The public inquiry into the death of 31-year-old Sheku Bayoh, who lost his life after an encounter with the police, was convened in May 2022. Sheku Bayoh: The Inquiry, a podcast from The Ferret, has been summarising the evidence presented in the hearings. Co-presenters Karin Goodwin and Tomiwa Folorunso took some time to tell us why covering this inquiry is so important.
For people who might not be familiar with the case, can you give me a bit of an overview?
Tomiwa Folorunso: Sheku Bayoh was a Black man from Sierra Leone who was living in Kirkcaldy, in Fife. On 3rd May 2015, after an altercation with the police, he lost his life. He died in hospital that morning. His family, mainly led by his sister Kadi [Johnson], have been campaigning for answers since his death.
Karin Goodwin: In 2021 it was announced that they would have the inquiry the family had been calling for, into not only his death – he was restrained by six officers – but into what happened next and how his death was investigated. I think in this podcast what we are trying to do is just summarise the evidence in a way that is hopefully more humanising [than it’s presented in the hearing], and to prompt the question: who is responsible?
Tomiwa: And also, what is justice, and what does that look like? There’s so much information that is so dense and it can be really difficult to understand the significance of it. So our job is to just make that information as tangible as possible.
Sheku is sometimes referred to as ‘Scotland’s George Floyd’ and the similarities [in the two cases] are quite striking. Do you think there is a sense in the public mind that this is something that doesn’t happen here?
Karin: What’s interesting is: that’s not our tagline. That’s the family’s tagline. This happened before Black Lives Matter really took off. At the time, I think there was a much lesser awareness of disproportionate violence against Black men. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening here, but yeah, I think the public awareness has probably not been that high. And that was really amplified by the Black Lives Matter protests across the States, which gave the family quite a lot of feeling of strength and hope but also a feeling of, well, what about some of the cases closer to home?
I think Scotland does need to be mindful that things like this do happen. And the centuries of structural racism that our culture has inherited are not just going to go away without intentional change.
Tomiwa: I think there is a sense that this doesn’t happen here, and this isn’t our story. George Floyd was not the first Black man to die at the hands of the police in America, or in the world. I think what made that so striking was there were no questions around what had happened and what people saw. I think people are very good at having empathy when something is clear-cut. But if there’s any way that a Black man can not be the victim, they will find that way. If the Black man who’s died can be blamed for their death, people will look for that.
Do you think that the emphasis on Sheku being in a mental health crisis feeds into that?
Tomiwa: It’s interesting that you said ‘being in a mental health crisis’ – a lot of people have not said that. They have said that Sheku was on drugs. The media sensationalising his death, what information was shared with the public and what was not – there are reasons behind why people do that.
Karin: The intersection between mental health and being a Black man makes you a disproportionate risk. And it is that intersection that’s really interesting. So what has been really fascinating, for me, is that this inquiry is actually a sort of window into a much wider look at Scottish society. And that’s through mental health; it’s through drug use, and our attitudes to drug use; it’s through our policing; it’s through our justice structures.
What can people do to help?
Tomiwa: Listen to the podcast. Share the podcast. It’s not about listening to us; it’s about just making the story trickle as far as possible. And also: show up. Kadi has sat in that room so many times, alone. If there was a way that at least one other person was sitting in that room with Kadi I know it would make a world of difference to her.
Karin: The unions across Scotland have been really great in mobilising around the campaign. But people get tired and there’s so many [other] things holding people’s attention. Our aim with the podcast is just to help you to reconnect with that and remind you why, actually, this issue hasn’t finished and it’s not gone. This isn’t just about one family getting justice, although that’s so important. It’s also about Scotland getting the type of systems that it needs and deserves.
You sign off the episodes by saying ‘good journalism changes things’. What’s your hope for this?
Karin: All of the hearings and all of the evidence statements have gone online. So there’s this incredibly overwhelming body of stuff. But if there’s recommendations, how do we make sure that those actually are enacted? And I think having the podcast there, that’s like: this is what they said they were going to do differently. This is what they said needed to be done differently. It’s a place where that’s a matter of public record.
Tomiwa: I don’t think there is a better place for the podcast to be hosted than The Ferret. Because there is such a commitment to good journalism, but also to finding the stories and the humanity behind that. There’s no other agenda apart from to give people the information. And that’s really important.
Evidential hearings in the Sheku Bayoh Inquiry are due to resume on Tuesday 6th February 2024
More on the Sheku Bayoh Inquiry, including a timeline of evidence and information on attending the hearings, can be found at shekubayohinquiry.scot