Today, we heard of the death of Smiley Culture (David Emmanuel), a London-born reggae artist. For anyone outside the UK, or anyone under thirty, his name will mean little, but Emmanuel had several chart hits during the 80s, in particular his 1984 hit, Police Officer, about the habit of police in unofficially “confiscating” his cannabis and letting him go rather than arresting him for possession.
His death reportedly happened during a police raid on his home, when he is said to have stabbed himself. Reaction to this explanation among the black community on Facebook and Twitter has been angry and skeptical; which is understandable, given the high incidence of black deaths in British police custody over the past few decades.
I saw an interesting suggestion that deaths in custody are more frequent under Conservative governments than Labour ones. It’s certainly true that Labour tends to demand more accountability over police behaviour, while the Tory message is that police should be “relieved of red tape” (in other words, not have to explain their behaviour towards the public).
I decided to test this theory, so I found a record of deaths in custody going back to 1993. I looked at the average annual death rate from 1993 to 1997 (Conservative administration) and from 1998 to 2010 (Labour). The results were more conclusive than I expected:
- Average annual deaths under Labour: 38.31
- Average annual deaths under Conservatives: 50.2
It’s also worth noting that there was a spike of deaths from 2002 to 2005, presumably related to increased police activity following 9/11, as the “war on terror” was in full swing. Without this spike, the difference between Tory and Labour administrations would be even more stark.
Whatever happened to Emmanuel, we will (or perhaps won’t) learn as time goes on.
As for deaths in police custody, let’s hope the correlation between these and the party in power proves to be purely coincidental; if not, the British people (especially ethnic minorities) are in a for a rough few years.