Should Hackney Council have funded a memorial plaque for Rashan Charles?

Rashan Charles. Picture: Family of Rashan Charles

Rashan Charles. Picture: Family of Rashan Charles - Credit: Archant

Hackney Council has defended its decision to fund a memorial to Rashan Charles at a Dalston youth club.

The youth club in Forest Road. Picture: Polly Hank

The youth club in Forest Road. Picture: Polly Hank - Credit: Polly Hank

The 20-year old died in July 2017 after evading arrest and being tackled by a police officer to the floor of a Dalston shop.

He choked on a small packet of paracetamol and coffee he had hidden in his mouth.

CCTV footage circulated immediately after his death, which sparked protests across the borough. An inquest found it was “accidental” and the officer was “justified” in his use of force.

The council has now rejected an official complaint it was “inappropriate” to fund a plaque in his memory at the Forest Road youth club, which some say could stir up “anti-police sentiment”.

At a cost of £73.75 paid for from the £15,000 youth budget, it states: “In remembrance of Rashan Charles 1996 – 2017”, and has been erected at the foot of an olive tree planted when the youth club was built to symbolise peace and unity.

Concern has been raised that a council-funded plaque in memory of Rashan Charles sends the wrong message to children and police cadets at the Dalston youth club where it has been erected.

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A month before he died Rashan was arrested on suspicion of dealing class A and B drugs. Police found 48 wraps identical to the one he choked on at his grandmother’s home, along with 31 wraps of cocaine mixed with painkiller. He had previous convictions for dealing heroin and cannabis.

The person who made the complaint, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “The plaque serves as a permanent reminder to the building’s service users – notably children who are being encouraged to make the right choices – that a convicted local drug dealer earned the privilege to be publicly remembered, and that honour even be publicly financed.”

Simon Gray from the council’s complaints team rejected the complaint, stating it was “not in a public place”, and that council staff were “entitled” to sanction this memorial.

“While you may see this as a memorial to honour a known drug dealer, I am advised the view of the young people is it is a memorial to honour a young life tragically lost and who was known to many of them and who had been a user of the service as well as a member of their peer and friendship group,” he said. “From an officer perspective this was a way to help address some of the collective community grief.”

Deputy Mayor Cllr Anntoinette Bramble added: “Rashan regularly used the youth hub at Forest Road and was well known and liked by attendees there. The loss of his life had a significant impact on a lot of young people and those in the community around Forest Road.

“The memorial plaque was an important way of supporting young people to process his death, express their feelings, and bring the community together to grieve and remember Rashan’s life.”

However the complainant said the council should be not be acting in a way that sends out the wrong message to children.

“It needs to be professional. If children make a decision we don’t just say ‘yes’. We think about it as responsible adults and then say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A truly responsible adult would take the story of Rashan and use it for good to teach all the negative impacts of a criminal lifestyle. Instead he received a memorial – fit for a hero – and funded by the society he wronged.

“If that’s not a topsy turvy society I don’t know what is.”

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