In March 2011 the lyrical legend that is Smiley Culture (real name David Emmanuel), joined the many casualties in a long list of Black people in Britain who lost their lives while in police custody.
The MC who came to the nation’s attention as the “Cockney Translator”, had been under investigation for suspicion to “Supply a Class A Substance” and it was during a police raid on his house in south London that he lost his life.
The initial shock was surpassed by bemusement at the official police version of events which reported that Smiley Culture had stabbed himself in the heart whilst presumably being allowed to visit his kitchen to make a cup of tea. The Emmanuel family echoed the voices of many in refuting this version of events based on pure common sense. Police officers allowing the prime-suspect to wander unattended around his premises whilst under a search for cocaine appears incredible to say the least.
This, however, is the story that the jury presiding over the inquest into the death has confirmed. In presenting the verdict the jury foreman stated:
“David Victor Emmanuel took his own life…..Although the tragic events…were unforeseeable, giving one officer the responsibility of supervising Mr. Emmanuel and, at the same time the premise’s search book, was a contributory factor in his death.”
The “contributory factor” of which they speak will not lead to any disciplinary action, however, as the IPCC concluded that the search procedure, though unsatisfactory, did not amount to “misconduct”. Instead, the IPCC along with coroner Richard Travers has been charged with the responsibility of making recommendations to the Met on how they can improve their search policy!
“After listening to over two weeks of evidence and having had the opportunity to test the accounts of the officers, I feel no closer to the truth than I did before…. Despite the jury’s verdict, the inconsistencies in the evidence have only served to raise serious concerns on my part about what really happened on the morning of March 15, 2011.”
The inconsistencies are glaring, especially with regard to what was originally reported. Mr. Emmanuel was apparently drinking the tea that he had been permitted to prepare. The solitary officer who accompanied him into the kitchen was reportedly too “engrossed in paper work”, to notice Smiley Culture rise from his seat and make his way across the room, subsequently acquiring a knife that he used to stab himself. It was also reported that this knife was void of his finger prints, a piece of evidence which appears curiously absent from the consideration regarding the inquest.
Though alarming, this verdict is not surprising. Ever since David Oluwale in 1969 (the first recorded Black death in Police Custody), no British Police officer has ever been held responsible for the death of its Black citizens. When one considers that Black deaths in custody numbers over 1,000 people, such a nonexistent conviction rate is poor, to say the least, and some would say a symptom of an institutionally racist society that places a very low premium on the value of Black life.
Smiley Culture was, in fact, one of 5 Black men to have been killed in Police Custody in 2011 alone. A contention which rose to fever pitch during August of that year when the lack of Police response to a community seeking answer regarding the shooting of Mark Duggan sparked “The London Riots” which spread throughout the country.
Despite the lack of accountability, concerns continue to rise regarding a reported rise in Black deaths in custody since 2008. While The Met remain under continued fire as more information regarding their clandestine operations into the family of Stephen Lawrence’s campaign for justice comes to light, little seems to be done about the losses of life at the hands of the police themselves.
It was revealed on Fri 5th July 2013 that the inquest into the killing of Azelle Rodney, who was shot 6 times by a police officer in 2005, brought back the verdict of “Unlawful Killing”. In 2003 the same verdict was brought back after the inquest into Roger Sylvester’s death (1999). To this date, no officer has been charged with the murder.
In various other cases, officers appear to be under the protection of prosecutors & and Judges who form a collusion of the unwilling when it comes to charging officers with crimes.
For example, officers who were charged with “manslaughter” in relations to the death of Christopher Alder (1998), were acquitted after the judged instructed the jury to return with said verdict: This was despite CCTV footage of the officers in question brutally beating Alder, while making racially insulting gestures of his battered body.
What this amounts to is an institution that appears to have a license to kill without accountability. The often repeated axiom “no one is above the law” does not seem to apply to the national number 1 law enforcement agency, which is a dangerous omen for Black people as the IPCC reports:
“There was a breach of police procedure in 27% of cases … people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were more likely to be restrained whilst in police custody than whites.”
According to many families of victims, the IPCC itself has done much to pervert the course of justice in matter s of deaths in custody. What concessions have been gained, come as a result the families and support organizations such as “Campaign For Truth & Justice” and “United Friends & Families Campaign” who tirelessly keep this issue alive and raise awareness on the issue.
In 2011, Merlin Emmanuel, nephew of Smiley Culture attended the “National Black Peoples day of Action”. The issue of Black deaths in custody was high on the agenda as convention delegates initiated the process for developing a National Afrikan People’s Parliament as: “a nationwide, independent, representative body whose purpose is to promote, preserve and protect the best interest of Afrikan people domiciled in the UK.”
While this process in train, families of the slain victims call on Black community support, to apply the necessary pressure that will ensure justice for their loved ones and the assurance that these incidents will cease to be a reality of Black life in Britain.