Demonstration, HMP Holloway, 8 February 2016. Images by Wasi Daniju. All rights reserved.
On Monday night hundreds of people gathered outside Holloway Prison in North London to mourn the death of Sarah Reed, a young black woman whose assault at the hands of a Metropolitan police officer made headlines two years ago.
Sarah, aged 32, was found dead in her cell at Holloway Prison on 11 January. In October last year Sarah told her family that she was a victim of attempted rape whilst on a secure ward at Maudsley Hospital in South London, and that she fought back. Sarah was charged with assault and remanded to prison, where she died. She is survived by a teenage daughter.
Her death first came to public attention after the publication on 2 February of a blog by the social activist Lee Jasper which detailed the harrowing events of Sarah’s life. According to Jasper’s blog, based on an interview with Sarah’s family, her problems began in 2003 after the death of her six-month-old baby daughter.
Her brother Anthony Reed is quoted in a news report by the Voice newspaper as saying: “To the outside world she put on a brave face but actually in reality she had internalised her grief. She spent the next 12 years of her life facing many ups and down. In good times she always brightened up the room she entered with her big smile and infectious laugh.”
In 2012 Sarah was attacked by then Metropolitan police officer James Kiddie, who dragged her by her hair, punched her repeatedly in the face and sat on her. His actions were caught on camera. For that he was charged and found guilty of common assault and sentenced to a 150-hour community order. Kiddie was dismissed from the Metropolitan police as result of the incident.
After widespread anger on social media over Sarah’s death under the tags #SayHerName #SarahReed and #BlackLivesMatter, hundreds of people turned out for an emotional vigil held on the day of her burial earlier this week. Many of the attendees at the service were black woman who were moved by Sarah’s death to speak out about their own experiences of mental illness, racism and state violence.
Campaigners and Sarah’s family have called for an investigation into her death. Writing in the Justice Gap, Zita Holbourne, chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, said: “Sarah’s life mattered. She was a black woman, a mother … a daughter, she was a human being. What happened to the humanity of those who failed her? We need to know.”
Deborah Cole, of the charity INQUEST, which helps people bereaved by a death in custody or detention, told Channel 4 news: “What this tragic case needs is a far ranging investigation into the role of the police, the courts, mental health services and the prison to establish how it is that such a vulnerable woman appears to have been failed by all of these state agencies.”
Sarah Reed (c/o Lee Jasper)On Twitter, one user wrote: “#SarahReed’s death is a story of race, gender, class & mental health. Shows who gets to make news and who can be discarded in Britain today.”
It was shared 330 times. A campaign group in Sarah Reed’s name has been set up on Facebook.
Pictures by Wasi Daniju. Words by Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi.