“…when a white man faces a black man, especially if the black man is helpless, terrible things are revealed” – James Baldwin ( 2017, p. 51)
“The disproportionality in the use of force against Black people adds to the irrefutable evidence of structural racism embedded in policing practices” – Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST
“Any death involving a BAME victim who died following the use of force has the capacity to provoke community disquiet leading to a lack of public confidence and trust in the justice system. This can be exacerbated if people are not seen to be held to account, or if the misconduct process is opaque” – Angiolini Report (2017, p. 15)
“Were they afraid of me? Was it to control and subdue, as opposed to treat and help? Was it a decision rooted in fear of the ‘large Black man’?” – David Harewood (2021, pp. 194-195)
One sunny Saturday morning last June, down by Chelsea Bridge in central London, a Black man named Oladeji Omishore, known as Deji, was ‘Tasered’ by two policemen.
A report in the Guardian said that the Metropolitan Police stated that “they had challenged a man on Chelsea Bridge and discharged a stun gun but that “did not enable the officers to safely detain him”. The man, in his early 40s, “subsequently entered the river”, police said, ”and was rescued by the RNLI, which took him to hospital”. He died the next day (Sunday 5 June 2022).
The verb ‘to Taser’ obscures, no doubt for purposes of linguistic hygiene, the fact that a ‘less-lethal’ weapon has been fired at an innocent citizen. A ‘taser’ (says Wikipedia) is “an electroshock weapon used to incapacitate people allowing them to be approached and handled in an unresisting and thus safe manner…It fires two small barbed darts intended to puncture the skin and remain attached to the target, at 55 m/s (120 mph; 200 km/h)…Tasers are marketed as less-lethal, since the possibility of serious injury or death exists whenever the weapon is deployed.”
There is plentiful evidence that these weapons are (a) deployed ‘conservatively’ by police to reduce the possibility of police injury and (b) deployed discriminatorily, in that racism as well as stigma around mental ill-health determines who gets assaulted with these weapons and who does not. If you are a Black man presenting erratically in a public place you are very greatly more likely to be assaulted with ‘less-lethal’ electric shock by a policeman than I am as a White man having myself a bad morning. I have written elsewhere about the long grim history of torture, humiliation and death inflicted upon Black people by White people under a racist flag.
The details of police actions that led to Deji’s death are the subject of an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). The bereaved family are trying to raise funds to institute judicial review of this inquiry. Many of the facts in the story have yet to come to light and I may return to this theme once more has been published.
My purpose in writing briefly on this story today is first of all to try to boost the Omishore family’s crowdfunding campaign, which has until Tuesday at noon to meet its £10,000 target. Click on that hyperlink in the preceding sentence, read what the family have to say and pledge most generously!
Secondly, I want to urge that White people need to stand up and fund these kinds of campaigns if the White in-group is ever going to be effectively held to account for its (our!) brutal treatment of the Black out-group. It’s as simple as that. In my book with Chris Scanlon we observe that
“the in-group does not give up power, although it is adept at appearing to do so. It relies heavily upon “the patience and forbearance of the poor” (James, 1938, p. 299). We the authors are sufficiently implicated in its manoeuvring to know that it will not go against its own prime functioning – which, as we have argued throughout this book, is to hold onto power by excluding and oppressing the out-group – no matter how many people take to the streets of its capital cities to protest.” (Scanlon and Adlam, 2022, p. 152)
I intend to stand by and live up to these words if I possibly can. Let’s not leave it to the out-group to fund challenges to power on their own. Let’s not go along with stuff we know is inexcusable. Let’s dismantle our own toxic power structures – brick by brick, if needs must.
Angiolini, E. (2017) Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/655401/Report_of_Angiolini_Review_ISBN_Accessible.pdf
Baldwin, J. ( 2017) The Fire Next Time. London: Penguin.
Harewood, D. (2021) Maybe I Don’t Belong Here. London: Bluebird.
IOPC (2021) Review of IOPC cases involving the use of Taser 2015-2020 https://policeconduct.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Documents/research-learning/IOPC_Taser_review_2021.pdf.
James, C.L.R. (1938) The Black Jacobins. Reprinted 2001. London: Penguin.
Scanlon, C. & Adlam, J. (2022) Psycho-social Explorations of Trauma, Exclusion and Violence: Un-housed Minds and Inhospitable Environments. London: Routledge.