The tragic death of Nuno Cardoso in police custody in Oxford once again raises questions as to whose lives matter, even when victims meet society’s standards as to who is deemed “respectable”, writes Ava Vidal
When I agreed to write about Nuno Cardoso I wasn’t prepared for how hard it was going to be. This is yet another case of another young Black man who died after contact with the police. This case has resonated with me for many different reasons one of which is that it is nearly the first anniversary of the death of my own child albeit in very different circumstances.
The anger I feel about his death is also exacerbated by the fact he was a student at Oxford University. A student where most of the elite and privileged people in this country attend, and his name is not being uttered in every household in the land, his picture was not on the front of every newspaper and there are no Oxford University alumni demanding to know exactly how this was happened and demanding that justice be served. And because everyone knows this is because he was Black.
Contrast this with a white student at Oxford University who stabbed her boyfriend, avoided jail and was given a character reference by a former professor. I haven’t seen any professor past or present coming forward to heap praise on Nuno and testify as to what an amazing young man he was.
“So often Black people are subjected to respectability politics telling us that things would be just fine if we do well at school, if we work hard, if we speak with the right accent, if we speak more quietly, if we dress in a certain way. But many of us know that this simply is not true”
Nuno was a 25-year-old young man who had won a scholarship to Oxford University to study law. He relocated to Oxford from London and said he wanted to be “the best lawyer in the country”. I feel sad and angry that he probably had believed that he was safer in Oxford. Life can be extremely hard for young Black men in London who are often unfairly profiled and targeted by the police. After an altercation with another student the police were called and he was arrested. According to police, and like many Black people before him, this healthy young man suddenly ‘became unwell.’
This is not because I think ‘things like that shouldn’t happen in a place like Oxford.’ It is because so often Black people are subjected to respectability politics telling us that things would be just fine if we do well at school, if we work hard, if we speak with the right accent, if we speak more quietly, if we dress in a certain way. But many of us know that this simply is not true. It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a professional footballer or a famous actor with millions in the bank – racism affects us all. I often wonder how much better the world would be if instead of teaching Black people how not to get killed we taught white people not to kill them.
Racism at Oxford University has been a topic of conversation for a long time. So frustrated were students of colour about the microaggressions and blatant racism that they faced on campus they started a project called ‘I too am Oxford’. And displaying the typical fragility we have come to expect when the issue of race is discussed, a counter campaign called ‘We are all Oxford’ was launched and of course they recruited their people of colour enablers who joined in the finger wagging instead of telling the university to listen to the students that felt alienated and disrespected. You can have as many diversity drives to recruit ethnic minorities as you like but if you don’t change the atmosphere then it’s utterly pointless. It was another student that called the police on Nuno.
Femi Nylander is a former Oxford University student. He made headlines when he organised the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign at the university. He has described many racist incidents he experienced during his time studying there, including having the police called on him for protesting peacefully about the college having a monument of slave owner Cecil Rhodes displayed. Things didn’t improve after he left and he wrote about how a criminalised image of him was circulated after he visited a friend’s office on campus.
“There is no date set for the inquest yet despite him having died on 24th November 2017. It has been an agonising wait for his mother who had expected her son to return in a mortar board and not a coffin”
I spoke to him about Nuno’s case and he said, “Oxford is a difficult place to navigate for Black students, but some think the privilege of being an Oxford student can protect you from the darker and more violent sides of institutional racism. To a degree this is true, however this case shows that wherever you are in society, if you’re Black you are still a target for police brutality.”
We have lost yet another beautiful, young Black man who could have gone on and done amazing things for his community. My heart is broken for the loss and for the pain his mother is feeling. There is no date set for the inquest yet despite him having died on 24th November 2017. It has been an agonising wait for his mother who had expected her son to return in a mortar board and not a coffin.
I know many of us are tired and depressed that this has happened once again. Some of us think it’s pointless to keep speaking about deaths in custody – every prosecution in the past 15 years over deaths in police custody has ended in acquittal. but I implore you to keep fighting. Don’t wait until it’s a relative of yours or someone you know.
You can support Nuno’s family by signing this petition organised by Miriam Kane Diop. Although it says students, non-students can also sign up so they can be contacted when the inquest is announced.
Ava Vidal is a stand-up comedian, journalist and author. She has appeared on TV and radio including shows such as Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz and BBC Two’s Mock the Week.Follow @thetwerkinggirl