On 22 April 2013, senior representatives of the British state joined the Lawrence family in marking the 20th anniversary of the murder of 18 year old Stephen Lawrence by white racists. Leaders of the three main political parties and the Mayor of London attended a memorial service at St Martin in the Fields, near Trafalgar Square, to pay tribute to Stephen and to acknowledge ‘the debt the country owes to the Lawrence family for refusing to give up, ensuring those who were guilty of Stephen’s murder were brought to justice’.
Beguiling as some might have found it, there is something both fascinating and deeply disturbing about that memorial, the presence at it of those leaders of state and above all, about the statements they made.
In 2012, Gary Dobson and David Norris were finally convicted of Stephen’s murder after repeated failures by the Metropolitan Police that arose from corruption, incompetence and what the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry led by retired judge, Sir William Macpherson called ‘institutional racism’. Indeed, the convictions were possible only because in 2005 the ‘double jeopardy’ law that had existed for 800 years was changed to allow a suspect to be tried again for the same offence if there was “new, compelling, reliable and substantial evidence”, which had not been previously available. Three suspects Gary Dobson, Neil Acourt and Luke Knight, had been acquitted following a private prosecution brought by Stephen’s parents in 1996. David Norris had not been prosecuted before. The Lawrence family is still hopeful that sooner rather than later they will see all of Stephen’s murderers behind bars.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, pronounced at the Memorial, totally without irony, that:
The senseless killing of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 was a tragedy. It was also a moment that sparked monumental change in our society – change that has been brought about by the tireless efforts of Stephen’s family in challenging the police, government and society to examine themselves and ask difficult questions.
I believe that many of those questions have been answered: from improved community relations to more accountability in policing. Much has been achieved, but we know that more still needs to be done. We owe this to the memory of Stephen.
Notably, Cameron failed to acknowledge, let alone apologise to the Lawrence family and all who supported their lengthy campaign for the fact that ‘their tireless efforts’ were thwarted by the Conservative Government of the day that refused to take them seriously in their challenge to the police and the state about how the investigation of the murder of their son was botched and about the racism experienced by those seeking to assist the police in bringing Stephen’s murderers to justice. The government baulked at the very notion that ‘their police’ could be considered to have acted in a racist manner in the conduct of the murder investigation.
So, while the memorial service was clearly neither the time nor the place for those leaders of state to score political points, a bit of humility and honesty will surely not have been amiss.
The ‘monumental change in our society’ (and that is debatable enough as we shall see) did not result from Stephen’s murder, nor from the campaign led by the Lawrence family. It is convenient for politicians of any party to forget that there had been scores of racist murders before Stephen Lawrence as there have been since, as well as numerous campaigns and challenges to the police and government in the wake of many of those.
The difference was that Stephen’s parents and those who campaigned with them managed to persuade Jack Straw, Home Secretary in the newly elected Labour Government in 1997 (after 18 years of Conservative rule) that the failings of the police were so blatant and provided such clear evidence of what African and Asian communities had suffered for so many years, that a judicial inquiry was necessary.
There had been no such inquiry into the racist hounding of David Oluwale by the police in Leeds throughout the 1960s, which culminated in his murder by Inspector Geoffrey Ellerker and Sergeant Kenneth Kitching in April 1969 and their conviction and imprisonment, not for his murder or manslaughter, but for assault.
There had been no such inquiry into the death of 13 young Africans in the New Cross Fire in January 1981, a fire which the police initially reported as having been caused by a firebomb hurled into the ground floor living room where those young people and their friends were attending a birthday party.
There had been no such inquiry after Trevor Monerville was knifed to death by 5 men in a Hackney street in 1994, seven years after he was arrested by Hackney police and ended up in hospital undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain.
On New Year’s Day, 1987, Trevor Monerville attended a New Years Eve party in Stoke Newington with his aunts. Whilst waiting for his aunts in the street, he was arrested and detained in Stoke Newington police station. Trevor’s family were not informed of his arrest. Indeed, his father attended Stoke Newington police station after a couple of days to report his son missing and was still not informed that his son was in police custody.
Eventually, Trevor was located in the hospital wing of Brixton prison suffering a blood clot on his brain for which he underwent emergency surgery on 8th January 1987. Trevor maintained that he was badly beaten by the police, and the injuries he suffered left him with permanent brain damage and suffering from epileptic fits. Trevor was never charged with any offence relating to his initial arrest. The Family and Friends of Trevor Monerville Committee was set up to campaign for justice for Trevor. No police officer was brought to justice for the grievous bodily harm inflicted upon Trevor while in police custody.
Trevor’s brain damage made him very vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, not least by the Hackney police themselves. Trevor’s family, friends and activists in the community campaigned for justice and against police brutality and corruption. In response, the police in Hackney engaged in a sustained campaign of harassment and intimidation against the Monerville family. Trevor was arrested a further 5 times during the campaign and never charged. In addition to this, the Metropolitan Police were made to pay £50,000 compensation to Trevor’s 73 year old grandmother following an assault committed by police officers.
During this period Hackney police and Stoke Newington Police station in particular were subject to numerous allegations of corruption, violence and even involvement in drug dealing, which led to the establishment in 1991 of the MPS Operation Jackpot investigation into malfeasance at Stoke Newington police station. Operation Jackpot led to a number of police officers being suspended from duty or transferred away from Stoke Newington. Subsequent to this, on 3 February 1992, Brian Sedgemore, then MP for Hackney South, tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons condemning “those nasty, vile and corrupt police officers at Stoke Newington police station who have been engaged in drug trafficking and perverting the course of justice.”
On 7 February 1992, an HCDA press conference named 30 police officers accused of police malpractice since January 1989 and called upon the then Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, to set up a Judicial Inquiry into the police at Hackney’s police stations (Hackney, City Road, Stoke Newington and the former Dalston police station). Despite the overwhelming evidence of police brutality and corruption in the police in Hackney, their call was dismissed, as had similar calls by community campaigns throughout the previous two decades.
No police officer was ever charged or disciplined in relation to Trevor’s arrest, treatment and serious injuries. The family has never received any formal apology or expression of regret for the fact that they were never informed of Trevor’s arrest, or provided with any answers relating to the circumstances of his arrest and detention in police custody which left their son brain damaged.
In 1994, Trevor Monerville was stabbed thirteen times by five men in a Hackney street and killed. No one has been arrested and made to answer charges for his murder. For the last twenty years, the Trevor Monerville Campaign and the Monerville family have pondered as to whether the fact that no-one has been brought to justice for Trevor’s murder was not itself due to the widespread racism and corruption within Hackney Police.
So, even before the Labour Party won the General Election in 1997 after 18 years in political limbo, the Trevor Monerville case cried out for a public inquiry. This, then, formed an important part of the background against which the Conservative Government refused calls for an inquiry into the police investigation of Stephen Lawrence’s murder in South East London after April 1993.
To iconize and canonize
When, finally, the inquiry to be led by Macpherson was announced, its main remit was to look at the circumstances surrounding Stephen’s murder and how the Metropolitan Police investigated it. But, the inquiry examined much more besides and made 70 recommendations, the majority in relation to policing, but some targeted at public institutions other than the police, including the Crown Prosecution Service, the judicial system, the civil service, local government, education and schools and the NHS.
The finding that the police were ‘institutionally racist’ was the most difficult for the police to swallow, not least because they had congratulated themselves over many decades for acknowledging that they recruit from a racist society and that therefore it was inevitable that some individuals who join the police service would be racist. However, they had developed the most robust approach to dealing with those ‘few rotten apples’ that gave ‘the overwhelming majority’ of police officers ‘a bad name’ and undermined the confidence of ‘the black community’ in the police. To them, therefore, the notion as stated by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry that the police as an ‘institution’ was racist was ‘unwarranted’, ‘unacceptable’, ‘unfair and demotivating’, etc, etc.
Because the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry shone the spotlight on the Metropolitan Police and on racism in its institutional culture and practices, there has been a tendency for government, police and media to construct images of Britain pre- and post-Stephen Lawrence and to see the post-Stephen Lawrence Britain increasingly as ‘post-racial’ Britain. While this might be convenient, politically expedient and might serve the interests of some, the problem is that people who share that view rarely if ever state the criteria by which they evaluate the extent of change in the society post-Stephen Lawrence, except by quoting statistics about the number of ‘black’ police officers in the Metropolitan Police Service today as compared to the 1990s when Stephen was murdered and Macpherson led the inquiry.
‘Stop and Search’, recruitment, retention and career progression of African and Asian officers, prosecuting of ‘race hate’ or racially aggravated crimes, deaths in police custody are all matters which have continued to concern African communities in particular ever since the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry reported.
The growing tendency of government and public to iconize Stephen and canonize his mother Doreen is disingenuous and plain wrong. It is especially sickening when it is done by people in government, irrespective of the political party.
I long to see a more mature and dispassionate debate about those matters, without people feeling that one is being ‘irreverent’ to the courageous Doreen Lawrence. I believe it plays into the cult of individualism when someone like Doreen is extricated from the wider collective, community campaign that was launched after Stephen’s death and that sent out a strong message to the country that the outrage needed a high level government response. The more what some see as her ‘victory’ is projected as a victory for a solitary grieving mother who was tenacious in her quest for justice, is the more it dismisses the power of and the need for collective action; the need for everyone in the society and not just African and other global majority people to declare publicly: No! This is NOT the kind of society I want to identify with, or want to see children accept as ‘normal’.
To say that is not to detract from the pain, enduring grief and steely determination of Doreen and Neville Lawrence, but rather to acknowledge that Stephen was a proxy for any of our children. He was not specially chosen as a victim because his assailants had reason to single him out. Any African person or group of African males would have qualified in the eyes of those hate-filled people. That is why so many ordinary parents and young people, as well as activists who had been part of many similar campaigns spent months and years campaigning with the Lawrence family out of a firm belief in the power of collective action. That is why I feel that what David Cameron and the rest of them are doing is such a travesty and is so very cynical.
The very day Cameron was pronouncing at St Martin in the Fields with an unctuousness worthy of Margaret Thatcher, his Party in the Lords was arguing forcefully for the removal of the Public Sector Equality Duty from the provisions of the Equality Act 2010. Thankfully, the Upper House rejected their proposed amendments. The various assaults by the State and its institutions on African people in Britain since the 1950s: by way of immigration legislation and the racialization of immigration, the police and criminal justice system, ‘Stop & Search’, criminalisation of young Africans through the use of ‘Sus’ laws, school exclusions, the displacement of African people and their historical contribution to the making of Britain and struggles in Britain from school curriculum, youth unemployment, deaths in custody…, about all of which they themselves have amassed ample evidence through surveys, the work of the Home Affairs Committee, Office for National Statistics, etc., those assaults are all of a piece, even though successive governments and opposition pretend that they do not and cannot join up the dots.
Given that history and what continues to constitute reality for African people, especially young African British, I cannot help putting a different spin on how leaders of this nation are responding to the Stephen Lawrence tragedy and to the Lawrence family. The State’s response, no less than the media’s, is in many respects a way of using the Stephen Lawrence tragedy to expiate white guilt; guilt about the fact that the death was caused by the wilful act of white racists and the equally wilful, historical and structurally endemic racism of the British police. So they cry ‘Forgive us! Forgive us! We are good people at our core; and don’t get caught up in all of that “State and police bashing” that “your people” love to do in response to the actions of those among us who do not represent who we really are, whether they are racist murderers out of uniform or in uniform, or racist police who fail African people by indulging racial stereotypes and targeting them for abuse of power in every possible form‘.
It is easy for people, including those who support the Lawrence family, to buy in to that narrative and for the government to forget and to encourage the nation to forget that it was not Paul Dacre and the Daily Mail that made Jack Straw, Tony Blair and the rest take the Lawrence family seriously, but the collective stance and mobilization of the African community and people like Suresh Grover, the veteran trade unionist and campaigner Azim Hajee and The Monitoring Group.
There is a lengthy roll call of young, British Africans who have been murdered by racists since Stephen’s murder, including 18 year old Anthony Walker who in July 2005 was murdered in Liverpool by Michael Barton and his cousin Paul Taylor. Some racist murders are hardly mentioned in the national media, especially if they occur outside the main cities and towns.
Following the acquittal in July 2011 of PC Harwood who was charged with the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson, the Guardian reported that the percentage of ‘black and ethnic minority’ deaths as a share of all fatalities was disproportionately high compared to the group’s representation in the population of England and Wales for eight of the nine years for which population ethnicity data is available. In 2002 the percentage of police-related deaths involving such individuals was almost twice the corresponding figure for representation in the population. Black and ethnic minority deaths accounted for 17 per cent of police-related fatalities in 2009, but these ethnic groups made up just 12 per cent of the population of England and Wales.
Police ‘Stop & Search’ practices have served as a litmus test over the years of the quality of relationship between the police and the African heritage community, especially in London. Research commissioned by the Guardian newspaper and conducted by criminologist Dr Ben Bradford of Oxford University to mark the 20th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, found that the rate of stop and searches of black people doubled in a decade after 1999.
‘Ethnic minority Britons were subjected to nearly one-and-a-half million more stop and searches in the 10 years after the Macpherson inquiry than if the police had treated them the same as white people’, the Guardian reported.
‘The Oxford research found that in the first year after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report in 1999-2000, the stop rate for black people was 4.9 per 100 in the population. By 2009-10, the rate was 10.8 per 100 black people in Britain.
The rate also nearly doubled for Asian people, while for white people it only marginally increased from 1.5 to 1.6 stops per 100 citizens.
The research, based on analysis of official figures, reveals that the differing rates resulted in black and Asian people experiencing 1.478m “excess” searches in the decade after Macpherson. If white people had been stopped at the same rate as black people, police would have carried out 40m more stops in the 10-year period.
A former Scotland Yard chief said police were “racially profiling” while a leading MP reacted to the research claiming it showed “policing by fear”
The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report gave further impetus to the amendment of the 1976 Race Relations Act which public institutions and private entities had all but ignored for 24 years. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 (RRAA 2000) placed a General Duty on public bodies to promote equality of opportunity, eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote good relations between people of different racial groups.
But, given all the evidence that existed before Macpherson and what the Lawrence Inquiry itself revealed about the minimalist approach the society and its institutions took to eliminating unlawful discrimination and promoting equality of opportunity, the Blair government failed to give the watchdog body, the Commission for Racial Equality, the resources and the remit to pursue those who were nonchalant about complying with the legislation. Instead, even as schools, colleges and universities, the police, the NHS and allied others failed to demonstrate year on year evidence of complying with the RRAA 2000, the Labour government decided to introduce legislation governing people with ‘protected characteristics’ (race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion & belief, etc) and established the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Since the Coalition government took office, politicians have been clawing away at the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 and questioning the need for the EHRC. Requiring public bodies to have policies in place indicating how they are complying with the legislation is seen as ‘red tape’. ‘Self Regulation’ is seen as what public bodies need and will consider attractive. The EHRC therefore continues to be more and more an expensive anomaly, the relevance and purpose of which groups with protected characteristics strain to detect.
Yet, school exclusion of British Africans remains the problem it always was. African British school students, including mixed heritage, are four to six times more likely to be excluded than any other group. Schools’ practices in relation to streaming and setting and delivering quality educational outcomes for British Africans remain problematic, even though there is a growing number of schools (in London especially) which are bucking the trend and facilitating African British students to achieve high level results year on year.
Unemployment among African British young people in London and elsewhere remains stubbornly high and a growing number of African British graduates remain underemployed or grossly underemployed more than one year after leaving university.
Worse yet, the remand centres and young offender institutions across the land continue to imprison over-representative numbers of African British youths and adults. For example, as the Independent Monitoring Board reported in 2011, the ‘A’ wing at Feltham Young Offender Institution holds young people aged under 18 (on remand, convicted and sentenced).
During the reporting year (2010-2011) there were 1047 young people taken into Feltham A (1036 in the previous year). The number of sentenced boys held within Feltham A now stands at 80.
BME prisoners accounted for an average of 75% of the prison population over the reporting year, of which 60% are black, representing just under half the population in Feltham. In light of the high number of BME prisoners, the IMB reported that they would like to see a higher ratio of officers from BME groupings represented in the staffing of Feltham than the 15.50% at the time of reporting. The trend also showed over-representation of BME prisoners placed on Basic regime, incidents requiring ‘Use of Force’ and those placed in segregation.
When David Cameron told the Stephen Lawrence memorial service of the tireless efforts of Stephen’s family in challenging the police, government and society to examine themselves and ask difficult questions and affirmed his belief that ‘many of those questions have been answered’, he might have added that many more have not even been posed. To suggest a few:
What I find deeply disturbing is the indifference this nation and successive governments appear to have towards that most abnormal phenomenon, i.e., young Africans murdering other young Africans in such numbers year on year, especially in London. Until comparatively recently, London was experiencing an average of 25 to 30 such murders each year.
A common theme in both Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the police investigation of it was ‘racism’, the racism of those who randomly attacked Stephen and of the police who investigated the murder. Since 1993, there have been hundreds of African heritage young men murdered across the country, equally senselessly, many as focused, talented and ambitious as Stephen.
On 16 February 2013, 19 year old Joseph Burke–Monerville, brother of the late Trevor Monerville, was shot in the head and killed while sitting in a car in Hackney with his twin brother, Jonathan, and elder brother David. David, the car driver, had his left arm shattered by a bullet which grazed his chest and could have entered his heart. Jonathan who was sitting in the back seat was slightly injured by a bullet which lodged itself in the door of the car.
All three brothers had just left the gym at Hackney baths and had stopped outside a newsagents on their way to meet their father when a young man brandishing a gun demanded to know if they were from the Pembury Estate in Hackney. They replied saying they did not live in Hackney. David tried to get the gunman to see sense, emphasizing to him that his two brothers had only just recently returned from Nigeria and were not part of any group of young people. The gunman is alleged to have turned to his accomplice at that point to ask what he should do since ‘they say they’re not from Pembury’, to which the accomplice replied: ‘Waste them anyway’.
Stephen wanted to be an architect; Joseph Burke-Monerville was at university studying to become a forensic scientist. African heritage people continue to be under-represented in both disciplines.
The Burke-Monerville family, like so many other African families bereaved on account of the senseless murders of their innocent children by other African children are wondering why it is assumed that the pain and grief that they share and that abides with them for all time is qualitatively different from that endured by Doreen and Neville Lawrence, or why it is assumed that those hundreds of senseless murders by African heritage young men has any less to do with the condition of Britain and with ‘race’ as a powerful dynamic in that condition than the murder of Stephen Lawrence by those white racists.
Racism is an ideology, a poisonous and dehumanizing ideology and one that informs the conduct of racists, benign, murderous or genocidal. At the far end of the spectrum, it leads people such as the murderers of Kelso Cochrane, David Oluwale, Ahmed Iqbal Ullah, Stephen Lawrence, Anthony Walker and hundreds of others to hound, hunt down and kill their victims on account of their racial origin. Despicable and barbaric, but logical. What is unfathomable is the ease with which young Africans slaughter one another, often on account of nothing more than ‘trespassing’ on somebody’s ‘endz’, being seen in a neighbourhood to which you don’t belong.
The only ‘ideology’ they seem to subscribe to is one of self-hatred, hatred of others who look like themselves, nihilism and gratuitous violence. Their conduct is not deterred by the well-publicized number and manner of such killings, or by the lengthy sentences handed down to others like themselves who are found guilty of such murders. So, when in cold blood a young man could nonchalantly say: ‘Waste them anyway’, he is imply refusing to complete the sentence and add the words ‘…because we’re wasted anyway and totally surplus to requirements!’.
Those young people appear to have no knowledge of, nor connection with, the struggles of their parents’ and grandparents’ generation, including the struggle to ensure that they could walk the streets anywhere in Britain without being set upon by the police or by white racists simply because they are African or Asian. They impose ‘post code’ boundaries upon one another at will and guard those boundaries with knives and guns which they use without inhibition against one another, and against innocent others who have no business with them, even as the communities in which they live campaign against the way the police use their ‘Stop & Search’ powers and constrain innocent young people from going about their lawful business unmolested.
So, how does that clutch of politicians that flanked Doreen Lawrence and her family in that photo-call at the memorial service demonstrate that they care about those scores of young people murdered in the Capital, including Trevor and Joseph Monerville, that have not had the profile of Stephen Lawrence or been the subject of inquiries about the link between them and the structural, cultural, institutional and personalized manifestations of racism in Britain?
A Stephen Lawrence Inquiry – Mark 2
The Burke-Monerville family, like so many other African families bereaved on account of the senseless murders of their innocent children by other African children are wondering why it is assumed that the pain and grief that they share and that abides with them for all time is qualitatively different from that endured by the Lawrence family, or why it is assumed that those hundreds of senseless murders by African heritage young men have any less to do with the condition of Britain and with ‘race’ as a powerful dynamic in that condition, than the murder of Stephen Lawrence by those white racists.
As I noted in an essay to mark the tenth anniversary of the publication of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report:
If we fail to see the phenomenon of young black people dying in such numbers on our streets as having everything to do with the condition of being young and black in British society, and how that condition is shaped by British racism, we fall into the trap of believing that black young people are congenitally prone to evil and murder and that, as such, they pose as much a threat to the ‘reformed and racism-free police’ in our communities as to those communities themselves. It is that spurious notion that provides the justification for Hazel Blears’ national ‘black male role model’ programme.
We collude with the ‘settlement’ if we fail to organise independently as parents, students and communities to hold schools, the police, our youths themselves and the EHRC to account. The relentless Lawrence campaign led eventually to the Macpherson Inquiry. The murders of scores of other young black men since Stephen Lawrence appear to have led only to the reinforcing of racial stereotypes and to handwringing in the most affected areas, while the rest of Britain continue to see that deeply disturbing phenomenon as an unwelcome canker on the body politic, that, according to Tony Blair, the black community itself must deal with, and which, by their construction, has precious little to do with the majority of the society.
A key reason for the persistence of these crimes, notwithstanding the welcome reduction in the number of deaths in the last twelve months, is the fact that sections of the community shield known murderers and there is ‘de facto’ collusion in the sense that too many people subscribe to or are coerced by the ‘no snitching’ ‘rule’. The whole community therefore lives in fear of gunmen and cold-blooded killers and in deep anxiety about the safety of their sons, while others actively protect them or fail to report their activities to the police for fear of what might happen to them or their families and loved ones.
Now that Operation Trident is no longer involved in targeting those gunmen and gun suppliers and in investigating murders, it is about time that the entire society gets the message that this is not just a crime and disorder issue for the police, but an issue of the health and wellbeing of the whole community. In the same way that the police are held to account by the community, therefore, the community should also be held to account for its own part in working collectively to root out that murderous menace from its midst.
These matters have never been the subject of disciplined and informed fact-finding and debate within the African heritage community itself, despite the community’s vocal and legitimate concerns about ‘Stop & Search’, Deaths in Custody, and racial murders such as that of Stephen Lawrence, let alone in government circles. Rather, the disposition and activities of the, thankfully, relatively small but deadly section of African youth are used the define that sector of the population as a whole and to justify the police harassing them indiscriminately through ‘Stop & Search’ and politicians such as David Cameron demonising them in the pejorative of terms as he did during the civil unrest of August 2011.
The Guardian stated:
Labour used the anniversary of the murder to call for a second Macpherson-style inquiry to review police progress in eliminating racism in the ranks. They want someone with stature to carry out the review who would decide how wide-ranging their powers needed to be.
A Stephen Lawrence Inquiry – Mark 2 could focus, hopelessly, on racism in the police yet again, institutional or otherwise. This time around, however, the African community and all progressive forces in Britain must insist that the state does not act as if horrendous levels of school exclusion, youth unemployment, limited life chances and an equally limited sense of life’s purpose among African British young people, plus whatever else might contribute to the culture of ‘road’ and to serious youth violence have nothing to do with them.