David Oluwale and the Alchemy of Policing Blackness in Britain

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:50 PM
Monroe Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Kennetta Hammond Perry, East Carolina University
On 4 May 1969 authorities pulled the body of a Nigerian-born vagrant named David Oluwale from the River Aire in Leeds. The official inquest concluded that he had been “found drowned.” However, less than two years later, a Sergeant and former Police Inspector stood trial on a host of charges in connection with his death and a series of malicious attacks that amounted to a conspiracy of police terror waged against him in the year leading up to his death. Precisely because the investigation into his death and the ensuing trial of the two officers generated a rich archival footprint that reflects the alchemy of state power which regarded him as non-citizen, disposable, and dispossessed, there is much to be said about what the case reveals about the political economy of policing in the context of poverty and dependency upon a British welfare state reckoning with the racial politics of decolonization.

This paper will examine David Oluwale’s archive—one largely enumerating his alleged violations of the law and his dependency on public resources—to explore how the intersecting powers of the carceral state and the welfare state facilitated the production of Black criminality and state violence. This study raises questions about the relationship between David Oluwale’s dependency on the state and the manner in which his existence in an undomiciled Black male body was policed and ultimately violated. Moreover, it seeks to use his case to interrogate the inherent breaches in the foundations of the postwar welfare state that extended the capacity of the carceral state to violate Black bodies. In doing so, this study intends to bridge the often disparate historiographies on race politics and the postwar welfare state in an effort to understand the emergence of a racialized carceral state in postcolonial Britain.