GEORGE NKENCHO. We should remember his name.
He was shot dead on December 30 just outside his front door by Gardaí near Blanchardstown in Dublin. He was 27 years old.
Now I’m not, because I don’t know, going to speculate on the exact circumstances of his killing.
I’m not going to examine why five bullets were fired in to his body. I’ll leave uninformed speculation to its natural home on Twitter and Facebook.
I’ll try as best as I can to deal with the facts.
I’ll try and deal with reason because, like I’ve said, like every well balanced person knows, if you want to deal with unreason social media is screaming with it.
What is clear is that George Nkencho was suffering with mental health problems.
What is clear is that he had a history of this. What is clear is that he had committed an act of violence by punching a shopkeeper in the face.
What is also clear is that suffering with mental health problems, even the most severe, psychotic ones, is not a criminal offence.
What is clear is that punching someone in the face is not by any level of law enforcement met with five bullets.
What is also clear is that George Nkencho was armed with a kitchen knife. It was this he was threatening Gardaí with.
I can’t speculate on the exact circumstances of that threat but one of the topics in the Gardai’s own investigation will be why armed Gardaí had to shoot a man with a knife.
There’s no doubt that even a kitchen knife is a deadly weapon. But how deadly is it to someone wearing protective clothing?
How deadly is it to someone in possession of a gun? How deadly is one man with a knife to a large number of people, two of whom are armed?
Now that is easy for me to say. It is easy for me to ask those questions. I wasn’t facing a man wielding a knife. I didn’t have to make any split-second decisions.
I don’t, I freely admit, know the exact circumstances.
But those questions still need to be asked. Those and others.
For instance it is not wild conjecture, it is not the kind of unsubstantiated ‘fact’ social media specialises in, to suggest that in countries with a predominantly white population young black men have a disproportionately negative interaction with law enforcement agencies.
That is to say that young black men are seen through a narrative of being aggressive or threatening or criminal.
It is not wild to suggest that George Nkencho may have been seen in this way.
Ah yes, but he had been violent and was carrying a knife, you could counter.
But is the hidden end of that sentence also, and he was black?
Because punches thrown and someone wielding a knife before being overpowered by Gardaí is probably so common that it doesn’t even always make the news.
Some of the facts we do know about George Nkencho are those that have been confirmed by the Gardaí.
He did not arrive in Ireland as a teenager. He had lived in Ireland for 18 years. He grew up here.
He was not armed with a machete. He was armed with a kitchen knife.
He did not have 32 previous criminal convictions. He had no previous criminal convictions.
We know this from the Gardaí because they insisted on publicising this information as they were deeply concerned about ‘lies’ being circulated online by ‘fascists and racists.’
And in that sour world those online Irish fascists and racists have been more than active.
You would only need to type the name of the dead man in to Twitter, for instance, to see the poisonous atmosphere these people create.
Quite clear too is the crossover between those repeating lies about George Nkencho and those holding an anti-mask position about Covid-19.
I was talking just a day or two ago to someone about George Nkencho.
This is a rural, Church-going Irish woman I would know well.
She noticed the newspaper article I was reading and tutted. My heart sank a little. I feared what might be coming.
I knew her world view, kind hearted as she was, tended towards the conservative.
‘Did they really have to shoot that poor lad,’ she said? ‘Wasn’t he nearly home?’
They’re simple questions. They’re the right questions.
They’re questions that have to be asked.
Because George Nkencho lived here and he died here and he had rights here.
Because, like everyone else walking the Dublin streets, he was a human being.
George Nkencho. We should remember his name.