On 4 June 2022, Oladeji Omishore fell to his death off Chelsea Bridge after police Tasered him multiple times. Initial police reports claimed that Omishore was “armed with a screwdriver”. But on 21 June, police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) revealed that Omishore was only holding a cigarette lighter.
This serious case of police misinformation shows that we can never trust what officers say when it comes to deaths following police contact or use of force. Particularly if their victims are Black and experiencing a mental health crisis.
The death of Oladeji Omishore
On 4 June, Metropolitan Police officers Tasered Omishore several times on Chelsea Bridge in London. In an attempt to escape the police’s advances, Omishore jumped into the River Thames. He died in hospital later that day.
In a press statement regarding the fatal incident, the Met claimed that Omishore was “armed with a screwdriver”. However, on 21 June, the IOPC released a statement explaining that Omishore was actually carrying a cigarette lighter when officers attacked him.
Expressing the ‘deep distress’ caused by their loved one’s untimely death, Omishore’s family said in a statement:
Deji was clearly suffering from a mental health crisis and he was vulnerable and frightened. We have set out our concerns to the IOPC about how the officers communicated with him, their repeated use of force on him, and its impact.
We sincerely hope that the IOPC investigation, and ultimately the inquest, will hold the Metropolitan Police accountable for their actions and also shed further light on the very necessary policy and social justice changes that we need to see.
The IOPC investigation into Omishore’s death is ongoing. Omishore’s family is now fighting for the IOPC to include the Met’s misinformation regarding the cigarette lighter in the terms of reference of the watchdog’s investigation of the police.
Omishore’s family are also calling for the IOPC to investigate the officers involved for misconduct, and have expressed concern that they are still on active duty.
Excessive and disproportionate use of force
INQUEST – a charity which supports victims and bereaved families affected by state violence – is working to support Omishore’s family.
In a statement regarding the incident, senior casewoker at INQUEST Selen Cavcav said:
Deji’s death is part of a longstanding pattern of the disproportionate use of force against Black men by police, particularly those in mental health crisis.
Indeed, Home Office data shows that in 2020, police in England and Wales were five times more likely to use force against Black people than their white counterparts.
And according to BBC data, 8% of people who died in custody between 2008 and 2018-19 in England and Wales were racialised as Black, despite making up just 3% of the population.
As Omishore’s family highlighted in their statement, in August 2021 the IOPC published a review of 101 cases involving the police’s use of Tasers in England and Wales between 2015 and 2020. In this report, the watchdog raised concerns about the police’s disproportionate and inappropriate use of the electronic weapon against Black people and people experiencing a mental health crisis.
Police continue to target Black people with force. This is rooted in false, racist, and dehumanising narratives which frame Black men as inherently ‘criminal’, violent threats. This is compounded by ableist and punitive approaches to mental health.
Initial reports framed Omishore as a violent threat, not a vulnerable man in need of support.
In INQUEST’s statement, Cavcav said:
Misinformation and false narratives immediately following a death are a common tactic which deflect attention from serious public concern, and protect police from necessary criticism. These tactics must be independently investigated along with the wider circumstances of the death.
This is another example of the police’s use of misinformation to justify deaths following police contact and police use of force.
We saw this in the case of Lewis Skelton, who Humberside Police fatally shot in the back, then falsely framed as “aggressive”. And, when Bristol police officers told a “rather different” story from the reality reflected in CCTV footage of them Tasering an autistic man in 2018. We can’t always rely on footage, as there have been a number of cases of police withholding bodycam footage from bereaved families and the general public.
Meanwhile, in 2017, health charities found the Police Federation to be spreading misinformation to justify officers’ brutal use of spit hoods.
All this undoubtably contributes to the police’s ability to escape accountability time and time again when it comes to deaths in police custody and cases of police use of force, particularly against vulnerable and marginalised people. By actively denying bereaved families access to any form of truth, justice and closure, the police and those who protect them are exacerbating the pain and trauma of losing a loved one to state violence.
The police don’t protect us
In spite of evidence of the harm they can cause, the Home Office announced in 2019 that it would spend £10m on arming more police officers with the electronic weapon. This money would be better invested into public infrastructures of care – which the state has savagely defunded over the last decade – such as mental health services.
Meanwhile, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act – which the queen granted royal assent on 28 April 2022 – gives the police more powers and even less accountability. This will further harm people who already overpoliced, including Black men and those experiencing a mental health crisis.
One thing’s for certain: the police don’t protect the public. They only protect themselves. We must rally together to defend our rights and protect our communities from all forms of state violence and authoritarianism.
Featured image via INQUEST
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