A press conference was called today by the family of the late David Emmanuel aka Smiley Culture.
The event took place at the Karibu Education Centre in Brixton. You can see the whole thing on ustream. What follows are my impressions from having attended.
The room was packed – I estimate that there were at least 200 people present, plus at least that again watching the live online stream.
The audience included a number of UK reggae stalwarts such as Tippa Irie, Papa Levi and Ricky Ranking.
The speakers included a number of members of David Emmanuel’s family and friends including his nephew Merlin, his old sparring partner Asher Senator and Commander B (Vibes FM). The family had asked Lee Jasper to chair the meeting.
Jasper commenced by saying that the family were still in shock at David’s death and so may not answer questions. Merlin Emmanuel then read out an eloquent and passionate prepared statement (which should appear online in full shortly). He outlined the purposes of the meeting as:
1) To express sorrow and anger about David Emmanuel’s death
2) To thank people for the huge amount of support which they had shown
3) To appeal for unity and calm
He went on to say that there would be no Tinie Tempah or Chipmunk without Smiley Culture and that he was the first widely recognised British rapper. He hoped the press would remember David for his achievements, not for the unproven allegations against him – which he and the family felt had minimal evidence to back them up. Indeed, he was very clear that David was confident that he would be acquitted. He went on to point out that David was dealing in gold and diamonds internationally and was worth millions of pounds. “He had a lot to look forward to”.
He revealed that David Emmanuel had died from a single stab wound whilst in police custody. The family has appointed its own independent pathologist and is calling for a public enquiry.
Lee Jasper then reaffirmed the need for a full investigation into David’s death,“I’ve been a policing director for eight years and I’ve never heard a scenario like that was explained to for Smiley Culture’s death. Even if you would accept it as true, it would still be bizarre. So given that there is very little trust in the police, it’s no wonder that the vast majority of people who hear this tale are struck down by disbelief and anger.”
Indeed, the police have yet to provide an official statement of what happened. Merlin then reminded those present that when members of the public are felt to have commit a crime, they are immediately arrested, separated from each other and made to make statements. This does not seem to occur with allegations of police crime.
David was described as being “calm” 25 minutes before his death (the last time a family member had seen him). When asked why the police had arrived he shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know what was going on.
It was revealed that the knife had traveled all the way through his body.
Asher Senator responded to a question from the press about what Smiley Culture was like as a person. He responded warmly and humbly:
“Culture was original there was no-one like him. His confidence was extreme. He was very very clever. While we were thinking about five pounds, he was thinking about five million! Culture made it happen. Before we made a record, he already had a thousand pounds and nobody had a thousand pounds in Wandsworth Road those days.”
“He made things happen all of the time. When we got our first royalty cheques he bought me a car – a Senator.”
Various points were made throughout the meeting about the irregularities in the police’s conduct:
- Wasn’t it usual during a “drugs raid” for the police to be armed and for them to handcuff any suspects on arrival?
- Why was David allowed to go an make a cup of tea, thereby creating a container full of boiling water?
- Why weren’t they able to administer first aid?
- Why haven’t the police officers involved been suspended pending investigation?
Lee Jasper asked the press to stop quoting “anonymous police sources”, which I assumed referred to the coverage in The Sun. A family member said “I don’t know who they’re writing about in the papers, because I don’t recognise him”.
There was a lot of scepticism in the room about the media and the police. Lots of phones and cameras were in view, suggesting that people wish to create their own reports and media, which is to be applauded.
Families of other people who had died in police custody spoke about their own situations. In one instance it had taken seven months for the police officers concerned to be interviewed. Links were also made to the failed investigation of the New Cross Fire and to the forthcoming anniversary of the ’81 Brixton riots. Comments were made by people around me that nothing changes.
Tippa Irie was invited to speak. He pointed out that he wasn’t usually short of words or lyrics but he was still in shock: “I want the press to understand something. This bredda touched all of us with his music, as an individual. People have been contacting me from all over the world – Smiley was a British icon. […] He was our Arthur Daley, but he would always help you. This cannot rest here, we need to support Merlin and his family.”.
Leanne, Asher Senator’s sister, spoke briefly. She’d known Smiley all her life and saw him as her other brother. She recalled Asher and Smiley’s early rehearsals in the family home, which were apparently so bad that her Mum had asked if the two young men were practicing Obeah upstairs!
Smiley’s daugther was the final speaker. Clearly still very emotional, she simply thanked the audience for their support and time and asked us to stay strong for the family.
The meeting closed with a chant of “No Justice – No Peace”
Outside, people gathered on the pavement and talked. The mood was pretty somber, but it’s clear that a lot of people want answers to their questions and that they’re not going to be fobbed off.
I left feeling a confused mixture of upset and empowered. Whilst Smiley Culture’s music has meant a lot to me, that feels inconsequential after seeing the reactions of his immediate family members, just two days after his unexplained death. In some ways the outrage and solidarity expressed in the room and all over the world will help with that, but only so much.
At the time of writing, the recorded ustream of the event has been viewed over 2,000 times.
A public meeting will take place in Brixton on the 24th of March at 7pm. Venue TBC because somewhere larger is required.
The press conference and the press release seem to be generating more coverage, which I may comment on tomorrow.