspect left unexplored here is the role & purpose of policing in the UK. Police are not well trained in effective and humane management of large groups of people, because policing is mostly about looking for opportunities to arrest members of the working class (of all skin colours) before all other considerations. If we want to prevent tragedies such as this, we need to create community-based organisations of well-trained, working class people who do not have powers of arrest. That, obviously, is part of the abolition agenda.

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