I FIRST came to Glasgow in 1986 having grown up in the city of Liverpool. During my childhood the police acted more like colonial occupiers in Toxteth, just half a mile away from where I lived. I grew up with stories of young blacks being beaten or dying in the back of police vans.

My arrival in Glasgow aged 18 gave me a rude awakening, a city divided on sectarianism was blind to the issue of race because the mantra was “Scotland doesn’t have a problem because we don’t have blacks”.

A city steeped in the history of trade unionism found it easier to fight apartheid in South Africa, for civil rights in the USA, to fly the Palestinian flag than it did to tackle deep rooted institutional racism at home.

Of course, Scotland and Glasgow have had a long history of racism, long after the city fathers gave up profiteering from slavery which turned Glasgow into the second city of the empire.

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Whilst 1919 is remembered for the battle of George Square when tanks rolled in as 60,000 went on strike, little is ever said about the Glasgow “Harbour Riot”, also known as “the Broomielaw Race Riot”.

600 Merchant Navy sailors were incited by the National Seamen’s Union and prominent Labour leaders against “foreigners” – black British colonial and Chinese sailors.

They attacked and surrounded a building where 30 African sailors took refuge – only to be saved by the police to be charged with rioting, although no white sailors were. This was just one example of racism written out of the history books, whilst we still debate street names of slave traders.

My own baptism of fire came in 1991 when as a young student campaigning against discrimination in the dental and medical school, we occupied the principal’s office a few yards away from the office where I would one day return to as Rector in 2017. One of the demands was for anonymous marking to be introduced; that evening I went to Ashton Lane to flypost.

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I was chased by two police officers, pushed to the ground, my face was smashed off the ground twice – I lost my top front teeth and was dragged unconscious to the lane – as I came round, mouth full of blood, my life flashed before me and I thought tonight I will be that “black boy dying in the back of a police van”.

Crying, terrified and in pain I asked why as I looked up at two white officers. Before I was kicked repeatedly I got my answer: “This is what happens to black boys with big mouths.”

Luckily for me a German teacher trainee walking by shouted she would get help, the police panicked and dumped me in hospital.

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It took me four years to get them to court. In that time I became a radical left-wing activist. In that time I was arrested some 20 times, in the court some several times and harassed on multiple occasions by Glasgow’s finest – to be told to get the f*ck out of Glasgow. I decided to stay and I won my civil action.

I made legal history as the first person to win a case against the police for a racist attack – but guess what? I am still the only one 28 years later. Nothing of course happened to the officers.

People have seen the stark parallels between the case of George Floyd and Sheku Bayoh, but that is where it ends. Five days of civil unrest in the USA will see four police officers face trial for George, but no officers will ever stand trial for Sheku.

In fact since the case of David Oluwale in 1969, there has not been a successful homicide prosecution in the UK, so before some say there are no similarities with American police officers because they are not armed – I say thank God they are not.

David was found dead in the River Aire in 1969 after months of being hounded as the only black homeless person in Leeds by a police inspector and sergeant.
His body was exhumed a year later when evidence surfaced that over a period of months he had been assaulted and abused by those two officers, until it culminated in his death.

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Such cases are part of the same legacy as slavery, scars which have never healed.

My “beating” and legal victory galvanised me to become a lawyer. The baptism of fire never stopped, in my final year of law in 1999 I took on the battle over the racist murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar, which took 17 years, three trials and a denial of racism when he was murdered.

I remember the horror of the legal establishment following the collapse of the second trial in 2000 – when I stood on the steps of Glasgow High Court and ranted: “We have two systems of justice at work in this country, one for whites and a very different one for black people and the poor. The Crown Office is a white gentleman’s colonial club shrouded in the vanity of wigs and gowns relatively unchanged for 400 years.”

Since then I feel I have spent 20 years of looking over my shoulder but still note every single High Court judge remains white and privileged.

You can never stay neutral over injustice. If you really want to fight for justice then why not start with where you live. Today at 6pm the STUC, with the blessing of Sheku Bayoh’s family and the support of our movement, will stage a virtual protest and rally. Like the Bayoh family I desperately want to march today but if Black Lives Matter then with Covid-19 there really is no justification to risk the lives of our movement for one day.

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Struggles against racial injustice last years and sometimes a lifetime. We need the movement to relaunch. We are not going away.

As someone who has marched for some 30 years, we are tired of grieving at gravesides.

A time must come that the lives of our brothers and sisters are commemorated for the lives they have led rather than the lives lost to racial violence.

I am tired of being too scared ever to say anything when racism affects me personally, of seeing the great and good thinking they can cleanse their conscience with a hashtag, take a selfie and then return to their privileged lives. I also don’t believe that all white people are privileged, this is about racism and we need allies, it’s not up to me or the black community to defeat racism. It gives me hope to see black and white united decades after the civil rights movement on the same streets resisting a similar racist regime.

I’m tired of worrying that my children will face the same journey I did. I am tired of watching a system criminalise, stereotype and thus try to negate the life of the likes of Sheku Bayoh. Where the words of anonymous police sources are taken as gospel.

The dead cannot cry out for justice, but the living have a duty to do so.