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Artillery Row

Chris Kaba and the rush to judgement

We don’t know what happened or what justice will mean

The most important question related to the death of Chris Kaba is whether he was ramming police cars in an effort to escape. If he was — and I hope it should be obvious that “ramming” implies the considerable use of force — the police officer who shot him had cause for thinking that lives were in danger. If he was not — bearing in mind that Kaba was otherwise unarmed — then the officer did not. If that is true, he or she should face serious consequences.

One witness told reporters: “[Kaba] was trying to ram his way out and could have easily killed a policeman. He was using his car as a weapon.” Another witness, on the other hand, said Kaba was “locked in and the car was immobile. So, there is at least some evidence for both cases.

Mr Kaba’s family has seen bodycam footage and said that while they “want the truth” they are “going to take a break and take a step back”. You can draw various conclusions from this. Perhaps it means they saw something they didn’t expect to see. But perhaps it means that what they witnessed was traumatic.

The situation should be investigated fully — using witness evidence, CCTV, damage to the vehicles et cetera — and it should be accomplished with maximal objectivity and transparency. 

I wish that was all one had to say — and in raising the following points I am in no sense trying to excuse the officer involved. They could be in the right and they could be in the wrong, and I have no access to evidence that proves it either way.

But when Alex Sobel MP says “everyone deserves justice and I hope to see it for Chris Kaba” it sounds like he has made up his mind that the officer was wrong. That seems true as well when Dawn Butler MP says “no justice, no peace” — a phrase which has descriptive as well as normative meanings, but is very much vulnerable to being interpreted in the latter sense.

It is certainly true when legal academic Dr Daniela Nadj claims that “Suella Braverman has not once condemned the killing of Chris Kaba. I find that shameful.” (I am no legal academic but I have heard of a little thing called due process.) I don’t even know what to say about the writer Michael Morgan declaring in the Metro, “God save the king; the young king. His name was Chris Kaba.”

Veteran trade unionist Howard Beckett is flatly wrong when he says “his chief crime in the eyes of the British police was the colour of his skin.” The officers claim that the car Mr Kaba was driving was linked to a firearms offence. That may or may not be true, and it is worth saying that the car was not registered to Mr Kaba, but even if it was not true we know he had been jailed for possession of a gun, and remanded for possession of a knife, and was involved with a gang, 67, which has had numerous members imprisoned for murder (and which, through the rappers in its gang, incessantly mocks the dead).

That does not excuse the shooting. It would be wrong to shoot the worst person in the world if there was no urgent threat to life. But it is nonsense — and inflammatory nonsense — to claim officers targeted Mr Kaba because of the colour of his skin. Similarly, Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP writes:

The press have said he was a drill artist, as if that’s a way of justifying why he may have found himself in that situation, or that he’d been arrested before. But we have to realise that with our justice system, if you’re Black, from a working-class background, you’re more likely to go to jail. 

Again, only Mr Kaba’s actions immediately prior to the shooting determine whether or not the shooting were just. I have no disagreement there. But Ribeiro-Addy goes beyond arguing that his previous convictions were irrelevant to heavily implying that they may have been unjust. Certainly, Kaba never claimed as much. (“Mummy said I’m a nuisance,” he rapped, “Cah I had the feds at the door for some bootins.”)

“This is not the first time a Black man has been shot by the police,” Ribeiro-Addy continues, “We know that. So why are they not changing their behaviour?” Shootings by the police can be legitimate. That does not mean the shooting was in this case. But the police cannot promise to never shoot someone. Sometimes it can save innocent life — such as when police shot Odichukumma Kelvin Igweani last year after he had assaulted a toddler, murdered his neighbour and taken the child captive. What would Ribeiro-Addy have had them do in that situation?

I think that progressives want to uphold a narrative in which hostile and bigoted police officers have been persecuting communities. Officers can be hostile and can be bigoted. They can be responsible for serious mistakes — and this shooting may prove to have been one of them. But they also have to deal with violence that claims many times more lives than they have claimed themselves — even if most of us never have to hear about it.

We should hold them to a higher standard than criminals, of course. But our societal response should factor in the context of their operations. When Dazed Digital demands that we defund the police they ignore the many young people who have been killed in gun and knife violence just this summer. Among Kaba’s fellow rap artists alone, Maximillian “M Lo” Kusi-Owusu was shot and Lazar “Hypo” Jackson and Takayo “TKorStretch” Nembhard were stabbed to death. Again, these are just the rappers who have been killed. This does not mean there are no grounds for reform. But there is a big difference between reform and deconstruction.

We cannot judge the actions of Mr Kaba or the officer involved in this sad situation until conclusions have been drawn and evidence has been released. But we can deplore the people who have leapt to judgement — and whose polemicising reeks of political opportunism.

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