David Emmanuel, also known as the reggae artist Smiley Culture, died of a stab wound to the heart during a police raid on his home on 15 March.
Smiley had hits in the 1980s with songs such as “Cockney Translation” and “Police Officer”—a song about being stopped and searched for cannabis possession.
The police claim he stabbed himself while in his kitchen.
But many questions remain over how he died while police officers were in his home in Warlingham, Surrey.
Smiley’s family have yet to receive an official statement on events from the police.
Smiley’s nephew Merlin Emmanuel told Socialist Worker, “We have been greeted by a degree of contempt. I feel that by now the police should have had something to say—at least to send their condolences to the Emmanuel family.”
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has started an investigation into the death. But Merlin has little faith in the system.
“Let’s put it in perspective,” he said. “In the last decade almost 400 people have died in police custody—that’s nearly one a week. But not one police officer has been brought to account or been charged with anything.
“You can understand why my confidence in the IPCC and structures like that is minimal.”
The Emmanuel family have demanded a full public inquiry into Smiley’s death, and for the immediate suspension of the police officers involved.
“It seems that the system is there to protect those in power and those that enforce power,” said Merlin. “And us, the poor and the underprivileged, have little or no voice.”
Merlin does not feel policing has really changed since the wave of inner city riots, notably in Brixton, 30 years ago (see pages 8&9).
More than ten years after the Macpherson Report into the botched investigation of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, the police are still “institutionally racist”. They are still 26 times more likely to stop and search black people than white people.
“The same system is in place,” Merlin said. “It’s more elaborate and less blatant. But the same dynamics still occur in situations where the poor die in mysterious circumstances.
“They are not afforded the same protection or support somebody in power would have.”
Smiley’s family and friends have set up the Campaign for Justice for Smiley Culture. Its launch meeting (pictured above) attracted over 1,000 people.
“All we needed was a catalyst, and Smiley was the catalyst to bring a moment of change,” Merlin said. “He was loved by black and white, and he has a family that will vigorously defend his legacy.”
The campaign has called a demonstration to New Scotland Yard (see box, below). “I hope to see black, white, rich, poor, Christians, Muslims and atheists marching together in solidarity and peace to make our voices heard as one,” said Merlin.
“Unity is the key. If we stand as one we can achieve anything. We can’t do it as a minority—this is not an ethnic thing.
“This injustice is colourblind and it affects us all.”
“To clean a vessel properly you have to clean it from the inside out,” he added. “Maybe we can affect some change for the better—not just for those who are here now, but for those who come after us.”
Merlin is inspired by the revolutions in Egypt and elsewhere. “I feel a wind of change in the world—people are now standing up,” he said. “I believe that a lot of the civil unrest we see in other countries will be heading to our shores very soon.
“People are marching for jobs and justice—and the rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer.
“A lot of politicians forget they were elected by the people to represent the minds, the thoughts, the aspirations of the people. I think they are doing a miserable job.”
The huge campaign launch meeting showed the level of anger over policing in Britain.
Merlin is hopeful this anger can bring change. “A lot of people are very unhappy with the policies of the government, just as much here as abroad,” he said.
“We are a new generation, we are more vocal, we are fearless and we talk to power.
“It’s time for us to rise to let the powers that be know we will no longer suffer this kind of injustice.”
Smiley Culture March for Human Rights
Saturday 16 April
Assemble 12 noon
Southbank Club, 124-130 Wandsworth Road, London SW8 2DL.
March to New Scotland Yard