George Nkencho: Family of black man shot dead by Irish police at family home call for unity after protests

·5-min read

The family of a man believed to be the first black person shot dead by Irish police have called for calm and unity, but they've told Sky News they don't believe race was the main factor.

The family also said they've been subjected to racial abuse, which Irish police are investigating.

George Nkencho, 27, was shot dead by Gardai at his home in Clonee, west Dublin, on 30 December 2020, leading to two weeks of angry protests.

Mr Nkencho's sister Gloria said a lack of training, not race, played the biggest part in the shooting.

"I think the main issue here is the training that the Gardai should've received in dealing with this type of situation", she said.

"There's not enough training and not enough resources given to Gardai to deal with the vulnerable people of society, so I think that's what should be looked at at the moment."

According to his family, Mr Nkencho, who was born in Nigeria but moved to Ireland with his family when he was seven, had suffered from mental health problems.

On the day of his death, he had been involved in an incident at a Spar shop in nearby Hartstown, during which he assaulted an employee and produced a knife.

Unarmed Gardai responded, and followed Mr Nkencho from a distance as he walked home, refusing to drop the knife.

At the family home, he was confronted by the Armed Support Unit. Gardai say Tasers and pepper spray were deployed, but failed to restrain Mr Nkencho.

Smartphone footage appears to show Mr Nkencho lunge at armed Gardai, as at least five shots are heard.

Family members say post-mortem results given to them show that he was shot six times.

His siblings, including Gloria, were just feet away in the house's hallway, which still bears bullet damage.

Ms Nkencho said they attempted to defuse the confrontation, but were ushered back inside the house moments before the shooting.

"It was really hard to be here, to see our brother in such a state", she said.

"We were scared for him, we were just so worried and when we heard the shots we were scared for our safety as well within the house, me and my siblings. Just standing here seeing our brother like that, it's not even something I can put into words it was so traumatic."

Every day for a fortnight after the shooting, protesters gathered outside the nearby Blanchardstown Garda Station, calling for "justice for George".

Many of the protesters were drawn from the African-Irish community, and felt that race was a factor in the killing.

Pauline Afeni made a comparison to a recent incident with a white Irish suspect.

"They [the Gardai] shouldn't have shot him," she said. "If they can restrain an Irish guy with a long sword, if they can restrain him, why can't they pass that same approach down to George?"

Another protester, Emeka Ejezie, asked: "Did they know George, did they really judge him well before shooting him? I don't think they did. Now there could be some racial element to that."

However, Ms Nkencho said the shooting "has to do with class, the class of people in society - where they're from, where they live".

"All of those can play a factor, but the main issue here is to look at what training is given to Gardai to deal with the vulnerable people of society," she added.

The Gardai declined to give an interview, as the incident is under investigation by the independent Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

The police service did say, however, that its members "implemented a graduated response where the use of less-lethal force options (taser and OC spray) was initially administered in an effort to resolve the incident".

"The less-lethal use of force options were unsuccessful," they said.

The Nkencho family's solicitor Phelim O'Neill has criticised the pace of the GSOC investigation.

At the time of writing, the ombudsman had still not interviewed the Nkencho family members who were present at the shooting.

In a statement to Sky News, a GSOC spokesperson said that witness statements had been taken and a family liaison officer had been appointed, but "it would be inappropriate for GSOC to comment publicly on the direction or progress of the ongoing criminal investigation into Mr Nkencho's death".

Many black Irish people have appealed for calm and racial unity in the aftermath of the shooting.

Podcaster Leon Diop, co-founder of Black and Irish, said that "while race may or may not have been a part of this incident, I know a lot of black people and mixed-race people in Ireland do think there's an element of racial bias in the Gardai, and that certainly needs to be looked at".

He added: "I would hope that this is a freak and isolated incident. It's absolutely imperative now that we don't allow people who want to divide us to divide us."

The Nkencho family have received racist abuse since the death of Mr Nkencho, which is being investigated separately by Gardai.

"We have received abuse not just through social media but to our house", his sister said.

"Letters being sent, threatening abusive words to us, so that's very shocking and it's been distressing for my family as this is the last thing we need in a time like this, being threatened and abused."

While the Nkencho family await the results of the GSOC investigation, they have appealed for unity among Dublin's different communities.

"There is a section of people that are maybe trying to use this as a time to divide us as a society, as Irish people", Ms Nkencho said.

"I think we should remember that a life has been lost and this is a time for us to come together and not be divided."