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Benjamin Zephaniah: 'Coppers were standing on my back and I thought: OK, I’m going to die here.’


The poet and novelist has had a turbulent lockdown, with two relatives lost to Covid-19 and George Floyd’s death bringing back memories of his cousin, Mikey Powell, who was killed by the police in 2003

It is 42 years since Benjamin Zephaniah wrote the poem Dis Policeman Keeps on Kicking Me To Death, and it has never felt more resonant. Although, to be fair, there has never been a time when it hasn’t felt resonant. It resonated when the teenage Zephaniah was battered by the police, it resonated when Rodney King was beaten to within an inch of his life by the LAPD in 1992, it resonated when Zephaniah’s cousin Mikey Powell was killed by the police in Birmingham in 2003, and of course it resonated when the police officer Derek Chauvin asphyxiated George Floyd this May in Minneapolis.

Zephaniah is knackered. The poet/musician/novelist/actor/professor/martial arts teacher thought lockdown meant life would take a turn for the quiet; that he would be able to peacefully tend his allotment at home in rural Spalding, Lincolnshire. In fact, it couldn’t have been more turbulent. He lost two relatives to Covid-19, and his sister and brother-in-law were almost killed by the virus. Then he found himself at the heart of Black Lives Matter after Floyd was killed.

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