Che Lingo on the case of police brutality against Julian Cole: “This is not what justice looks like”

Rising UK rapper Che Lingo talks to NME about the case of police brutality against his friend Julian Cole, who was left paralysed with a broken neck in 2013

In 2013, a young black man named Julian Cole had his neck broken and was left brain-damaged by police after an incident at a Bedfordshire nightclub in 2013. Three of the officers involved were later sacked, but none have yet been charged. His case was recently mentioned by George The Poet on Newsnight in parallel to that of George Floyd in America. Cole is also a close friend of Che Lingo. After immortalising him in the song ‘My Block’, here the rising rapper tells NME about the continued fight for justice.

The driving force behind writing my song ‘My Block’ is the case of Julian Cole. When I was 16, I had a part-time job at a trainer shop in West London. I was working there for about a year and Julian Cole started working there too.

We hit it off and he was a fan of what I was doing with my music and we had a Facebook group for all of the guys that used to be in the shop. Then as we went into the ether of life and started doing our own thing.

In 2013, one of our mutual friends in the group gave me a call. She rings me at home and she’s like, ‘I don’t want to be the one to break this to you but have you heard about Julian?’

Obviously the first thing that I thought is that he’s passed away, God forbid. But she explains to me that he got into some kind of incident; he’s got brain damage, his neck’s broken and he’s in intensive care in Cambridge. After doing some research and speaking to some of our mutual friends, I found out that it was actually the police that broke his neck.

Julian Cole after the incident. Credit: Cole family

Julian went to a nightclub in Bedfordshire, the nightclub has been locked off for whatever reason. He left the nightclub then went back to speak to the manager or something. The way that I was told it, he was passed to bouncers, bouncers passed him to police, and after contact with six police officers, his neck was broken.

He was a victim of police brutality in the rawest form. The reports say that they didn’t check his vitals, they didn’t check that he was breathing, he spent a certain amount of time in the back of a police van with a broken neck and brain damage with no one checking to see if he’s still alive. He got to the station and it was the same thing.

I chased it up with his family and started tweeting to find out what was happening with the police. In 2016, his family asked me to speak outside the American Embassy on their behalf because of how hard I was going for him. There was something going on at the Embassy because of a similar case in America that happened with Freddie Gray.

Julian was and still is my friend. He was a big fan of my music and a big supporter. As we sit here right now, none of his family have any compensation. Whatever their health bills are, they have to front that as well as trying to pay legal fees for justice. To me, this is not what justice looks like.

Three of the officers lied about what happened in their statements and were then convicted of gross misconduct and fired from their jobs. The family got no compensation, no one was criminally charged – I know people that have gone for prison for less.

If you can be a young, black, semi-pro football player, not even in London and still get your neck broken, be left paralysed by the police, then that’s devastating. His life has been ruined. He’ll never be able to play football again. That devastates me, and it devastates his mum every day. I had to go to her and say, ‘I’ve written this song and it mentions what’s happened to Julian and how I feel about it, and I hope you can give me your blessing’. She said it was totally fine and that they’re still fighting the case now. It’s been seven years.

There’s a line in ‘My Block’: ‘Feds literally broke my bredrin’s neck, then lied on one of their statements/Bro how can you call that justice/When the blues see red there’s greyness…/’ That will happen. To me, it doesn’t matter if it’s an exception. Things happen. People make mistakes and no one’s a robot – but not when it comes to the police and not when it comes to breaking a man’s neck. There’s nothing about that that’s justifiable. You shouldn’t be protected by your service prior for something you did now.

I wrote ‘My Block’ for Julian because it’s about being blunt with the information. There’s something shocking to be communicated. The case is old to the news, but I still think about it. I’m still fighting for him and his family. It’s become a part of my narrative as someone who does social commentary in my music. At the end of the day, Julian was my friend and he didn’t deserve that.”

As told to Andrew Trendell

Sign the petition for Justice For Julian Cole here, and donate to the fund to support Julian and his family here