It’s eight years since Sheku Bayoh died at the hands of police in Scotland. The public inquiry into his death is still ongoing. Yet just days before his anniversary of his death on Wednesday 3 May, video emerged of cops brutalising two Black boys in London – exemplifying institutional racism. This shows that nothing to do with the police, nor society more broadly, has actually changed since Sheku’s killing.
Sheku Bayoh: the fight for justice continues
As the Canary‘s Sophia Purdy-Moore previously wrote about Sheku:
On 3 May 2015, Kirkcaldy police officers responded to a call saying that a Black man was walking down the street with a knife and acting erratically. When officers arrived at the scene, Bayoh appeared to be walking away. He was unarmed and officers found no knife on him.
Within 46 seconds of arriving, the officers had Bayoh face down on the ground. Two officers allegedly placed their full body weight on Bayoh’s upper body. They used CS spray – a gas used to incapacitate people – and batons, and shackled him in handcuffs, leg restraints, and ankle restraints. He lost consciousness, but officers kept the handcuffs and restraints in place. He died in hospital an hour and a half later.
A post-mortem found injuries on Bayoh’s face, bruises on his body, and a broken rib.
An official investigation into Sheku’s killing failed to hold the police officers involved responsible. So, after pressure from his family, campaign groups, and lawyers, the Scottish government said it would hold a public inquiry. This was in 2019. The inquiry didn’t start until 2022 – seven years after Sheku died in police custody. Fast-forward to 3 May 2023, the anniversary of his killing, and that inquiry is still ongoing. As campaign group INQUEST’s director Deborah Coles previously told the Canary, the Scottish government’s delay in starting the inquiry:
points to is the fundamental problem with the way in which deaths at the hands of the police are investigated in Scotland.
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Memorials and vigils
So, eight years after he died, people are marking the day. In Glasgow, there will be a silent vigil to remember Sheku:
Today marks 8 years since Sheku Bayoh died in police hands in Kirkcaldy in 2015. Join us in a silent vigil at the Buchanan Street Steps, Glasgow today at 6pm (gather from 5.45pm) to remember Sheku Bayoh. https://t.co/GKzIn1wLFS
— Suki Sangha (@sukisangh) May 3, 2023
Sending love and solidarity to family and friends of Sheku Bayoh and those supporting their 8 year fight for truth, justice, and accountability. https://t.co/qRBPmKazCD
— Deborah Coles (@DebatINQUEST) May 3, 2023
Then, as the inquiry into his death restarts, people will be coming out on 9 May to support the family – and call for justice:
Tomorrow it will be 8 years since #ShekuBayoh died in police custody.
Wed 3 May, 5.45pm – join the vigil marking the anniversary in Glasgow, Buchanan steps
— Stand Up to Racism – Scotland (@SUTRScotland) May 2, 2023
Countless Black and Brown people killed by cops
Sheku was sadly another in a long line of Black and Brown people who died at the hands of UK police – who suffered no real punishment. Just days before the anniversary of his death, it was 44 years since cops killed Blair Peach:
On 23 April 1979 Blair Peach was killed by police whilst protesting against far right National Front. No police officer was ever charged. Impunity and state racism continues. Like many bereaved families. Celia Stubbs, founding member @INQUEST_ORG was spied on. #spycops pic.twitter.com/YwPB9qEBZf
— Deborah Coles (@DebatINQUEST) April 23, 2023
More recently, on 5 September 2022, cops shot and killed unarmed Chris Kaba in London. As the Canary wrote at the time:
The death of Chris is in many respects like the killings of Oladeji Omishore, Mark Duggan, Dalian Atkinson, Trevor Smith, Joy Gardner and countless others, including when the victims were in contact with, or detained by, police. That is, the entrenched structural and institutional racism that pervades UK policing meant police killed them because they were Black and Brown people. It’s also likely some of the officers involved were racist as well.
Yet after all these deaths, and on the anniversary of Sheku’s death, police in the UK haven’t changed. Just days ago, footage emerged of cops in Dalston, East London, violently restraining two Black boys. An officer pinned one of the kids down. People reported they were innocent and trying to escape an attack. You can see members of the public in the video trying to stop the cops:
The Met Police are a violent and unnecessary force, two youths got attacked in Dalston and ran into Poundland to hide, members of the public tried to defuse the situation by making sure they were ok, look at how the Police were treating them upon arrival on the scene. pic.twitter.com/UvR7JQjdAM
— Kiko James (🎾🏌🏾♂️ 🏁) (@CJXCII) April 29, 2023
As one person said on Twitter, this is an example of the Met’s, and policing’s more broadly, institutional racism – it was:
impossible for these Met officers to conceive of Black boys in tracksuits in Dalston as victims.
The latest stop and search figures, for example, bear this out. Police are 6.2 times more likely to subject Black kids and adults to this racist violation than white people. Also, cops stop more people in the most deprived areas – so you have class intersecting with this. And just to compound the institutional racism of stop and search – Black people have the highest rates of “no further action” after a stop and search.
White supremacy: not just a cop problem
Of course, none of this is news to Black and Brown people. Nor do inquiries change anything. As the Canary‘s Afroze Fatima Zaidi recently wrote, just weeks after the Casey Review into the Met called it institutionally racist (among every other prejudice you can think of), cops tasered a Black man, resulting in his death. Another death – and another investigation is underway.
As the Canary‘s Maryam Jameela recently wrote:
Here at the Canary we’ve reported time and time again when Met police officers strip search children, further criminalise Black and Brown communities, have officers that rape and murder, and are placed in special measures. All of these incidents are not evidence that the Met needs reform. They’re evidence that the Met is functioning exactly as intended – criminalising vulnerable communities.
Of course, police forces serving as agents of the racist, colonialist state to enact violence against marginalised communities is typical of a society which has white supremacy as its lynchpin. This is evident, for example, in a Conservative Party government which is inherently racist at every turn – and an opposition Labour Party which is no better. From housing, to public services, to the media – our society is built on colonialist white supremacy, and isn’t changing anytime soon.
The killing of Sheku should be remembered. However, it should also be remembered that nothing will change unless communities force it to themselves.
Featured image via Sheku Bayoh’s familySupport us and go ad-free
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