The challenge remains: can we rid Britain of murderous racism?
The idea that we are interlopers, to be tolerated at best and killed at worst, is deeply rooted
Thursday 25 February 1999
The public and the establishment must accept that what the Lawrences started is the beginning and not the end of a long process of honest examination which implicates all of us in this country. To do this, three things are essential. First we must remove from our minds the all-too-familiar faces in this drama - Doreen and Neville Lawrence, the five brutes who stand accused, the unsmiling Imran Khan, the theatrical Mike Mansfield and, up to a point, even Paul Condon, as people.
Second, we must not be conned by words of fine intent by those who know they are culpable. And finally, the Government must be prepared to go much further than a report which, by definition, cannot go beyond certain parameters - although this one has gone further than was expected by making recommendations on education and race legislation. In fact, the most lasting benefits of this report may come from these broader proposals if, as is likely, they are taken on board. The dangerous anomaly in the 1976 Race Relations Act, which exempted crucial government activities such as policing, criminal justice and immigration in particular, is now to be scrapped.
Great expectations have been raised by this exercise. If there is any indication that the powers that be are trying to avoid radical steps, and that the politics of placation are beginning to play out, it will be intolerable to all of us black and Asian Britons, and to anti-racist white Britons too.
I see this already over the issue of whether Sir Paul Condon should go. Jack Straw says he should stay. The reasons given are unconvincing. If Sir Paul is as decent as his PR suggests, how can he bear not to go? Not only has this man presided over an investigation that the inquiry describes as "marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and failure of leadership"; he was the person to authorise substantial pay-outs (remember, it is our money) to black people complaining of racist treatment by his officers, who thus escaped punishment.
Condon was also in charge when Joy Gardner was killed when being arrested by police and immigration officers. We are in the middle of another set of complaints of bad policing by the families of Ricky Reel and Michael Menson. To keep Condon on is to make a nonsense of the "shame" that Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve says the force now feels.
Even more staggering is the news that Condon has decided to reappoint the Met race equality trainer, one Jerome Mack, who has been paid handsomely (remember it is our money again) over a decade, for providing training many black officers consider utterly pointless. As one of them told me: "Mack just makes racist policemen feel good. That is why they have him."
My concern, though, is not only with Condon and his power. Let us use this period of discontent to consider the wider effects of police racism and what we can do to make our forces more accountable and deserving of the reputation they would wish.
It is vital to start listening to the many other voices of those who have suffered racist violence; to scrutinise the media responses to what has been going on for half a century; to discuss how our education system has failed young black and white children alike and helped create the racists who killed not only Stephen, but Rohit Duggal (15), Rolan Adams (15), Navid Sadiq (15), Liam Harrison (14), Manish Patel (15), Rikki Reel ( 18), Imran Khan (15), Michael Menson (29), Ali Ibrahim (21), Ashiq Hussain (21), Ruhullah Aramesh (24), Panchadcharam Sathiharan (28), Donna O'Dwyer (26) and 14 others who have been murdered in the United Kingdom during this decade alone.
God alone knows how high the figure would be if we went back further, to include murders such as those of Ahmed Iqbal Ullah (13) in Manchester by another child, and then added on the countless others seriously wounded, such as Mukhtar Ahmad (19), who was a pupil at the Bethnal Green training centre where I used to work, and who came in one day with a face like an Underground map and wildly fearful eyes.
Add to these victims the dozens of black and Irish people who have died of violence inflicted on them by the police while being arrested or in police custody (The Institute of Race Relations has been collating this information as has the Lawrence Inquiry. The list is long and frightening), and you begin to get a true sense of the true picture. If we don't take on the massive task before us, we put at risk the health of our nation.
It really does not matter what we choose to call it (I personally think that the term "institutional racism" used in the Macpherson report is unhelpful, and is already creating more barriers to understanding because, to date, there are at least 12 different meanings of the term) but all the evidence we have before us in this report and many others shows that there is a pervasive culture of racial prejudice, racist assumptions and behaviour in all our public institutions from the Army and police to the self-reverential BBC.
This does not mean that all white people are racist, or that there has been no improvement. But the idea that black and Asian Britons are interlopers, to be tolerated at best and killed at worst, is so deeply rooted in the culture of our institutions that it will take real political will and effective punitive measures to pull these attitudes out and grow something else in their place.
What is remarkable is that we have three political leaders for the first time in our history who are united in their determination to do just this. So I do have hope.
Stephen, you have become the son of this nation in a way that you could never have imagined. As you look down at us today, I hope you can see that nothing can ever be the same again for white or black Britons.
We will make a new country. Those who have been fighting for so long, will not let you down by setting for anything less.
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