The Diary: Think our police are bad? Try Jamaica's

I had been moving smoothly along when the phone rang. "This is Jamaican radio wanting to speak to Mr Darcus Howe." Would I comment on the Lawrence inquiry? It would be half an hour straight talk with Ronnie Thwaite on his popular early morning current affairs programme.

Now Jamaican radio is something else; the major source of communication in that tiny island state. My resistance collapsed immediately. I know Ronnie well as a result of my work in Caribbean political journalism, and we fixed a hook-up for the following morning.

On air Ronnie tore through the reputation of the British police - and suddenly the penny dropped. I realised I could hardly recognise the police force he described. For some 30 years I have campaigned against police malpractice here in England, but it is as nothing compared with police malpractice in Jamaica. I took my opportunity to swipe back. I said that the crisis in policing was not peculiar to London, or to Britain, but was international. Millions of people have converged on all the major cities of the world, creating new problems. But police internationally have failed to transform their methods to meet this phenomenon.

In the Caribbean the justice system has all but collapsed. In Kingston the police have their own style of law enforcement: shoot first and ask questions after. When I pointed this out, my host, himself a lawyer, went very quiet, said goodbye and played an ad for Busta soft drinks.

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WHO COULD recognise the racist Britain described in the news items that accompanied the Macpherson report? The fact that the Home Secretary ordered the inquiry at all was in part due to the groundswell of white support for the Lawrences. But anti-racism revels in the very stereotyping it so vehemently condemns.

In the midst of all this, I received a visit from Mrs Gee Ruddock, whose house at 439 New Cross Road was burnt to the ground during her daughter's 16th birthday party. Thirteen young blacks died. In spite of the latest evidence to the contrary, Gee still believes the fire was started by white racists, and so do I.

I had not seen her for close to 15 years. I was at the centre of the organisation which called the 15,000-strong demonstration across London in March 1981. The Lawrence mood had given Gee new hope that the anti- racist police unit would return to an investigation of the fire.

She insists that two police officers assured her that a firebomb had destroyed her home, and recalls with amazing clarity details of the long inquest that recorded an open verdict.

Her visit recalled some of the grimmest moments of my life - 12 funerals in as many days. Groups of grieving children huddled together for comfort across the cemeteries of south London.

Yvonne, her deceased daughter, who was sparkingly beautiful, had pestered her mother to throw a 16th birthday party for her. I am celebrating my birthday as I write. I fell from the comfort of my mother's womb 56 years ago. No party is in the offing, only a friend or two drifting by, and my memory of the 13 dead hasn't faded one bit. It was a different Britain in 1981. As I say, the Britain of the Lawrence inquiry has given Mrs Ruddock hope. And it has give me hope too.

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I AM RELUCTANT to be diverted from two projects in which I am immersed - a semi-autobiographical tract entitled England, My England, and three one-hour documentaries called The White Tribe. Both were conceived in that popular single documentary which I made with Sir Peregrine Worsthorne for Channel 4, also called England, My England.

My mind was occupied with my television work when the leak of the Macpherson report appeared last Sunday. I had hoped not to get involved, but I sensed that involvement was inevitable.

Sure enough the BBC's Today programme asked me to talk. I could barely walk, having stepped on broken glass the previous day. No problem: the outside broadcast van was driven to my doorstep. Both my children marvelled at the technology which brought my voice from beyond the front door to the front room. A very short wave, so to speak.

I have long been a Malcolm X person, having lectured extensively on his intervention into the politics of the 20th century. I met and spoke with Martin Luther King, and was a contemporary of Stokeley Carmichael. Obviously I could not stand aside and allow a Scottish aristocrat to dominate the stage with a rather puerile definition of racism. I let fly on the Today programme, but the mud had already stuck. It is going to be "unwitting racism" all the way now. An huge oxymoron if ever there was one.

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MEANWHILE, The White Tribe takes me throughout the kingdom in an anthropological search for the essence of Englishness. I am still within the capital whose blacks and whites move with relative ease. I have even met a white woman who claimed she was rescued from sleeping rough aged 16 by a black man and has never had relations with anyone white since. She is 76 now.

Later we door-stepped Boy George whose camp response was nonethe- less wittingly English without a hint of racial arrogance. It will take me another 40 days to finish the television film, but at least it will stop me joining the stream of commentators who assault the British on race, race and more race.

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