Anger against racist police violence swells in the UK after killing of Chris Kaba

1,833 people have died in police custody or following police contact in the UK since 1990. The recent killing of Chris Kaba has led to renewed calls for justice as Black people continue to be disproportionately targeted by police violence 

September 27, 2022 by Tanupriya Singh
Chris Kaba Police violence UK
(Photo: via Twitter)

Calls for truth and justice have intensified in the UK following the police killing of a 24-year-old Black man earlier this month. Chris Kaba was shot in the head by a firearms officer of the Metropolitan Police in Streatham Hill, London, on September 5. The killing sparked mass outrage and renewed protests against police violence and racism. 

On September 21, following sustained demands, Kaba’s family was finally able to view the police body camera footage of the shooting. In a brief comment to a BBC journalist in the aftermath, Kaba’s mother Helen Nkama stated, “What I want is [that] justice must [be] done. And I want the truth…for Chris.” 

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) launched a homicide investigation into the incident on September 9. However, it was only on September 12, a week after Kaba was killed, that the firearms officer in question was suspended by the Met Police citing a “significant impact on public confidence.” The officer had initially been treated as a witness in the investigation. 

Kaba was shot while driving an Audi car, which had been rammed and blocked by two police vehicles in a narrow residential street. A firearms officer reportedly fired a shot through the windscreen on the driver’s side striking Kaba, who was declared dead two hours later. He was unarmed. His family was not informed of his death for 11 hours. 

A coroner’s inquest into Kaba’s death will be convened on October 4. 

The IOPC claimed that police were pursuing the car because it had been flagged by an Automatic Number Plate Recognition camera as being linked to a recent firearms incident. The vehicle was not registered in Kaba’s name.

On September 16, the IOPC announced that it would examine if race had “influenced any actions taken by the police.” It added that the investigation could take between six to nine months. The announcement was met with anger by Kaba’s family who denounced the lack of urgency shown by the authorities at every stage. 

Kaba’s father Prosper also condemned the police killing as “totally racist” and “criminal.” “We want all the community, especially the minority community, to see it as a racism case,” he said.

“We are worried that if Chris had not been Black, he would have been arrested on Monday evening [instead of being shot] and not had his life cut short,” the family had stated two days after his death. 

“It is devastating to see yet another Black person’s life taken by the police, however not surprising, since we are more than twice as likely to die during or following police contact,” stated BLM UK. “With each death, our community experiences collective grief. Black people across the UK are left wondering: who’s next?” 

In a statement released through their representative, INQUEST, a charity providing expertise on state-related deaths, Kaba’s family said on September 22 that “The facts of this case demand urgent accountability and the family will therefore await regular meaningful updates on the investigation and the progress towards a charging decision.” 

They have maintained their demands for the suspended officer to be interviewed under caution, and for an early charging decision.

In the meantime, the family has also fiercely condemned the media reporting and speculations regarding alleged past offenses related to Kaba. “Media speculation about his [Chris’] past is a distraction from what must be the priority, which is establishing precisely how and why he was killed,” his cousin Jefferson Bosela said

“This is an attempt to detract from legitimate public concern about police use of lethal force against a Black man. Police cannot be judge, jury, and executioner. They must be accountable to the rule of law,” added INQUEST director Debroah Coles.

INQUEST has also submitted a report detailing its concerns to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which has been looking into “police brutality” and rights “violations by law enforcement against Africans and people of African descent” following the police murder of George Floyd in the US in 2020. Kaba’s family has supported the move. 

Official developments in the case so far have taken place amid immense public pressure and the ‘Justice for Chris Kaba’ campaign organized by his family. On September 17, approximately 1,000 protestors gathered outside New Scotland Yard in London as part of a National Day of Action organized by the campaign. Protests were also held in other cities including Manchester, Southampton, Coventry, Brighton, Bristol, and Oxford. 

Speaking at the rally in London was Marcia Rigg, the sister of 40-year-old Sean Rigg who died in police custody in 2008. “It shouldn’t have to take a death for us to all wake up again and come out on the streets to fight for equal rights and justice. We know there is no justice, there is just us…[and] we are not going anywhere.” 

‘Policing is the crisis’ 

Speaking to Channel 4 News at a protest earlier this month, 4Front Project director Temi Mwale stated, “This system is beyond reform and whilst the police have the resources, the tools, the public support, and the lack of accountability that we see today, and have seen seen historically, we can continue to see Chris’ case and other cases like him. We will continue to see people being harmed by the police.” 

Data compiled by INQUEST shows that since 1990, 1,833 people have died in police custody or in the aftermath of other forms of contact with the police, in vehicular pursuits and road traffic incidents in England and Wales. 

The organization’s monitoring has shown that 16% of such deaths have been of people of Black, Asian, and Minoritized Ethnicities (BAME). In 2020, the BBC found that despite constituting around 3% of the UK’s population, Black people accounted for 8% of the deaths in police custody in the past decade, based on IOPC figures.

Between 2020 and 2021, 10% of people who died during or following police contact in the UK were Black, according to the IOPC. 

In 2021, Police Constable Benjamin Monk was sentenced on a manslaughter charge for the killing of Dalian Atkinson. This was the first time a police officer had been convicted for unlawfully killing a member of the public while on duty since 1986. Murder and manslaughter charges have been brought against 10 police officers since 1990, none led to a conviction. 

In the aftermath of the horrific and racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, a public inquiry was established to look into the matter. In 1999, its findings, known commonly as the Macpherson Report, were published. It concluded that the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into the Lawrence’s killing had been “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism, and a failure of leadership.” 

More than two decades later, a report by a Home Affairs Committee released last year stated that racial disparities in policing had remained “persistent” and “deep-rooted.”

“The disproportionality in the use of force against Black people adds to the irrefutable evidence of structural racism embedded in policing practices,” stated Coles. Home Office data has shown that Black people are five times more likely to be subjected to the use of force by police than white people in England and Wales. Black people are also seven times more likely to be subjected to tasers. 

INQUEST has found that the proportion of BAME deaths in custody where the use of restraint or the use of force are a feature is over two times greater than other deaths in custody. The proportion of BAME deaths where mental health-related issues have been featured is nearly two times more than other deaths in custody. 

On June 4, 41-year-old Oladeji Adeyemi Omishore, another Black man, died after contact with the police. Omishore had been experiencing a mental health crisis when he was tasered by Met Police officers multiple times, after which he fell into the River Thames. Police falsely claimed that he had been “armed with a screwdriver” which was later found to be a fire lighter used to light cigarettes. 

Three months after his death, Omishore’s family was finally allowed to view the body cam footage last week. The officers responsible for the incident remain on active duty, even though the matter is under an IOPC investigation.

Black people are 14 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police under ‘suspicionless’ Section 60 stops. As argued by human rights organization Liberty, these stops are often based on “racist stereotyping, and figures show that more than three-quarters (77%) of stop and searches result in no further action.” 

While activists have been organizing against police violence across the UK, the recent cases of Chris Kaba and Oladeji Omishore have also re-directed attention to the severe abuses being committed specifically by the Met Police. This violence has not only been racist, but deeply misogynistic, as evidenced during the protests against the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a Met Police officer in 2021. 

In June, the Met Police was placed under ‘Special Measures’ by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) after an investigation identified 14 failings, including the failure to record crimes and stop and search errors. 

Importantly, the HMICFRS pointed to a series of major scandals that had come to light, including the Everard case, the exchange of racist, sexist, and homophobic text messages by officers at the Charing Cross Station, and the strip-searching of Child Q — identified as a 15-year-old child from Hackney who was subjected to the traumatizing act by Met Police officers. 

In August, it was revealed that the Met Police had strip-searched 650 children over a two-year period. 58% of the children between the ages of 10 and 17 years who were strip-searched between 2018 and 2020 were Black. In 2018, the figure stood at 75%. In one in five cases, it was not possible to determine where the search took place. 

Separately, data revealed under a Freedom of Information request filed by Dr. Tom Kemp, a researcher at the University of Nottingham, has shown that over 9,000 children were subjected to strip searches by the Met Police in the last five years. 

When public grief and rage against pervasive police brutality and racism boils over into protests and other forms of resistance, “police repress these movements and actively create violence.” A report released by the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) stated that the policing of the 2020 BLM protests in the UK was “institutionally racist.” “We conclude that excessive use of force is disproportionately used at Black-led protests, and against Black protestors,” the report said.

Under these already existing conditions of severe violence, the UK government has decided to expand police powers even further, while simultaneously placing severe restrictions on the right to protest, all under the aegis of the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Act that came into force earlier this year. In the aftermath of Everard’s murder, feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut had launched the ‘Kill the Bill’ movement, which saw mass protests against the legislation across the UK in 2021. 

The UK parliament is now set to vote on the Public Order Bill which will re-introduce previously rejected provisions targeting protest rights, including new offenses of ‘locking on’ and ‘interfering with national infrastructure’, the issuance of protest banning orders, and the expansion of stop and search – which has been overwhelmingly deployed against Black people. 

In the face of this systematic assault on civil and political rights by the state and the police, groups in the country have been mobilizing for the removal of police from communities and schools. 

As police officers continue to carry out acts of violence against the public with near-total impunity, the government and the police have maintained that policing in the UK is carried out with the “consent” of the public. To this end, organizations such as Sisters Uncut and the network of Copwatch groups across the country have been organizing for the explicit withdrawal of this “consent.” 

“Policing by consent is a story this country likes to tell about itself. The reality is that policing is unaccountable, aggressive, and violent. We withdraw our consent from policing, and encourage the public to do so as well,” Sisters Uncut declared in a statement.