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Shortly before 10pm on September 5, residents in Kirkstall Gardens, a street in Streatham Hill, South London, were disturbed by the sound of screeching tyres.
One of the people who peered out of the window to investigate was a young mother who was putting her eight-year-old daughter to bed.
Outside, she saw a car — it turned out to be an Audi Q8 — surrounded by police officers.
‘Get out of the car, get out of the car,’ she heard them shout to the driver. Moments later there was a loud bang. ‘There was one single shot, she said. ‘It was terrifying.’
The bullet from the police marksmen entered the windscreen and hit the target: a 24-year-old man who was still sitting behind the wheel. He died later in hospital.
His name was Chris Kaba. He had a fiancee and was about to become a father. He was also black and unarmed.
Many of you might not be aware of this story given the momentous national events of the past week.
But it would be impossible to overstate the anger Chris Kaba’s death has caused in the black community at a time when confidence and trust in the Metropolitan Police is at an all-time low.
Chris Kaba, 24, had a fiancee and was about to become a father when he died earlier this month
Viewed from the doorstep or a window overlooking the spot where Chris Kaba died, a policeman opening fire on a young black man sitting in his car might have looked like a scene from downtown Los Angeles or Detroit
Hundreds attended a peaceful protest in Central London, led by his parents, in the wake of the shooting.
‘Would he have died in such circumstances if he was white?’ they asked, the question — or rather the allegation — which is at the centre of this tragic episode.
The firearms officer who pulled the trigger has been suspended and is under investigation for murder or manslaughter by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), the police watchdog.
However, his removal from all duties triggered a backlash within the ranks of the Metropolitan Police this week.
Colleagues are now threatening to hand in their weapons in protest at the decision and are preparing to step back from armed duties once the Queen’s funeral is over.
The decision to suspend him, they say, was taken to ‘placate public anger, pure and simple’ and had also resulted in ‘ill-informed commentary from those in positions of power’, the staff association representing every constable, sergeant, inspector and chief inspector wrote on Twitter.
He has been made a scapegoat, in other words.
MP Harriet Harman was among the signatories to a letter calling it ‘incomprehensible’ that the officer had not been disciplined, while the director of the charity Inquest, which supports bereaved families, declared: ‘There is rightly anger and frustration at yet another black man whose life has been cut short after the use of lethal force by police.’
It would be impossible to overstate the anger Chris Kaba’s death has caused in the black community at a time when confidence and trust in the Metropolitan Police is at an all-time low
Parallels have been drawn with the death of Mark Duggan (left) in 2011, which sparked the biggest riots in recent British history. In 2015, 28-year-old Jermaine Baker (right) was shot dead in Tottenham, North London. He was also sitting in an Audi. He was also black and unarmed
The killing of Chris Kaba could not have come at a worse time for the new Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, who has been left with a legacy of controversies — including the exposure of a canteen culture in some stations where misogynistic, sexist and racist behaviour was prevalent — that ended with the ousting of his predecessor, Dame Cressida Dick.
The challenge he faces was summed up by a placard left at the scene of the shooting, at the junction of Kirkstall Gardens and New Park Road, which reads: ‘Jail the killer cops.’
It went on to describe what happened as ‘plain murder by an officer who felt assured he would get away with the murder of a black man — because police officers have nearly always got away with that . . .’
On the fateful night in question, viewed from the doorstep or a window overlooking the spot where Chris Kaba died, a policeman opening fire on a young black man sitting in his car might have looked like a scene from downtown Los Angeles or Detroit.
But drowned out in the chorus of anti-police comments — perhaps inevitably so — was information that provided a fuller context to the fatal shooting.
First, the high-speed pursuit which preceded the bloodshed started after the Audi Chris Kaba was driving was flagged on automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras because the car had been linked to a previous firearms incident a few days earlier. The vehicle, it turned out, was not registered in his name.
Was the Audi stolen? Did he borrow it from the owner who was wanted by the police?
We were unable to get an answer from the law firm which represents the Kaba family.
The car Chris Kaba was driving was flagged on automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras because the car had been linked to a previous firearms incident a few days earlier
Police performed CPR on Mr Kaba at the scene and he was rushed to hospital but died shortly after
Hundreds attended a peaceful protest in Central London, led by his parents, in the wake of the shooting
Second, the chase ended when the Audi was stopped using what is known as ‘tactical contact’ which, in layman’s terms, means it was rammed or shunted.
After the Audi had come to a halt, at least two police cars managed to box the vehicle in.
This is what a witness told the London Evening Standard happened next. ‘Armed police jumped out and were shouting at the man, ‘Get out of the car,’ the witness said.
‘It was at least a dozen times. The guy in the car had a lot of opportunities to stop but he refused. He then started driving forwards towards a police car and smashed into it then reversed, he just wouldn’t stop the vehicle.’
Third, little or no account has been taken of the unimaginable stress firearms officers are under in such situations.
To open fire, they need a reasonable and honest belief that their own life — or the lives of others — is in peril.
Decisions are usually split-second and almost always life-or-death. A sudden movement, a twitch of the hand, say, however innocent, can be misinterpreted in the white-heat intensity of the moment.
In this case, the car being pursued had been linked to a previous firearms incident so there must have been a reasonable expectation that the driver was armed.
He wasn’t, of course, but he was known to the police, something we shall come to shortly.
Taken out of context, the fact a suspect turns out not to have been armed can easily be used to paint a damning picture of police brutality.
Protests were staged in London on Saturday September 10 demanding justice in the Chris Kaba case
Flowers and candles left on Kirkstall Gardens in tribute to Mr Kaba, who died after being hit by a single firearm round
The loss of a young life in such violent circumstances is devastating for those who knew and loved Chris Kaba. However, a theme running through some of the coverage, and previous cases, is that there is an equivalence between policing in Britain and policing in the U.S.
No individual police officer has ever been found guilty of murder or manslaughter following a fatal police shooting in England and Wales.
The Met has 3,200 officers who are involved in countless operations but only rarely is a firearm ever discharged.
‘Being a firearms officer in London is one of the world’s toughest jobs,’ the Metropolitan Police Federation statement reminded everyone after the death of Chris Kaba.
‘Officers — volunteers — know the responsibility/accountability that comes with it and deserve our support.’
In 2015, 28-year-old Jermaine Baker was shot dead in Tottenham, North London. He was also sitting in an Audi. He was also black and unarmed.
The officer who killed him was the subject of a homicide investigation, too.
Jermaine Baker, it later transpired, was part of a criminal gang that was trying to ambush a prison van to spring a suspect from custody and an inquiry concluded that the officer who opened fire had acted lawfully.
Parallels have similarly been drawn, by some who have attacked the police over the death of Chris Kaba, with the death of Mark Duggan in 2011, which sparked the biggest riots in recent British history.
What is not mentioned, though, is that Duggan was a gangster and an exhaustive three-and-a-half year investigation by the police watchdog completely exonerated of any wrongdoing the officer who shot him following a car chase.
Chris Kaba, on the other hand, the eldest of three brothers, was from a church-going family who originally came from the Congo and had begun an apprenticeship to become an architect.
He went to the same Croydon school as Manchester United star Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The two were friends. The footballer, also of Congolese descent, changed his Instagram profile picture to #JUSTICEFORCHRIS after he was killed. His family have spoken about a wonderful young man who was excited about pending fatherhood. ‘He was a good boy not involved in trouble,’ said his father, Prosper Kaba, a financial adviser.
His son, though, had been released from custody more than a year ago after being sentenced to four years in a young offenders’ institution for possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence in January 2019.
The conviction followed an incident in Canning Town on December 30, 2017, when there were reports of gun shots fired, but no one was injured.
Chis Kaba was also a member of a ‘drill’ rap collective known as 67, who were nominated as best newcomer in the 2016 Music of Black Origin awards (MOBOs).
‘Drill’ music is a genre which has been blamed for fuelling bloody turf wars between rival gangs.
Members of 67, formed in Brixton Hill, South London, in 2012, have criminal records for firearms and knife possession offences. Ten of the group were jailed in 2018 and 2019 for a county lines drug- dealing operation.
The police have called 67 a ‘criminal gang’ and have shut down several sell-out shows for fear of violence.
Chris Kaba, who was known as Mad Itch according to posts on social media, was among a second wave of members, rapping on tracks and appearing in music videos shot on South London estates from 2016.
There is nothing to suggest that he was involved in 67’s criminal activities.
Family members stressed that he was no longer part of 67 and was devoted to his fiancee and looking forward to becoming a father.
The police watchdog has insisted that evidence, not public pressure, resulted in the investigation into the death of Chris Kaba being upgraded to a homicide inquiry.
His family, it is believed, will be allowed to watch police video of the incident that led to the killing. Officers were wearing body cameras, and a helicopter fitted with a camera was following the car Chris Kaba was in.
Back in Kirkstall Gardens, where he died, there was sympathy for the police.
‘In my opinion you have to obey the police when they give you an order to stop,’ said one woman. ‘Why did he not stop?’
Stop-and-search powers have, over the years, eroded the black community’s trust in the police.
There were 79,933 searches of white suspects and 74,079 of black suspects in the past year (September 2021 to August 2022), according to the Metropolitan Police website.
As London’s white population is four times higher (4,881,636 compared to 1,272,276), it means black people are four times more likely to be stopped.
Nevertheless, if Chris Kaba had stopped when the blue lights behind him started flashing, he might still be alive today.
This has been all but forgotten in the aftermath of the shooting.