- 31 Dec 20
A young Dubliner of Nigerian background, George Nkencho, was shot dead yesterday by Gardaí in Hartstown, on the North-West side of Dublin. Here, his friend Israel Ibanu recalls that George was always at his happiest on a football pitch....
George Nkencho, the man who was fatally shot by Gardaí in Dublin yesterday, grew up under the shadow of racist bullying in Blanchardstown, his childhood friend has told Hot Press.
George Nkencho, 27, was shot dead by Gardaí following an incident in Hartstown, in North-West Dublin. The Garda Síochána’s Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) is investigating the circumstances of the young man’s death.
Gardaí have said that Nkencho – who is reported to have stabbed one man in the face with a knife, in the local Eurospar – threatened unarmed members of the force, prompting them to call in the armed unit.
In the immediate aftermath of his killing, George’s family have urged the public not to share footage of the shooting on social media. Multiple videos of the incident, including George Nkencho being followed by Garda cars and eventually being shot several times, at Manorfield Drive in Clonee, were distributed online.
His family have said that George Nkencho had mental health troubles.
HAPPIEST ON THE FOOTBALL PITCH
George Nkencho was of Nigerian origin; Israel Ibanu was an ‘inseparable’ childhood friend of his.
George had always dreamed of becoming a professional footballer, Israel tells Hot Press. Football, he says, distracted and shielded his friend from racist bullying at school and, indeed, from the wider racial injustice that he witnessed in Irish society.
“He was the most animated when he was playing football. He was his happiest on the football pitch,” Israel Ibanu says.
It was often difficult for black students in Irish schools, when Ibanu and Nkencho were growing up.
“They chased him around with a baseball bat,” Israel says of one especially notorious incident. “We would go together to pick him up after school. There was a shortcut he could take coming home, but he would always take the long way, just to avoid people in his class.
“Only later when they saw that he was playing football, they started to treat him better, but still they excluded him from a lot of things, like they couldn’t be totally cool with you if you were Black.”
From a young age, kids of African descent in his neighbourhood learned to be protective of one another.
“It was like, we’d have to come together so nothing would happen,” Israel explains.
Nkencho played for his local team. Israel describes him as a very determined player.
"We got even closer when we were playing football,” Israel recalls. “Now we were training together to see how far it would get us. He knew there were people who were better than him, but he would never give up. He wanted to show his coaches that he had what it takes.”
George Nkencho also rapped and recorded hip-hop under the nickname ‘Young G’.
“He expressed himself that way,” Ibanu says.
Ken McCue, of Sports Against Racism in Ireland (SARI), organises football teams with the objective of involving young multi-racial and Black players across the country. Ken recalls that George Nkencho used to play with them in Dublin, between 2010 and 2011.
“He was very ready, able and willing to play," Ken says. "He had really good qualities.”
Nkencho is not the first player from the North side of the city, who Ken McCue worked with, to have died in tragic circumstances. 15-year-old Toyosi Shittabey was stabbed to death on his way home in 2010. He had been a team-mate of George Nkencho.
Ibanu says Shittabey was like a little brother to Nkencho.
Shitabbey, also from Nigeria, was fatally stabbed by Paul Barry of Ringsend, in Tyrrelstown, Dublin on 2 April 2010. The teenage boy was on his way home from the National Aquatic Centre when the stabbing took place.
In 2012, Michael Barry – a brother of Paul Barry – who had driven his brother to the scene was acquitted on charges of murder. Paul Barry was already deceased by the time of the trial and so could not be found guilty.
Ibanu says Shitabbey’s murder left a lasting scar on Nkencho.
“It really affected him,” he tells Hot Press. “There was this brotherly love between them.”
After the incident, George Nkencho, who used to be mostly quiet, became more outspoken about racial injustice.
“If anyone said anything he felt was wrong he'd say something about it," Ibanu recalls.
Shortly after Shitabbey’s death, during a football match, racial slurs were being hurled at the predominantly Black team Nkencho played for. A brawl broke out. It was clear, Ibanu observes, how important it was for George to defend his friends.
While the nature of the mental health issues George was dealing with are unclear, Israel reckons that years of witnessing and experiencing racial inequality, had caused his friend’s mental health to suffer badly.
The fact that Nkencho couldn't reach his dream of becoming a football player, Ibanu says, was at least in part because people of colour often have to work 'ten times harder' than native Irish players. Sometimes, he says, they exhaust themselves proving their worth to coaches and employers.
“Even if you’re the best in your field, you have to work ten times harder,” Ibanu says.
Whatever about their past together, Israel Ibanu is deeply angry now. The Gardai, he said, should have been trained to disarm his friend without harming the young man.
“I’m raging,” he says. “I wasn’t there to know exactly what happened, but whatever he has done, that doesn't justify what happened to him.”
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD, expressed her sympathy with the family of Nkencho on Twitter this morning.
“George Nkencho’s death is a tragedy, and I want to extend my sympathy to his family, friends, community and to all involved in yesterday’s events,” the Minister wrote. “Gardaí are engaging with the local community and I know they understand their concerns and anguish.”
Minister McEntee added that she trusts the Garda Ombudsman's autonomy, and is awaiting the outcome of the office's investigation of the incident.
Minister for Children and Equality, Roderic O’Gorman TD, of the Green Party, also took to Twitter, saying that he was ‘deeply saddened’ upon hearing the news. Minister O’Gorman urged the public to help the GSOC with any useful information they may have.
Still, sensitivities remain high locally. Israel Ibanu says that when he visited the scene of the killing of George Nkencho, he experienced a mood of indifference among some of the neighbours – and even among individual Gardaí.
"They were looking at us,” Israel says, “like, why are you shouting? Like his death doesn't even matter. But it does.”
The hope is that the GSOC inquiry will unequivocally establish the facts. The simple question asked by Israel Ibanu is at the heart of the matter. Can it be true that a platoon of Gardaí were not sufficiently well trained, individually or collectively, to bring one individual, carrying a knife, under control without resorting to lethal force?
That question will certainly haunt the Gardaí and local people alike until we have a full and satisfactory answer.
– An Garda Síochána are appealing to the public to contact them with any relevant information. They have said that they are particularly looking for any person:
• Who was in the Eurospar, post office or general vicinity of Hartstown Shopping Centre at approximately 12.15pm yesterday, or
• Who were in the vicinity of Cherryfield and Manorfields estates, Dublin 15, between midday and 12.35pm yesterday
• Any person who may have CCTV or other video footage of these incidents
Main Pic: George Nkencho, standing tall, front right; Ken-McCue is first on the left. They are celebrating an Insaka Glentoran Academy team win.
• This article was updated on 2 January to take additional reported facts into account.