Thursday, 5 January 2012

Racism: A Clear and Present Danger

by Lola Okolosie

When I first heard the news that Gary Dobson and David Norris had been convicted for the murder of Stephen Lawrence, I simply felt heavy with sadness. Not joy or even relief, but an overwhelming sense of gloom that it had taken so long, longer than Stephen had lived as the papers continue to remind us, to get this little bit of justice; three or four of the killers are still out there living their lives freely. If I am honest, I had no hope that the British justice system would pull through for the Lawrence family. Or indeed faith that the police at that time were capable of following procedures well enough to not have contaminated the evidence. Damning, I know, but what else am I supposed to think as a black person? After all, this was the same police force that dismissed 27 eye witnesses identifying the five as Stephen’s attackers. The police preferred, rather, to work under their own racist vision of the truth- a black teenager has been stabbed to death, therefore a gang member/drug dealer he must be, ergo he is underserving of a thorough investigation. It was only the fact that Nelson Mandela discussed and highlighted the issues surrounding the case that lead the embarrassed police force to begin pursuing the correct leads.

The racist logic of the police enabled the murderers to grow into wizened men, seemingly encapsulated in their bitter racism. David Norris evidently learnt nothing; in 2002 he served a prison term for racist behaviour directed at a plain clothes police officer. I felt a sense of pride that Doreen Lawrence refused to let the celebrations proceed without reminding us of the terrible way in which the police had handled the case. The sentencing of the two cannot and should not, as I fear may be the case, be used as some sort of bench mark of how far we have come as a nation when it comes to race. Those 18 years aren’t really that far away in terms of race relations, walk anywhere in some of our most deprived metropolitan neighbourhoods and it will become quite clear how far we are yet to go. Arguably since 9/11 and the 7/7 bombing, Britain has become a much more racially divided society. Islamophobia has become widely established as a natural and understandable reaction to the ‘war on terror’.

The police, rather than congratulating themselves for having the foresight to pursue a ‘cold case’ review, need to continue to readdress their sustained use of racial profiling. In 2010 researchers from London School of Economics and the Open Society Justice initiative examined official figures discovering that in ‘2008/2009, there were 41.6 searches for every 1,000 black people, but only 1.6 for every 1,000 white people’, making black people 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched. 26 times! We are 3 times more likely to be arrested than white people despite the fact that we are more likely to be victims of crime. If this is not proof that the police remains institutionally racist, then I don’t know what is.

I remember the sense of utter anger and frustration when the revelations of just how wrong the police got it were revealed. As a teenage black girl in the north, it only served to remind me of how I existed within a society that expected absolutely nothing of me but the worse. We may have stumbled a few paces beyond this awful point but we really do need to do much more work.

The same papers that are so self-congratulating at the moment, your Daily Mails for example, need to recognise that their constant attacks on immigrants and their woeful reporting of August’s riots, to name just a few topical issues, are only the flip side of the same coin as that of the murderous racists. Yes the Daily Mail was instrumental in getting the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to order the Macpherson Inquiry. The irony is unsettling. To that end, millions who subscribe to their daily dose of insidious xenophobia need to take note. The right-wing media’s coverage of the case smacks a little too much of middle England’s desire to distance itself from a thorough analysis of its own routine acts of racism. Underlying the coverage of this case is the message that these men are an isolated example, possibly prototypical of ‘chav’ behaviour in the extreme. This view allows for a convenient separation, falsely deluding many into thinking that they are not themselves connected to this heinous crime. The same disconnect that seemed to be operating for middle England during the summer, when most of the media coverage all but said ‘look at those black thugs’, is operating here. There is a pervading censoriousness that believes it is wholly separated from its object of disgust. It is not. Insidious racism and xenophobia provide the bedrock on which violent racists can and do operate.

Justice For One But Not For All

by Donalea

After a wait of 18 years the family and close friends of Stephen Lawrence can breathe a sigh of relief as two of the five original suspects were found guilty of his murder and sentenced to up to 15 years imprisonment without early release.

A major triumph for the Lawrence family who have for the last 18 years been on a dignified crusade for the justice of their sons racially motivated murder.

Though in the frenzy of all this media coverage these last 2 days on the high profile race relation case of Stephen Lawrence, it is becoming apparent that the justice received was more about repairing the tarnished reputation of institutionally racist Britain then actually working on improving race relationships in Britain.

Much of the talk now is of the job well done by the Metropolitan Police for finally securing a conviction in the murder case, many of our politicians have agreed on this and even the Met Police have publicly given themselves a pat on the back.

I don't dispute the effort it has taken the Met Police to finally make these 2 convictions, though I cannot agree that their reputation for being institutionally racist should be repealed because of this.

The last 18 years may have seen changes in British Law and police procedures as repercussions of the Lawrence's campaign for Justice though this has had little effect in improving the conditions of being black in Britain nor has it made any improvements in race relations.
The press, clearly absent minded, seems to have forgotten that only 6 months ago England was battered by 4 days of riots, caused by the suspicious killing of black Tottenham resident Mark Duggan by the police.

United the press perpetuated the image of the loots as being black, with most of the news clips showing black youths smashing through shop windows and carrying bags of looted goods. This was followed up with the racist comments made by David Starkey, that black hip-hop and criminality culture had infiltrated white working class culture. - Again this was only six months ago!

Since Lawrence's murder in April 1993 the Institute of Race Relations lists the deaths of 37 black people whom have died in police custody alone (see link below).

Scarily many of the inquests into these deaths are ruled as unknown verdicts, a notable example which made the headlines, though not nearly as high profile as the Lawrence's case is of Roger Sylvester, who died in January 1999 after being restrained by police in Tottenham.

So what exactly has the Met Police learnt since Stephen Lawrence's death? Apart from bringing 2 of Lawrence's killers to justice now due blotching up the initial investigations 18 years ago, what qualifies them for redemption? If the Met Police are no longer racist then why is it that 4 in 10 black men in the UK will have their DNA on the database? And why are black people still seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people?

Comforting as it is to see that justice has finally been served for the heinous murder of a innocent and promising black teen, it is very important that we do not start to confuse this triumph of justice over racism as a generalisation, this is just one out of the many cases of racism that has been fortunate enough to receive some form of justice in what is still very much a racist society.

For many black families in similar cases to the Lawrence's, they won't have connections to international politicians or humanitarian figures to raise awareness for their fight like the Lawrence's did with Nelson Mandela, nor do the conditions of their situations appeal to the Britishh media as being considered news worthy.

Race relations in this country will not improve till a continual dialogue is opened up, this dipping in and out of trend does nothing to validate the reality of a problem that affects the lives of those considered in this country as an ethnic minority.