Shooting of George Nkencho raises questions

Published date28 January 2021
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
There are many who argue that the shooting appears to have been a justified and proportionate action by gardaí responding at the scene. The nub of their argument being that George was a dangerous criminal.

Those who hold this view are probably relying on early news reports that George had allegedly gone into a local shop to commit armed robbery and whilst inside the shop he assaulted members of staff and shoppers.

These reports and various social media posts in the immediate aftermath of the shooting portrayed George as an uncontrollable criminal who had 32 prior convictions and was out on bail having been accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend with a hammer. Fake pictures of the shop worker who had been allegedly brutally assaulted which circulated on social media only served to confirm this impression.

Years of black men being portrayed in the media as violent criminals also paved the way for the easy acceptances of a narrative that George was a criminal, and that his shooting - six times - did not require deeper scrutiny.

It is precisely because of racial prejudice that many were quick to accept the label "thug" being applied to George in some news reports and on social media. Thug is a particularly loaded term in the context of young black men.

We know now, of course, that those early reports and social media posts were gravely false and misleading. So misleading one may argue that their publication could amount to an incitement to hatred.

"George had no prior convictions," shouted one headline, and suddenly, the conversation changed. The evidence of George's "thuggery" was ill-founded.

The narrative of the shooting shifted from "he deserved it" to "the gardaí tried, they failed, so they had to shoot him". But not to "was his shooting lawful?"


So tainted is our perception of black men that we all too easily justify their misfortunes, incarceration, unemployment, brain waste, and even killings without due regard to an assumption of innocence or, in George's case, the possibility that the Garda Síochána may have been at fault.

The possibility that a black man behaving in a violent manner might be going through a mental health breakdown is very far removed from our perceptions of black men.

The Garda ombudsman is investigating the shooting. We don't know if the colour of his skin played any part of what happened to George, but we should not avoid asking the question.

The difference between a racist and an anti-racist in that an anti-racist...

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