#ShekuBayoh: 365 Days and Counting

Text Updated 03/05/2016 to reflect 1 Year since Sheku Bayoh was killed.

by Shane Thomas 

365 days, and we don’t know why Sheku Bayoh is dead…

Aamer-Anwar-centre-and-Colette-Bell-second-left-the-partner-of-dad-of-two-Sheku-Bayoh-who-died-in-police-custody

For those who missed Siana Bangura’s piece last week, 365 days ago Sheku Bayoh died in police custody. He was 31 years old. He leaves behind his partner, Colette, and two children, Isaac (4 months old) and Tyler (3 years old).

365 days, and we don’t know why Sheku Bayoh is dead…

Why was it deemed necessary for 11 officers to detain one man? Unconfirmed rumours have abounded that Bayoh was carrying a knife, and that he died from asphyxiation. A lawyer acting for the Scottish Police Federation has stated that a “petite female officer” responded to a call of a man brandishing a knife, and was “subject to a violent and unprovoked attack by a large male.”

The case has been handed over to the PIRC (Police Investigations and Review Commissioner), who – despite pleas from Sheku Bayoh’s family – are yet to make any comment on the case.

This hasn’t prevented one of the few official responses manifesting in the form of the racist dog whistle, invoking the savage black man[1] terrorising a “petite woman”.

365 days, and we don’t know why Sheku Bayoh is dead…

Despite 11 police officers being ostensibly needed to apprehend one man, and ending in this man’s death, not one of the officers have been suspended. In what profession could one execute their duties, resulting in their conduct being investigated, and yet still be permitted to work uninterrupted? And why did the PIRC only made arrangements to interview the officers in question this Wednesday – 31 days after the “incident”?

365 days, and we don’t know why Sheku Bayoh is dead…

All that’s left is the void of silence. Sheku Bayoh’s loved ones are left to grieve without any form of possible closure. Are his children continuing to wonder where Daddy is? What response could their mother possibly give?

365 days, and we don’t know why Sheku Bayoh is dead…

Sheku-Bayoh-11

James Baldwin memorably said, “The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer.” And yet, it’s to be expected that the PIRC’s investigation will ultimately find a way to exonerate the authorities from any accountability. It’s to be expected because it’s what happened to Olaseni Lewis. And Jimmy Mubenga. And Mark Duggan. And Joy Gardner. And Sean Rigg.

I hope against hope the same doesn’t occur in the violence visited upon Adrian McDonald and Julian Cole.

365 days, and we don’t know why Sheku Bayoh is dead…

The lot of black people in regards to criminal justice is similar to the plight of Estragon and Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot. We protest. We campaign. We use what limited influence our voices have. But mainly, we wait. And wait. And wait… for a justice that seldom arrives.

365 days, and we don’t know why Sheku Bayoh is dead…

There are additional factors that must not be ignored. When police brutality against black people takes place, it often intersects with the issue of mental health. This functions as an easy way for an inquest to leverage blame onto the victim, revealing our society’s systemic ableism, as well as its racism.

In a country where mental health assistance is already underfunded, this is felt most acutely by its black citizens. Police have an easy excuse to be inhumane, as studies show black people are erroneously perceived to feel less pain than other races, leaving us in a particularly vulnerable position.

Also, far too often the focus on black lives is US-centric. Police brutality isn’t a uniquely American thing. Nor is it a preserve of Britain.

365 days, and we don’t know why Sheku Bayoh is dead…

And what of our media? Why has this death – beyond a singular item in a few newspapers[2] – received minor press reportage? Is this systemic racism in action? A more subtle version of the Daily Mail telling one of their reporters not to cover the murders of a woman and her two children, as they were black?

Maybe so, but something else could be at play. It should never have needed it, but the death of Michael Brown, and the subsequent tireless activism from those in Ferguson (and beyond) started something.

While centred too much around cishetero (masculine-presenting) men, systemic racism in the police force is being taken as read to a greater degree in America, maybe more than it has ever been.

Can the UK afford for the same to happen here? The press can influence the national discourse, as well as reflect it. Are they honestly willing to play their part in starting a conversation about race on these shores? Or are the consequences potentially damaging to their own editorial agendas?

The tipping point will eventually come. But how many more have to die before it happens?

365 days, and we don’t know why Sheku Bayoh is dead…

While those with the power to put this at the forefront of the national consciousness do nothing, the anguish of Sheku Bayoh’s family continues. These inquests often move at a glacial pace, with little regard for the well-being of the victim’s loved ones. How much longer must they wait?

45 days?

60 days?

3 months?

6 months?

1 year?

2 years?

And how much longer must we all wait not to be seen as a disposable nuisance by law enforcement? Will Bayoh’s sons grow up only to be depicted the way their father was (as Stacia L. Brown put it, “when a body is black and male, it is more weapon than welcome”)? Or will this death be our tipping point?

[1] – Anyone remember Darren Wilson comparing Michael Brown to Hulk Hogan?

[2] – With the exception of some Scottish newspapers.

READ MORE: All Black Lives Matter: seeking justice for Sheku Bayoh

In the ongoing case of Sheku Bayoh, his family have started a petition to push Scottish police to provide answers and explanations around the circumstances of his death. You can sign it here.

04/06/2015 Police officers involved in death of man in custody agree to give statements

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TWOWEEKSNOTICE “Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing Pop culture to sport, and back again

A mixed-race film graduate, Shane comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

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2 replies

  1. “Why has this death – beyond a singular item in a few newspapers – received minor press reportage? Is this systemic racism in action?”.

    The death of Sheku Bayoh has received widespread and continuing coverage in the Scottish media. If the London media have afforded less attention to the case then it could be down to systemic racism in the London media. I would guess though that a more likely cause would be “Scottish blindness”. This phenomenon has been seen before, such as in the murder of Kriss Donald (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Kriss_Donald#Lack_of_media_coverage).

    “This hasn’t prevented one of the few official responses manifesting in the form of the racist dog whistle, invoking the savage black man terrorising a “petite woman”.”

    I was angry at the lawyer of the police involved for making that statement. He did so with the clear and singular intention of publicly demonising Sheku Bayoh. However, I disagree that the statement was intended to stoke racial prejudice against Bayoh. In Scotland, male on female violence is stronger taboo than most places, to the extent that “lassie-basher” is a generic playground insult made against school boys. The lawyer claimed that Bayoh stamped on the head of the grounded police woman, so I think his aim was to invoke public disdain against Bayoh for his alleged actions rather than for his race. Regardless, a very wrong and very annoying move from the police lawyer.

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    • In my criticism of the media, I did make sure to acknowledge that my ire wasn’t aimed towards the press in Scotland. It’s in my second footnote. I suspect you’re right about systemic racism in the London media, although racism in the media is hardly limited to London. In terms of covering stories in Scotland, I’m inclined to agree with you about Scottish myopia – in terms of if it happens in Scotland, it cant be important.

      For clarity’s sake, even though I called out the lawyer, I don’t think he was trying to stoke racism towards Bayoh. But that doesn’t mean what he said wasn’t racist. I also wouldn’t try to deny or discredit issues Scotland has with violence against women – which is an ongoing problem everywhere. But the lawyer didn’t simply accuse Bayoh of assaulting the female officer, he used the word “petite” to describe her, painting the picture of a helpless “Red Riding Hood” figure being stalked by a violent predator. That’s why he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. His comments weren’t just annoying, they were racist.

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