Alex Wheatle: A hope I feel in spite of so many wrongs

The recent intolerance displayed by the public towards racial abuse is encouraging

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Stephen Lawrence's family have had to wait almost 20 years for justice. With the conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris for his murder, I pray that they can find solace and closure for their deep-felt loss. I also hope that they can open their eyes once their tears are dry and dare to believe in a British judiciary and police force viewed at best with suspicion and at worst as outright racist by many ethnic minorities living here.

Those views are understandable. The fact that not one police officer has ever been convicted of a black death in police custody or supervision lays bare a raw mistrust that many black people have of the Metropolitan Police. Concrete ceilings still have to be pickaxed through to achieve racial equality in many areas of our society.

The Liberal Democrats, one half of our Coalition, have no black or Asian member of Parliament, yet they expect the electorate to take them seriously when they campaign for proportional representation. I fear that there are people in positions of real influence and power in this country who hold racist views but choose to remain silent.

A look at the history of post-war Britain shows the part racism has played in it. Fifty or so years ago, racists were not too shy in expressing their opinions. In 1958 there was an increase in violent attacks on black people in London. Unable to depend on the police for protection, black men armed themselves to defend themselves and their womenfolk. Racist attacks continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Black and Asian people still wondered when their lives and security would be viewed by those in power as just as important as white lives. In the mid-1980s we witnessed the black footballer John Barnes kicking a banana off a football field.

So we came to that fateful night of 22 April, 1993 in Eltham, south-east London. And in declaring the Met Police institutionally racist, Sir William Macpherson only confirmed what many of us had thought for decades. We still have some distance to travel to achieve racial equality, but I am encouraged by the recent intolerance displayed by the public towards racial abuse. I am also heartened by my children and other children willingly interacting with every other race and creed. Different shades of skin has no more significance to the vast majority of the new generation than the colours my daughter's friends paint their nails.

With the conviction of Dobson and Norris, we can at last begin to believe that we will one day be seen as equal by the institutions of this land. As Sam Cooke sang: "It's been a long, a long time coming. But I really believe a change is gonna come."

Alex Wheatle's novels include 'Brixton Rock', 'The Dirty South', and, most recently, 'Brenton Brown'

* Stephen Lawrence: How the case breakthrough came
* A shrunken family: The first journalist to interview the Lawrences recalls the scene
* The science that helped convict Gary Dobson

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