Thusha Kamaleswaran, disability and anti-Black hostility

Last Monday, three men were found guilty of a shooting in south London that left a 5-year-old girl of Tamil origin, Thusha Kamaleswaran, paralysed from the chest down, and injured an Asian man, Roshan Selvakumar, in the face while trying to shoot a rival gang member, Roshaun Bryan. The three men, members of the “Gas” (Guns and Shanks) gang, will be sentenced later this month and life sentences are likely to be considered due to the gravity of the injuries inflicted and the fact that it was an attempted murder. The verdict has led to a lot of unbalanced, high-profile press coverage, and there two separate issues: the first being how they handle Thusha’s disability, and the second being the anger directed at the Black community in general. There has been an appeal set up to cover Thusha’s long-term care needs, the details of which can be found here.

I have noticed that the press have been overstating the extent of Thusha’s disability and over-hyping the ‘tragedy’ of it. A tragedy is a play dominated by suffering and usually featuring a prominent death (or several), and while I do not doubt that Thusha has suffered a lot and has a lot to adjust to (although she may have done so already — more quickly than some of her family, judging by the quotes), there is no reason why her life should be thought of as being destroyed or should be dominated by suffering from here on in. The pictures of her (for example, see the Sunday Mirror’s exclusive: [1], [2]) often do not match the tone of the reporting: she is shown smiling as she does her physiotherapy and rides her special bicycle (which is meant to exercise her legs while she cannot), while the journalists report the “bitter-sweet” sight of her on a bike that she’s not really pedalling, or her dream of walking by her seventh birthday in July, which is not going to happen. They emphasise the pain and the tragedy and the lost dream of being a singer and dancer.

The fact is that Thusha has an incomplete spinal cord injury at T7, that is, the seventh vertebra down in the chest (thoracic) part of the spine. Some reports have simply the “seventh vertebra” which implies the seventh cervical (neck) vertebra, which would result in impairment to arm and hand function and many more complications as it would make her unable to regulate her body temperature and leave her vulnerable to autonomic dysreflexia, an acute and potentially lethal blood-pressure disorder caused by things that would cause pain or irritation below the level of injury. With the injury she has, she has full arm and hand function and will still be able to sing. As an adult, a person with this kind of injury will be mostly independent; the Apparelyzed guide to the function with an injury at this level states that some assistance might be required for heavy household tasks and home maintenance and possibly transferring into a car, but that they will be able to transfer from bed to chair and vice versa, to drive (with hand controls), to self-care (unless there are additional complications such as severe spasticity), and to prepare food. So, the reports that Thusha will require lifelong, round-the-clock care, or a multi-million pound compensation package as you would get for breaking your neck in a car crash or suffering brain damage during a botched delivery, are inaccurate. As an adult, she may not require personal care assistance at all, or minimally, although she will need adaptations to her home and a succession of wheelchairs as she grows bigger (and the wheelchairs give out, as they do not work forever). As a child, she is likely to require a lot of care, but six-year-olds don’t generally cook their own meals or clean their homes anyway, and often have help washing and dressing.

The over-hyping of the tragedy of Thusha’s disability fits perfectly into an agenda of demanding a “crackdown on gun crime” which feeds an atmosphere of hostility against the “Black community”. I use the quotes because there really isn’t one — there is a Black population, which is of multiple origins — different parts of the Caribbean, different parts of Africa — and which practises different religions (Christianity, Islam, some African traditional religions, Rastafarianism among others), so they cannot be identified as a whole as the source of “gun crime”, but that did not stop Nirpal Dhaliwal questioning the lack of “Black outrage” over this, compared to their response when the police shot a man who turned out to be unarmed (Mark Duggan) in Tottenham last year, triggering riots. “Not one pair of Nikes has been stolen in protest” at Thusha’s shooting, he writes. Well, the difference is that Mark Duggan died, and Thusha Kamaleswaran did not, and Mark Duggan was killed by the police, and Thusha Kamaleswaran was shot by common criminals who were not being paid by the tax-payer to keep the streets safe. If a Tamil girl was shot and paralysed by the police, it is possible that the Tamils might riot, but it is unlikely as Tamils in the UK are mostly refugees from the war in Sri Lanka, not a population which has lived here for three generations amid persistent suspicion and harassment, particularly of young people and particularly men, by the police.

The tone of the article is greatly reminiscent of the demands for calls for condemnation from all and sundry in the Muslim community for every act of terrorism by any Muslim or group of Muslims anywhere in the world, regardless of any connection (which was usually none) that they might ever have had to the guilty party. Muslim leaders and scholars did issue condemnations, but the demands continued without those issuing them listening. As for expecting campaigners against police thuggery and brutality to issue condemnations against a completely unconnected group of criminals who injured two people and faulting them for not doing so, it is entirely unreasonable, particularly when reports (backed up by video evidence) of such behaviour by the police against black youth, political demonstrators and, sometimes, just random members of the public, appears fairly frequently: there has only been one police officer charged for killing a member of the public, while only this past week a video was released of the police calling a Black man they had stopped a c**t and telling him “the problem with you is you will always be a nigger”, so those people who, as Dhaliwal alleges, say that stop-and-search is “racist and oppressive” have a point while it’s the Metropolitan Police doing it.

I get the impression that Dhaliwal would not have opened his mouth had the person who was injured not been Asian — tensions between Asians and Blacks, sometimes escalating into violence, have happened in the UK before and I hope someone is listening to what is being said on Tamil (or otherwise Asian) community radio stations (note: you need to know the language). The “clampdown” these people are calling for will probably not target the known gang leaders and operatives and is likely to lead to more incidents in which quite innocent young people feel (perhaps correctly) that they have been singled out because of their colour, and possibly to more riots if any lives are lost. Let’s appeal for calm, and state the good news: that the three men responsible are in jail and will remain there for many years, and that Thusha will be able to go to school, to go to college, to sing, to drive, to live independently, to get married, to have children, to have a job. It’s not a tragedy, and nobody else need suffer because of it.

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