Activists in south east London remember how the racists were left to rampage for years—while the police turned their fire on them.
Dev Barrah was a leading activist in Gacara, the Greenwich Action Committee Against Racist Attacks (Gacara). He now works for Equa-Ed to help victims of hate crime.
“In 1991 the Gulf War started, and suddenly a gurdwara [Sikh temple] was set on fire, and the Islamic centre in Plumstead,” he told Socialist Worker.
“I was interviewed on television. They asked what was happening in Greenwich. I said we know who the perpetrators are, the council knows who they are, the police know who they are. If they don’t do something soon someone is going to get killed.
“The following day that deadly prediction came true. Rolan Adams was stabbed.”
The killing of Rolan Adams marked the start of what would become a spate of racist murders locally, culminating in the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993.
“Racist attacks had gone up when the BNP brought their bookshop and headquarters to the area,” says socialist activist Monica Axson. “It was horrible.
“After Rolan Adams was killed I remember a car full of racists driving around the Thamesmead estate, shouting ‘one-nil’.”But it wasn’t all one way—the community started to get organised and protest.
Rahul Patel was an organiser for the Anti Nazi League (ANL). He had previously been a council housing worker on the estates where many of the attackers came from.
“When Rolan Adams was killed we had a demo of 2,000 in Thamesmead,” he says. “The police had refused to accept the murder was racially motivated.
“They continually treated the anti-racists as the threat in the area instead of taking action against the racists.”
Local people also organised a meeting that Tim Parkin calls “the loudest and angriest thing I have ever seen”.
“They were furious,” he says. “They had seen this coming—they had seen their kids harassed,
threatened and attacked. They had reported this to the police, but the police had spent more time harassing their children than protecting them.
“Local people built a campaign that visited nearly every home in the area and collected hundreds of signatures condemning racism and racist attacks. It proved the majority of people on Thamesmead had no time for racists and Nazis.
“Gacara and the ANL played an important role. So did the SWP and other socialists.”
In 1992 there was a second murder. Rohit Duggal was pursued by a gang and stabbed to death. Dev says, “They were shouting ‘get the paki, get the paki’—but the police again said it wasn’t racially motivated.”
Rahul adds that campaigning against the attacks “had been going on for two or three years at the time of Stephen Lawrence’s murder”.
Tim says, “When Stephen Lawrence was murdered, this time the campaign took off.
“It wasn’t overnight—it is an amazing tribute to Doreen and Neville Lawrence—but it also built on the previous campaigns and all that Rolan and Rohit’s families had done.”