The news that Gary Dobson and David Norris are to stand trial for the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence is just fantastic, and I sincerely hope that justice will finally be done. Hopefully this will also allow Jamie and Neil Acourt to be re tried for this heinous crime.
In May 1993 I found myself in the middle of a full-scale riot on Eltham High Street as part of an Anti BNP March in the wake of several racist murders and attacks. The object of 14,000 marchers was to get the BNP bookshop in Welling shut down as it was quite clearly the source of the upsurge in violence in what, until then was a fairly unremarkable part of South London, ethnically no more or less diverse than other parts of the Capital and neither particularly rich nor poor.
The race issues that surfaced in Tower Hamlets and neighbouring Millwall by passed, on the whole this area until the coming of the BNP shop in 1991.
Peter Bottomley, the Tory member for Eltham was vocal and joined the Labour Group’s call for the Lib Dem controlled council to revoke the shop’s trading licence which they were able to do under the Local Government Act 1988. They failed to move against the BNP as they said it would only inflame matters.
I was then Constituency Chair in Surrey South East and running the Labour Party in Farnham (not a big job as our meetings could have been held in a phone box) on a day to day basis, in addition I sat on the Policy Review Forum in the wake of the 1992 fiasco and was without a doubt at my most politically active, attending a Special Conference in the Spring of 1993 to see how we could turn matters around as well as Candidate Training where I first met Ruth Kelly and the admirable Phil Woolas.
I have to say that the Leadership were nothing but supportive of younger members getting involved in the anti racist struggle and we were encouraged to join in with the ANL and other groups, even being allowed to carry our Constituency colours at marches. A simple no brainer between what’s right and wrong and I’m proud of our record in Government on this issue, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the commissioning of McPhearson
Almost as soon as we got into power in 1997. That’s what Labour Politics is all about and why I joined and still am a Party activist.
But the media were and have been an absolute disgrace since the murder of Stephen Lawrence, on the one hand aiding and abetting the police cover up in the early days, and once they realised that Stephen (and indeed Anthony Walker) fulfilled the criteria for how black people should be and act in Daily Mail Land, the faux outrage.
Why was the Mail so incandescent about the savage murder of Stephen that they launched such a campaign of harassment against the perpetrators? (I’m all for it, by the way).
Simple, Lawrence was a good little Black Boy. Middle Class professional parents, a successful scholar and whoopee do, a CHRISTIAN! Fantastic.
He was almost white and so the Mail can peddle that nightmare of all nice parents in the Soham mould of It Could Be Your Child Next!
That’s why Stephen Lawrence has become an Icon in death. Sad but true.
The story has been told countless times and is no less shocking for it but in 1993, as Mike Fisher and I witnessed mass Police brutality at first hand, we were there because Stephen was the FIFTH victim in two years. Have you heard of the others? Of course not.
Lawrence’s death, did however allow the anti racist movement to “sell” racially motivated attacks to the white media as previous black campaigns had been aggressive and left many white people feel defensive, this was an image white people felt comfortable as it played heavily on the values of Middle England.
Yes, I felt more comfortable. Why? Because at previous marches and rallies we were confronted by either white hating (often Muslim inspired) young black men with the distinct whiff of testosterone, or beardy lentil types being “street” and nodding sagely as these guys demonised every white fella as a predatory Racist Nigger Hater, just the sort of Lefty I can’t abide, you know the type, University Lecturer who has never done a days graft in their life.
It was all very confusing and strange and I have to say that Stephen’s brutal murder drew in a more mainstream type of protester. You had little old ladies from the local Church groups marching with Black Power merchants. A bit like Live 8 compared to previous anti Globalisation protests.
Who were some of the others?
Rolan Adams was stabbed to death by white youths just two miles from where Stephen fell. This 1991 murder proved inconvenient as Adams was, as it were “a bit of a lad” and had dealings with the Police. Thus his murder remained unimportant even though the Met admitted to MacPhearson that it was racially motivated.
Rughit Duggal, killed in 1992 and Rafique Khan butchered on the same road as Stephen in January 1993.
Muslims. Not good enough to pursue a publicly transparent investigation.
What would have happened if Anthony Walker and Stephen Lawrence had been Rastafarian, if they had had a criminal record, if they had been a Muslim or if the parents had been inarticulate?
These cases have not just highlighted the inadequacies of our Police Forces and their attitudes of “Institutionalised Racism”, as exemplified by the murder of Jean Charles De Menezes, slain for having dark skin. It also raises questions about the media and about how blameless and acceptable a black victim has to be if white society is to take an interest.
Recently on Radio Four’s “Thought for the Day“, the speaker, a Anglican cleric, urged the Lawrence Five “to give yourselves up as you can’t possibly live with the guilt.” Thus proving why the Church of England is an embarrassing irrelevance in the 21st Century.