About a year ago, George Floyd was killed under the weight of a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, in the United States. One year after, George Nkencho, a Nigerian, was shot dead in front of his house by the Garda Armed Support Unit policemen of Blanchard Stone, Clonee, West Dublin.
This leads to questions as to whether racial discrimination and racially motivated deaths will ever end in the West, as well as whether minority groups will continue to feel threatened and unsafe in societies that claim to esteem human rights.
George Nkencho was said to have been battling bouts of depression among other mental health issues until his death. The report from a close member of his family revealed that the interim cause of his death was from two gunshot wounds to his vital organs.
It revealed, however, that a maximum of six bullets were fired; five of which penetrated his chest and one of which pierced into his arm.
Nkencho had a confrontation with the manager of Eurospar in Hartstown. He punched the manager in the face, causing serious facial injuries, before drawing a knife. Unarmed policemen arrived at the scene and were threatened by Nkencho. Then the Garda Armed Support Unit was invited and they tactlessly eliminated him with six shots fired from relatively close range.
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The policemen hid under the claim that they wanted to curtail the possibility of anything leading to a hostage situation so they were forced to launch fire. However, it was well stated by the sister of the deceased that she reported his mental health challenge to the policemen before the situation escalated into the firing of gunshots that later led to his death. It is quite sad that although Nkencho’s health condition was reported to the police, they still got him killed.
Now the question is if Nkencho was a mentally challenged white man, would the police have released fire?
This unfortunate incident reveals that the pandemic of racism and discrimination is still very prevalent in western communities and definite measures need to be taken to eliminate it.
Just like Floyd’s situation, Nkencho’s killing has also attracted condemnations and protests across Ireland and Nigeria with a petition launched online to seek justice for him which has garnered over 7,000 signatures. The Irish-African community was devastated by the news of Nkencho’s death and a peaceful protest followed immediately after the shooting on 1 June 2021. The protesters gathered at a police barricade close to Nkencho’s house to air their grievances. Protesters also gathered outside Blanchardstown station with placards before marching through the city’s shopping centre and to the Eurospar where Nkencho had assaulted the manager.
According to the latest report from the Irish Network against Racism (INAR), the record number of racist incidents reported last year as assaults and verbal attacks increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the 2020 INAR report, 700 racist occurrences were reported, up from 530 in 2019. The system also recorded 159 criminal incidents, 51 racist assaults, and a record 594 hate speech incidents. Based on the current record, the Black-African, Black-Irish, and Blacks from other groups seem to be the most prone to become victims.
It is no longer news that young people in Ireland, especially migrants and refugees of African descent, continue to bear testimony with their shocking examples of racial discrimination. A report by renowned author, Dr Lucy Michael, described the response of state institutions to minorities as “disappointing”. In her words, “Minority groups who have filed complaints regarding repeated harassment have told us about more cases of unlawful garda conduct than ever before”.
Racism has long existed in Ireland, and enlightenment is needed on the varieties of racial discrimination people can encounter in order to positively strive to be anti-racist in our everyday life — Anti-black, Anti-Muslim, Anti-Roma, Anti-Migrant, Anti-Jewish, etc.
The Black Lives Matter movement has shed an uncomfortable light onto this unspoken reality in Ireland. Though they have become a truly pluralistic society, most of her indigenes have not always been receptive to diversity and continue to struggle with it.
This incident has once again opened many eyes to the realities of police brutality in Ireland and across the world. Just about every aspect of life is affected by the renewed racial justice movement spurred by Floyd’s death: policing, politics, sports, art, culture, business, education, media, among others.
What happened to Floyd and Nkencho is still happening every day in many western countries. This is once again a reminder specifically for the black minority of the deep systemic realities underlying black lives in the West.
What is important now is that all governments must acknowledge the presence of racism in communities and in society at large. They should not seek to downplay or ignore it but respond with proper measures necessary to address structural racism in the society. Leadership starts with taking positive steps to change policies, practices, and behaviours that discriminate in favour of some over others.
Eliminating racial discrimination; fostering equality of opportunity, treating persons of diverse ethnic backgrounds with dignity; and safeguarding the rights of all disadvantaged groups should all be at the forefront of every country’s operation.