Smiley Culture And Deaths In Police Custody

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.

British Multiculturalism In Music

Yesterday, multi-millionaire posh-boy and British PM David Cameron spoke out on a subject that he clearly knows much about: multiculturalism. It doesn’t work, he says. Though silver-spoon from head to toe, apparently “Dave” also has his finger on the pulse of British culture beyond his fave Tapas bar in upmarket Notting Hill.

Unlike Dave, I wasn’t ‘lucky’ enough to be raised in a monocultural ghetto like Eton. Over 40 languages were spoken at my London state school, and white kids represented no more than 15% of the school population. London is probably the most mixed, diverse and racially harmonious city in the world. Immigrants make up a high percentage of the population, yet racist groups like the BNP and EDL find it impossible to establish a toe-hold within the city. The good people of London have been notoriously intolerant of intolerance, ever since they fought and beat the fascists of Oswald Mosley at the Battle of Cable Street in 1936.

But how do you measure culture? How do you decide if an idea like multiculturalism has worked? For me, one answer is given by music. Thanks to immigration, and the British tendency towards cultural mixing, Britain has become one of the most creative music producers in the world.

Below is a small selection of “multicultural” British music – illustrations of the cultural power created when multiple influences come together without segregation. Feel free to listen to one or two… or all… or just read my comments on each track.

Ghost Town – The Specials – 1981
The Specials, from Coventry, were the original “two-tone” band, blending white skinhead music with Jamaican reggae to create UK Ska, and bringing white and black kids to the same gigs for the first time. The creation of the two-tone movement coincided with the fall of far-right street racism.

Food For Thought – UB40 – 1980
This mixed reggae band from Birmingham are still going strong, though much of their best work was made 30+ years ago.



Smooth Operator – Sade – 1984

Sade (pronounced Sharday): 50% Nigerian, 50% English, 100% British Soul.



Back To Life – Soul II Soul – 1989

Though black artists were rising from the late-70s, their styles were borrowed from Jamaica and the US. London-based Soul II Soul are credited with creating a truly British black sound for the first time.

Chok There – Apache Indian – 1993

Real name Steven Kapur, a DJ of Indian origin from Birmingham; blending Indian music with Jamaican-influenced Ragga, a true creation of the British Empire!

21 Seconds – So Solid Crew – 2001

This collective from South London were part of the UK Garage movement: a uniquely London music style whose roots include UK dance music, Jamaican dancehall and Hip Hop.

Terrorist? – Lowkey – 2010

Lowkey is a London rapper of mixed English and Iraqi descent, known for his political lyrics against racism and war.

So Dave, if you want to understand race and culture in your home city, take a bus up the road and let me help you. If I want to know whether to drink Beaujolais with foie gras, I’ll be sure to drop you a line.

Michele Bachmann – A Special Kinda Moron

It’s been suggested that Sarah Palin gets too much attention, and maybe we should all be ignoring her a bit more. I (reluctantly) agree. But nobody said anything about Michele Bachmann, a congress member for Minnesota and Tea Party spokesperson, who makes Palin look like a smart, rational human being. Bachmann came to my attention this morning after giving the Tea Party’s response to Obama’s State Of The Union address – which was well received, except by right-wing crazies.

In her response, she did a good job of trying to appear sane and informed – at least compared to previous appearances. She had a chart with red and blue bars and stuff, showing how the national debt leapt up moments after Obama took office. She forgot to mention the part about the financial system collapsing just before he took office, which was possibly dishonest, or maybe she really didn’t know (after all, it was over two years ago, and who can remember things that happened even last week?)

Anyway, I don’t want to quibble about such minor oversights. Below are a few quotes and (for real Bachmann fans) a couple of informative and stimulating video clips.

  • “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?”
  • “During the last 100 days we have seen an orgy. It would make any local smorgasbord embarrassed … The government spent its wad by April 26.”
  • “Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.” (See video below)
  • “There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design.”
  • “I don’t know where they’re going to get all this money because we’re running out of rich people in this country.”

You’re still here? You’re obviously a committed Bachmann fan. Some cute video clips for you…

Here, Michele points out that carbon dioxide is good for plants. This of course, is true. She doesn’t say what happens if atmospheric CO2 suddenly increases by 50% – but that’s probably not important anyway.

And here, Bachmann (who is clearly a worldly and well-travelled individual) talks about the riots of ethnic minorities in France. I thought this was about police violence towards non-whites and high youth unemployment, but apparently it’s because their welfare benefits need to increase. Oh, and she mentions that “Not all cultures are equal” – again, a reasoned, well thought-out argument.

(Not-scary-at-all Michele Bachmann photo taken from her Wikileaks page)