The handling of the disappearance and death of Noah Donohoe has also raised concerns about systemic racism in the North of Ireland. An article by ManLikeHarrington, a Black observer and writer for ‘The Third Side’.
On June 28th, the day after the tragic recovery of Noah Donohoe’s body, his mother Fiona rightly declared: “We recognise everyone has lost Noah.”
And this is true in a special way for Northern Ireland’s BME community. He was one of us. We thought about him constantly since his disappearance, and though we kept our poise in public forums, in our “social bubbles” we discussed it prolifically. We find it puzzling, concerning, and sometimes terrifying, and continue to ask four questions in the background:
1. In 2020, Do BME People Enjoy Inferior Investigations in Northern Ireland?
The police took six days to find a missing child. Yet they told the public no thanks for their help. A past weather chart for Belfast on timeanddate.com shows a very dry week before the weekend of his recovery, yet authorities claimed inability to completely search the storm drain where he was eventually found because of flooding. They were searching so feverishly, yet were available enough to offer to search anybody’s premises who requested. They continued to declare no foul play – which we often saw as a cop out from making the search a more critical operation. Did they search any houses? What was the “difficulty” that prevented them from entering a storm drain which a teenager was deemed to waltz into?
The first 48 hours after a child’s disappearance is the most crucial period in recovering them. After this, the chances of finding them diminish exponentially. There was never this urgency for Noah, and we often wonder what part his colour played.
2. Is It More Acceptable for Tabloids to Disrespect a BME Child’s Memory?
Two weeks after the tragic recovery, and still amidst the uncertainty of his disappearance and death, the Belfast Telegraph ran the most intrusive, insensitive story. They wormed their way to contacting his estranged father and published an interview with him. Sailing on the public’s concern for Noah’s tragedy, they advertised the “exclusive” on several radio stations.
It was the most disgraceful of gutter press tactics, yet public outcry was minimal. To date there has been no reports of reprimand for the news house. While we do acknowledge their actions hurt his mother, a White Irish woman the most, we wonder if they assumed the public would feel less attached to a golden brown face, which rendered Noah fair game for this treatment. Would they have been more sensitive with a White child? Would there have been more public outcry for the Telegraph’s actions then? We as a community felt like easier targets.
3. Was There Really No Foul Play?
We desperately want the answer to be no, no foul play. But though this verdict is being ran with, it seems more like a convenient conclusion than a realistic one.
The explanation of his final moments never washed. Based on a couple vague to sketchy sightings, the police flocked to the bizarre theory that he fell off his bike, hit his head, and pretty much lost his mind. This led him to shed his clothes and abandon his bicycle, and leave the area of his last sighting on foot.
Causing further concern was the non transparency. During the search and in the aftermath, the police refused to divulge the following:
Info about a mysterious phone-call leading to recovery of key belongings Location of his mobile phone’s recovery, or even its make How he entered the storm drain where he was found, a point they claimed to know And the local police force’s attitude towards the public’s compassion in searching for the teen was in contrast to other missing persons cases. Police normally encourage and work with the public, whereas this force dissuaded assistance very early on, first encouraging the public to search their own premises, then requesting all public searches cease. A high percentage of police briefs was devoted to chastising internet rumour spreading, which seems a natural outcome with the lack of a realistic explanation given by authorities. But they incredibly demanded their puzzling explanation be the only explanation.
However, the BME Community breathed a sigh of relief a few days after the tragic announcement, with reports in the press naming a couple of the previously anonymous witnesses, one who allegedly found his bicycle and one who had allegedly seen him riding unclothed. The latter also claimed to have handed the police CCTV footage of the sighting, alleging some of her neighbours also saw him riding by. We were getting the answers we needed and looked forward to the postmortem results which would surely corroborate the unlikely, but seemingly true narrative offered by authorities.
But sighs of relief turned into nervous gulps a week later. It was reported that following their receipt of the postmortem results, the Donohoe family – up to then showing exemplary grace – engaged a lawyer renowned for his scrutinising public bodies. It started to confirm what we were all thinking about the way the case was being handled.
A week later, the growingly concerned public were then drip fed news that the police were being stingy with handing vital information to the Donohoe’s, including:
* Full postmortem results
* Confirmation of a head injury, which their narrative was built around
* Confirmation mobile phone’s tracking was used to trace his trip
* Info of their ongoing investigations – something they gave false information about
* The CCTV footage of Noah’s alleged last sighting, or even a still shot of it
* We wanted to believe no foul play – but why the non transparency that lends itself to the contrary?
An intelligent, very talented child had set off to work on his Duke of Edinburgh award, and went missing for six days. He was eventually rediscovered dead and naked in a storm drain, with his belongings retrieved in several other locations. Without solid evidence indicating otherwise, suspicions of foul play will not go away just because authorities say otherwise. Maybe there is no foul play, but without greater transparency, our fears continue that this can be Belfast’s own Stephen Lawrence or Anthony Walker incident, and is being swept under the carpet.
4. (If There Was Foul Play) Was He Targeted Because He Was Black?
A Catholic youth going missing in a loyalist area easily translates to a sectarian narrative. But few are mentioning the possibility of a racist narrative. Our society is less comfortable discussing that elephant in the room, now bigger with the elevated global scrutiny on racism.
Observe the following from the past 12 months:
* Rising hate crimes in NI with 320 documented Islamophobic attacks in 2019
* Increased operation here by fascist-led U.K. Freedom Party
* Strong opposition to Black Lives Matter (BLM) online
* Authorities heavy-handedly police socially distanced BLM rallies, compared to overcrowded beaches, ridiculous cenotaph protection rallies, overcrowded queues for flat-pack furniture, etc.
* Black attendee speaking out at one rally treated like hate figure, forced off social media
* Pastor (in the loosest sense of the word) arrested for racist speech
* Posters deemed to incite racist hatred erected in Dungannon
* Amidst this backdrop, a mixed race young lad being found dead under suspicious circumstances, seems a coincidence too far. Was he accosted because of his colour? Was he accosted because of a certain emblem on his shorts, but his colour made it easier to kill him? The BME Community needs better reassurances that there was no foul play, and no racist foul play. If this child was racially targeted, we need to know what is being done to prevent future incidents of this nature by the authorities we pay taxes to. Can we send our kids out without panic alarms? If it’s open season on BME people, our numbers are small so we are all at great risk and will need to know in order to take necessary caution.
For every racist scumbag in this society, we believe there are a multitude of very good people. The support to the Black Lives Matter rallies was overwhelming and shows amazing progress here regards race relations. Further, many of the BLM detractors, when it really mattered, took to the streets to search for a mixed race kid. And that in itself was heart warming. Catholics, protestants, and others searched hard, prayed hard, and ultimately we cried hard.
But the Belfast Telegraph made a foul, and needs some kind of reprimand. Authorities need to show more urgency and transparency when youths go missing, including BME youths. Their continued lame efforts failed Noah. And there may really be no foul play. But authorities are well in their power to allay fears of the contrary by being more transparent with information they hold. Normally ignorance is bliss, but a small demographic like ours is vulnerable if targeted. Awareness regards cases like this is fundamental for us to feel safe and protected.