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Malia Bouattia

How a litany of failings denied #JusticeForMariam

The 18-year-old student was brutally attacked by six young women in February 2018 [Twitter]

Date of publication: 21 June, 2019

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Comment: At every step of the way, Mariam and her family have been confronted with structural racism, writes Malia Bouattia.
It has been over a year since 18-year old Mariam Moustafa died after being punched, beaten, and subsequently suffering a stroke which left her in a coma. But justice is yet to be served.

During the hearing which started last week and ended two days ago in Nottingham Crown Court, District Judge Spruce sentenced one of the accused, Mariam Fraser, to eight months in youth custody, another, Britania Hunter received a 12-month community order which includes 40 hours of unpaid work and 28 rehabilitation activity days.

Netesha Lewis, who had repeatedly punched Moustafa in the head, and attacked her friend who had attempted to protect her, then slammed Mariam into a bus shelter, received a 12-month referral order.

Rochelle Dobbin, who filmed the physical attack and verbal abuse and then uploaded it on social media received a six-month referral order, and two others who were also involved but cannot be named due to their ages, received nine month and six month referral orders.

Mariam's father expressed his anger and sadness at the judge's decision, stating that it was, "not strong enough". The parents also chose not to attend the final hearing, saying that, "we believe that this case is a well-played movie under the name of justice."

While the prosecution stated that the attackers would not be charged for manslaughter given that pathologists stated there was no 'legal link' between the assault and actual death, the judge had said that, "the logical conclusion to draw is the stroke [which killed Moustafa] was brought on by the actions of those who attacked her."

Campaigner Maz Saleem, who has helped fight to bring #JusticeforMariam, recalled a similar treatment of her father after he was stabbed to death in a racist attack.

She informed me there were several institutional attempts to downplay the attack.

Police officers similarly tried to dissuade the family from seeing it as Islamophobic in intent and even went as far as claiming that her father's death did not have anything to do with the several stab wounds inflicted by the fascist attacker. Instead, focus went to the heart attack he'd had while being violently assaulted.

Time and time again, Mustafa and her family expressed their worry over the care being given to her

Recognising the damaging impact that the assault - and subsequent death of Mariam - would have on her family, the judge explained that the decision to spare most of the attackers a custodial sentence was to "avoid criminalising young people unnecessarily".

This may be a positive decision by the judge at face value, but it doesn't solve the numerous grave injustices that she and her family were dealt at the hands of the British state.

It is also difficult to see how the judge's decision will lay the foundation to address the injustice, when the Islamophobic element of the assault continues to be denied by the court.

Mariam's father told me that this was "100% a hate crime" and said that the attackers used racist slurs throughout the incident.

Read more: If you haven't heard of Mariam Moustafa, don't be surprised

Furthermore he told me that the countless witnesses who watched Mariam being dragged by her hair, being punched and attacked did nothing to stop it.

Moustafa did not die during the physical attack but given a heart condition she had since childhood, and due to the wounds brought on by the attack, she was rushed to hospital as soon as she got home on the evening of 20 February, 2018.

She was released by local health services at 3am the next morning. Mr Moustafa informed me that she kept telling hospital staff that she felt like if she was discharged, she would die. She kept repeating that she felt like there was a brick in her head and that there was something making her very ill. "But they didn't listen" he added. A few hours later, she fell into a coma and died of a cerebral haemorrhage.

The UK's National Health System, which is so severely underfunded it encourages the immediate discharge of patients - a practice those from low socio-economic backgrounds are most likely to fall victim to - had a hand here in failing to prevent the worst.

Time and time again, Mustafa and her family expressed their worry over the care being given to her, and she had publicly pleaded for help before her death. Her father said that the entire system is also to blame and that they are very angry about the issues within the NHS that effectively left his daughter neglected.

Mr Moustafa repeated to me, over and over again, that "the system is the problem". At every step of the way, Mariam and her family were confronted with structural racism.

Indeed, Mariam felt a similar dismissal from the police, before her death, when her family had been the target of harassment which they had complained about. Even following the attack, Mr Moustafa told me that the police didn't come to report the incident, he was the one to call them to record the crime.

Following her death, their house was egged and they felt so unsafe that they were forced to move.

The other Moustafa children also had to take time out of their studies over continued bullying by those close to Mariam's attackers, including physical assaults. Yet no one intervened to protect the family.

Instead, local police forces appeared to be more concerned about convincing the media, the local mosque, and the family that despite repeated proof to the contrary, Islamophobia was not part of the story here – something officers even came to announce in public at Mariam's funeral prayer I had attended.

Mr Moustafa repeated to me, over and over again, that 'the system is the problem'

To add insult to injury, Mariam's father added that they were not told about an April hearing in the case. While the Crown Prosecution Service has recognised and apologised for this oversight, the story of the Moustafa family is one in which they were continuously ignored, belittled, and left to fend for themselves.

It is this very treatment at the hands of the state, welfare services, and school authorities that have led the family where it is now. Islamophobia and xenophobia do not start nor end with the words of Mariam's attackers. It is built into every institutional space the family encountered.

These experiences reinforce the legitimate distrust that many migrants, people of colour and working-class communities feel towards state representatives and the justice system.

There is a mishandling of such individuals, at every step, because it involves the most oppressed and silenced sections of society which are often criminalised rather than supported by such systems. Even when they are not criminalised, they are infantilised or ignored and left to die - literally, in Mariam's case.  

If we consider it right for the judge to want to avoid incarcerating young working class, racialised, women, what is not acceptable is that the family's treatment, the effects of institutionally racist neglect, and the role Islamophobia played in Mariam Moustafa's death continue to be ignored.

The story of the Moustafa family is one in which they were continuously ignored, belittled and left to fend for themselves

Mr Moustafa tells me he wanted justice not only for his daughter but for all those suffering similar fates.

Without acknowledging the facts, nothing can be done to write the indescribable wrong or avoid similar cases in the future, nor can the family hope to start a long and arduous process of healing.

Without truth there can be no justice, and without justice there can be no peace.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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