The Murder of Toyosi Shittabey and Racial Tension in Dublin
Some weeks ago (on Good Friday, in fact) a 15-year old boy was killed in Tyrellstown, Co Dublin. Toyoshi Shittabey was walking home from the swimming pool when, it is reported, he and a friend were subjected to a racist verbal assault. It has been reported that while Shittabey and his friend walked away from the scene, the assailants went to a house, acquired a knife, followed the youngsters to their car, and stabbed Shittabey in the heart. The Gardaí have charged one young man with manslaughter. Although there has been a huge public outpouring of grief and solidarity with the family of Toyoshi Shittabey and with the Nigerian community in Tyrellstown in the wake of the stabbing, this murder exposes potentially deep racial fault-lines in Irish society and poses difficult but important challenges for the Gardaí. It also poses difficult questions for the criminal law in this jurisdiction.
The Gardaí’s investigation has not officially ended, and it is possible that the final charge will in fact be murder and not manslaughter, but the investigation of this crime takes place within a palpable atmosphere of racial tension and poses challenges that one hopes the Gardaí will be able to face. Should it come to that point, the sentencing process will also be challenging for the court. If it is established in the course of the trial (whether that is a trial for manslaughter or for murder) that this homicide was racially motivated, ought that to be taken in to account in the sentencing decision? We previously discussed the lack of hate crimes legislation in Ireland here, and this may well be a case that helps us to gauge how well our criminal justice system can calculate prejudice in sentencing without specific law in this relation. However, the killing of Toyoshi Shittabey is not only a challenge for the Gardaí and the Courts; it is a challenge for Irish society in and beyond Tyrellstown.
For a short while after the killing there were considerable public manifestations of solidarity and sympathy with the Shittabey family and their community, however there is a degree to which we are no longer expressing the extent to which this exercises concern in us. In an excellent blog post on passivity in general, the Irish Times columnist Bryan Mukandi writes:
A young man is stabbed to death in his own neighbourhood for being the wrong colour and for a short while there’s the scurry of activity; activity aimed at keeping everybody calm and assuring us all that the crime was an anomaly – one of those freak accidents that in no way reflect the state of society. Yes, the affected community should remain calm. Those affected should let the authorities deal with the matter. But what about the rest of us? Why are the unaffected so good at shrugging our shoulders and getting on with things? Why do those who are distant enough to be both angry and constructive not act, or speak, or do something other than shrug their shoulders and move on?
To what end? Maybe I’m just haunted by the ghost of Zimbabwe past, but I’ve seen this same passivity before. I’ve seen what happens to a house so accepting and forgiving of rot. Eventually, it falls apart. Even if it is a house of stone.
A sage warning. One can only hope that the continued investigation and subsequent trial in the tragic killing of Toyoshi Shittabey can help to reinforce those walls that Mukandi writes about. Unfortunately, this work can not be supported by the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism as the NCCRI was closed down by the government following the 2008 budget.