As the nation mourns the Queen, we are grieving the preventable death of Chris Kaba | Franklyn Addo

Last week Chris Kaba, a 24-year-old aspiring architect and soon-to-be father, was shot dead by Metropolitan police officers in Streatham, south London. On Monday it was announced that the officer who fired at Chris Kaba – who was unarmed – had been suspended from duty. While the suspension is welcome, the fact that it took a full week after the incident and was as a result of public pressure, only gives more weight to the community’s concerns. Questions are still being asked: will justice be served in a transparent and timely manner, rather than the young man’s family having to endure a painstaking and prolonged investigation process? Will the accountability be thorough, with anyone culpable facing proportionate consequences?

In recent days I have been thinking about these questions, but also reflecting on my own encounters with the police. Even as someone raised in Hackney, east London, when it was more infamous for deprivation and crime than attractive for property prospects, I’ve recently been surprised by just how thick the police presence seems to be in parts of south London. In June this year, I was pulled over by police while dropping off a friend in Peckham. It was the third time within just a couple of months.

I had stopped for a moment outside my passenger’s home when a territorial support group (the Met’s riot squad) van pulled up behind us. The heads of the police officers inside swivelled to peer through my untinted windows; I created space to let them pass. Rather than continuing on the van halted, and officers piled out mob-handed, surrounding my vehicle. I recall there being about six of them, although fear and adrenaline prevent me from being certain of that number. Although I’d done nothing wrong, and the officers did not have firearms in their possession, the encounter was no less terrifying. We know very well of the devastating effects and officers’ use of Tasers; it was the same month that Oladeji Omishore died after being Tasered during a mental health crisis.

My passenger and I complied when told to switch off the engine and exit the car. We were separated and interrogated about how we knew each other, how we’d spent our evening, what our jobs were. There had apparently been a stabbing in the area, although the lack of urgency with which the officers went about their business seemed incongruous with this. Before they eventually let us go without issue, I saw the officers’ suspicion and defences rise when I disclosed that I’m a musician. They seemed to become tense, and specifically asked if I made drill music. Shakily debriefing after this experience, my friend and I reflected about the significance of this line of questioning, as well as on how differently the encounter may have panned out if I wasn’t as articulate, or indeed if he wasn’t white.

A large part of my community work lately has involved being an expert defence witness arguing against the misuse of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases and the unthinking characterisation of young people as being willingly involved in “gangs”. It is such caricatures and misconceptions about the supposed inherent criminality of Black cultures that leads to our being overpoliced and disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. Young people are now being bundled together and found guilty of violent crime scenes at which they may not even have physically present, while police officers routinely evade accountability. Since 1990, there have been 1,883 deaths in custody or after police contact in England and Wales; there has just been one conviction of a police officer.

The anger and frustration that led to the explosive public response after the shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011 not only remains but has perhaps intensified. Communities like my own, in Hackney, have since then mourned individuals such as Rashan Charles, who died in 2017 after being stopped and searched, and have been outraged by abominable police practices such as the strip-searching of Child Q in 2020.

While a homicide investigation has now been launched in the case of Chris Kaba, the community has resolved to sustain stamina and apply continued pressure to ensure subsequent demands are met. The family deserve, for instance, to be shown footage of the incident from officers’ body cameras, as has been requested. The Independent Office for Police Conduct must also commit to a schedule for the investigation, reaching a charging decision within a reasonable time frame and avoiding unnecessary delays in the process.

As the nation reflects on the late Queen, others are grieving the sudden, wholly preventable and painfully premature death of a son, fiance and friend. On Saturday’s march for justice for Chris Kaba in central London, overwhelming despair made even the task of walking challenging for his loved ones; harrowing images circulate the internet of his tearful mother being physically propped up and supported as they walked. I was there, as people moved from Westminster to New Scotland yard via Trafalgar Square. It was a poignant and somber procession.

Beyond this case, there needs to be an urgent and fundamental change in the government’s approach to policing and criminal justice, from reviewing search procedures and outlawing the “hard stop” technique, which preceded Duggan’s death, to seriously considering restorative justice and abolitionist perspectives for thinking about the state, as protesters have called for.

  • Franklyn Addo is a musical artist, writer, and community activist from Hackney, east London. His nonfiction debut, A Quick Ting on Grime, is forthcoming

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