Justice for Smiley Culture – a song and some thoughts
I would like to begin this probably rambling piece by expressing my respect and condolences to the family and friends of David Emmanuel, better known to many as Smiley Culture.
He broke new ground in the UK with his sharply intelligent and often hilariously funny lyrical dexterity as an MC. He was at his best telling vibrantly gritty and amusing stories of multicultural life in London mixed in with sly and subversive social and political observation. In many ways Smiley was a forerunner of contemporary UK Grime and Hiphop artists. His work stands the test of time and is well worth seeking out on YouTube.
He died on 15 March 2011 during a police search on his house in Surrey, from a single knife wound to the heart. The police have stated that he committed suicide in this fashion whilst they allowed him out of their sight into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
He was due to appear in court later in March on charges of conspiracy to supply cocaine, but his family strongly refute these allegations and say that evidence against him was minimal and that he and his legal team were confident of acquittal.
Those who knew him best find it impossible to believe that he would take his own life, let alone in this highly unusual fashion. It also seems very peculiar, for many reasons, that a suspect would be allowed to wander around in this fashion while a search was being executed. Consequently his death, and the bizarre circumstances in which it occurred, have shocked and angered many people. This tragic event has prompted accusations of murder, manslaughter – or at best, negligence – by the police. Fears of a cover up by the police are widespread and there is a lack of confidence in the forthcoming investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
Given the long and troubled history of the policing of the black community in the UK it is unsurprising that the floodgates have opened. This brings back a tide of bad memories of racism, violence, injustices and cover ups that extends back decades. This catalogue of individual and institutional racist behaviour resides strongly in the collective consciousness of the communities who suffered from it, and from those of us who have been observers of it.
For us this does not exist as an isolated incident. Institutional racism has officially characterised the culture of the London Metropolitan Police for a long period of its history of interaction with the black community. Macpherson’s report following the bungled (or subverted?) investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence publicly acknowledged what the community itself has known all the time.
Much has changed since the Macpherson report, but not enough to eradicate the lack of confidence that is felt in the way the police handle themselves. It is a sad indictment of the breakdown in the trust and confidence that citizens feel about their police force that, on hearing about the death of Smiley Culture, the suspicion of wrongdoing by the police and a disbelief in the story as it has been told is the IMMEDIATE reaction of so many people. Not just those who might be felt to have some kind of vested interest, but by ordinary people who are not black, not part of that community, and have no connection with the individuals involved.
This lack of confidence often also extends to the forthcoming IPCC investigation. The expectation of many is that the conclusion will be that there is no culpability for any police involved in the incident, and that the events will not be scrutinised or subjected to the same level of rigorous analysis and investigation as might be the case if such a violent death had occurred in the presence of people who were other than police officers. The cries of ‘cover up!’ are being made before it even begins.
This highly charged atmosphere makes it very difficult to view matters dispassionately and objectively. This is to be expected on all sides of the issue. It will be necessary for a highly scrupulous, thorough, forensic and transparent examination of events to take place. Justice needs to be done, and justice needs to be seen to be done, and it needs to be demonstrable that police officers do not enjoy some kind of different status under the law compared to ordinary citizens.
Sadly, it is no longer the case that the testimony of police officers can be automatically accepted as undiluted truth, simply by virtue of their profession. Trust has broken down that the police will act with integrity where some of their number may be suspected of criminal acts. This makes the task of justice being perceived to have been done much more difficult. The likelihood that the outcome of any investigation will not be deemed acceptable or truthful, no matter how scrupulously carried out, is very real.
I did not know Smiley Culture personally. I do not know whether the charges made against him have any basis or not. I have heard some say ‘he was a drug dealer, he had it coming to him’. He has been denied his day in court to defend himself against the accusations made, so I will never know. At one level, what he did or did not do is irrelevant to what happened. He was alive before ‘a visit from the police’, and he was dead afterwards. He would almost certainly be alive today had they not visited and conducted themselves in whatever manner they did while they were in his house. Something went very, very wrong that morning. Only Smiley, the police present at the scene, and the Almighty know what that was. The rest of us have to endure the distress and turmoil of the IPCC investigation.
I don’t know what really happened and probably never will with utter certainty. I find the events as portrayed strain credulity, given the seriousness of the charges and the highly unusual way in which this purported suicide is meant to have occurred. I might be wrong, but it seems to me that the burden of proof rests with the police at this point in time, and there is a lot of damage to undo – not just surrounding this event, but for all the stacked up history that, in some ways, it has come to represent. People don’t just want justice for Smiley Culture. They want JUSTICE. For everyone who didn’t get it in the past, for everyone who doesn’t get it in the present, for everyone who they fear might not get it in the future.
I wrote my own musical response, Justice for Smiley Culture within a couple of days of hearing the news of his death.
It is a raw expression of the churned up feelings I was experiencing at the time, some of which I have sought to explain further in this blog. I believe it is the role of conscious artists to reflect prophetic analysis and critique of what they see happening around them. I have sought to do this in this song, and hope that I have in some partial way captured some of the emotions, questions, and issues that are being keenly felt by so many others.
I would like to see justice being done and for some measure of healing and closure to be able to come to those who are angry and grieving. I would like to see truth prevail and equal rights for all. I would like to see good relationships between police and community where nobody gets abused simply because of the colour of their skin or the uniform they wear.
David Emmanuel deserves justice not because he was Smiley Culture – not because he was black (although the events have extra resonance and amplification for black people in the UK) – and not because he is believed by many to be innocent. He deserves justice because this is an issue for ALL UK citizens, of all colours, races, nationalities and communities. We want – and deserve – to be able to have confidence in the police and in our legal system, to know that no other people will die in bizarre circumstances during police engagement, that the same rule of law applies to all citizens including the police and those who make the rules for the rest of us.
I will wait with very close interest for the findings of the IPCC enquiry. I hope they do a proper job, because if there is even a whiff that possible culpability of police officers in Smiley’s death has been excluded from serious consideration them this one won’t go away.
You can receive updates on the Justice for Smiley Culture campaign at