Death of Smiley Culture galvanises community

Death of Smiley Culture galvanises community


Written by: Harmit Athwal

A week after Smiley Culture died following a police raid at his home on 15 March 2011 hundreds of people gathered in Brixton for a meeting organised by the family of the reggae artist.

Smiley Culture (aka David Emmanuel) died from a stab wound following a dawn raid on his home in Warlingham, Surrey by five Met police officers. According to the police he stabbed himself – something the family disputes.

Even before the meeting started it was packed with standing room only, the aisles were full, people were perched on tables and on the steps leading to the stage. I eventually lost sight of those on stage and was forced to just listen to the speeches as the crowd swayed and moved and stamped its feet in anger as shouts of ‘murderers’ punctuated the evening event.

Those assembled heard briefly from Lee Jasper, who invoked the memory of one of the first Black deaths in custody – that of David Oluwale whose body was found 1969. (But Jasper failed to mention that the last time police officers were successfully prosecuted for involvement in a Black death in custody was for involvement in the death of the same David Oluwale – over forty years ago.)

Mike Franklin from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) spoke at great length about the IPCC investigation and how independent it would be. He was surprisingly critical of the briefings from anonymous sources that had polluted the news coverage of the death from the start. He called the briefings unacceptable and asked that they stop. He discussed the terms of reference for the IPCC investigation, which plans to:

  • Examine the use of the section 8 search warrant (PACE) and whether it was proportionate and reasonable;
  • Whether risk assessments were adequate and proportionate
  • Investigate the communication between the Met and Surrey police and whether it was in accordance with agreed protocols.

Obviously there were many in the hall that did not buy his line.

The most inspiring speech was that of Merlin Emmanuel, Smiley Culture’s nephew, who spoke movingly about his uncle. He also connected the disempowerment of Black communities across the UK to the international struggles of communities in Egypt and Libya. The family, he said, would be seeking a public inquiry into the death. Merlin also spoke about how Smiley was like a big brother to him and how his own confidence in the IPCC and judicial process was minimal. He reiterated the fact that a man is innocent until proven guilty – a fundamental aspect British law.

There will be a private family funeral and a march will be held on Saturday 16 April 2011, from Wandsworth to Scotland Yard, central London.

Related links

March for Smiley Culture: One Love One Aim

Download a flyer (pdf file, 956kb)

Merlin Emmanuel speech on You Tube

United Families and Friends Campaign

Injustice – a film by Migrant Media

4WardEver Campaign


The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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