Dalian Atkinson Death by UK Police Taser Raises Questions of Systematic Racial Targeting

Dalian Atkinson, a British black former soccer player, was identified Monday as the man police Tasered to death in a residential neighborhood. The circumstances surrounding the ex-Aston Villa player's death drew complaints of unreasonably excessive force against local black activists and his father, who Atkinson may have been attempting to visit.

West Mercia police were called to a home in the county of Shropshire early Monday morning, after receiving reports that a man there was endangering "the safety of an individual," according to the Sky News. Witnesses described seeing an officer warn the man before deploying the Taser.

One witness told Sky News that Atkinson, 48, appeared to stumble forward toward the officer before the officer shot him with the weapon. A neighborhood resident told the Sun that Atkinson had been refused entrance to his father's home early Monday morning because of his aggressive manner. Atkinson had previously been hospitalized for an unspecified mental health illness.

"I spoke to his dad this morning, he phoned me to tell me the sad news," Lascelles Rose told the Sun. "He was so upset, he just kept telling me 'he's gone' and 'my boy is dead' – he is just so heartbroken."

On Monday, a U.K. chapter of the Black Lives Matter network pointed to Atkinson's death as an example of excessive force against citizens. "UK police don't need to regularly carry guns to regularly exercise lethal force," the group tweeted, referencing the fact that, with the exception of Northern Ireland, law enforcement officials in the U.K. do not carry firearms.

But stun guns pose their own problems, and Atkinson's death highlights a racial disparity in how British police deploy them. Blacks and people of mixed white and African-Caribbean origin were three times more likely to have a Taser deployed on them, according to Home Office data cited by the Guardian in 2015.

The data states that, of the 36,000 instances from 2010 to 2015 in which British law enforcement used a Taser, a black person was Tasered in 12% of those instances. Black people only make up 4% of the U.K. population.

As news of Atkinson's death spread Monday, soccer fans shared positive remembrances of him on Twitter. Some tweets mentioned his famous "wonder-goal" shot against Wimbledon in 1992.