Last year, I called out the lack of political imagination for Black History Month. This year, a lack of political accountability concerns me
2022 Protest outside New Scotland Yard, against the death of Chris Kaba | Alamy
The problems I was concerned with last year – the lack of political imagination and the persistent political inertia on equality remain relevant
Last year, I guest edited The House’s digital hub for Black History Month. In my editor’s welcome, I lamented the lack of political imagination across Westminster. But this year, I feel very strongly that I am writing in different circumstances.
In the lead-up to this Black History Month, we have seen the killing of Chris Kaba, chilling revelations from a report released after Ian McDonald-Taylor’s death and the natural death of Tony Paris (jailed in 1990) – who never really recovered after he was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.
McDonald-Taylor was a severe asthmatic who was handcuffed after getting into a fight on one of the hottest days of the year in 2019. He warned police that he was dying – and a few hours later did so, from a heart and asthma attack, dehydration and stress.
What is really at stake here is life itself. The right to a decent and dignified life. The right to be arrested rather than killed. The right to be taken to hospital rather than left to die.
The arresting officer who did not take him to a hospital just streets away – and claimed he was playing “the whole poor me poor me [routine],” as he lay dying, showed no real remorse. He has not been suspended, despite the concerns of the coroner over his “attitude” in court.
Paris was one of the “Cardiff Three”, wrongly imprisoned for the 1988 murder of Lynette White in Cardiff’s docklands. He was one of seven Black men arrested at the time of the killing. The real murderer was convicted in 2003. Eight police officers were accused of fabricating false evidence in Paris’s case, but the trial collapsed. His daughter said he felt he never had justice. He died that way.
The new Met Commissioner, who is tasked with improving community relations in London, has refused to answer journalists’ questions on Chris Kaba’s death, citing the period of mourning for the Queen. He has since refused to meet with the National Black Police Association and has also said officers should not take the knee.
The problems I was concerned with last year – the lack of political imagination and the persistent political inertia on equality remain relevant. But I am reminded that what is really at stake here is life itself. The right to a decent and dignified life. The right to be arrested rather than killed. The right to be taken to hospital rather than left to die. The right to know that if you are screwed over by people in a position of authority, those people will face significant consequences.
Black men are the ones who have been denied those rights in these specific examples. But in a society where fundamental rights are not guaranteed, all of us only have them at the authorities' discretion. Emma Dabiri's book What White People Can Do Next so eloquently highlights this.
Those of us who care about justice and equality like to think of ourselves as good people. We do. We commiserate because more cannot be done, but we congratulate ourselves for caring at all. It is easy to do when you see what is at stake as separate to you.
But political impunity is becoming harder to ignore and it is starting to affect more people than ever. Who cares if we have a Black chancellor? Does he value everyone’s right to a decent and dignified life in his management of the economy? He produced a mini-Budget so reckless it threatens to make inflation worse and erode people's housing security. The impact will be first felt by the most vulnerable, without a doubt. But it leaves every single one of us at risk financially.
Two years after those Black Lives Matter protests, I am convinced that if a state cannot value Black life, it cannot truly value any life at all.
Izin Akhabau is Junior Opinion Editor at the i
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