One year after Lawrence inquiry
"THERE ARE still too many young people suffering and dying, and nothing has happened. All that has to change." Doreen Lawrence, mother of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence, was speaking for many who believe little has changed since the official inquiry a year ago into Stephen's death. Campaigners for the Lawrence family say the Home Office and police are dragging their feet over the recommendations of the Macpherson report.
Doreen told an anti-racist conference on Saturday, "It's obvious that things are moving slowly as far as the government is concerned. "A year on from the Macpherson report, it just shows that there's something still wrong." She labelled the meetings organised by the Home Office to supposedly implement the report's findings "a talking shop". At the same meeting Lawrence family solicitor Imran Khan blasted the government for boasting about its anti-racism and then scapegoating refugees.
He said that after the Macpherson report the Lawrence campaign had been "on a high". Now he said, "I feel used, manipulated and certainly betrayed." However, Imran Khan pointed to a shift in attitudes at the bottom of society. "People have been convinced that racism exists. They now want to know what to do about it. This is a sea-change, a landmark in the way British society sees racism."
The Lawrence family lawyer, Mike Mansfield, also exposed New Labour's hypocrisy over its plans to restrict the right to jury trial and the government's clause exempting the police from the proposed Freedom of Information Bill. A number of black families are still facing racism and injustice at the hands of the police. Justin Waldron, cousin of Roger Sylvester who died in police custody last year, told Saturday's conference, "When you are fighting for justice you are made to feel like an enemy of the state."
THE AUTHOR of the Lawrence inquiry report, Lord Macpherson of Cluny, has come out fighting against the backlash by the police, and papers like the Mail and the Telegraph. He dismissed the notion put about by former Metropolitan Police chief Paul Condon and the Police Federation that the Lawrences' fight for justice had been a "tragedy" for the force. "What happened was a tragedy for the Lawrence family. I don't believe it was a tragedy for the officers. Undoubtedly, some officers were given a pretty rough time. They deserved it." Macpherson also told the police to "stop whining" over the Lawrence report and implement the changes.
ORDINARY people, black and white, are demanding that the Macpherson report should mark a turning point. Car workers at Ford's Dagenham walked out on unofficial illegal strike last September in support of a black worker, Sukhjit Parma, who was suffering intense racism at the factory. They had previously been lobbying the company's management to consider how the Lawrence inquiry findings could be implemented at Ford.
On Friday of last week Neville Lawrence addressed a meeting of east London Tower Hamlets council workers organised by the UNISON union. Neville inspired the workers when he told them, "You have to get out there and start fighting." The workers spoke of their anger at Tower Hamlets council drawing up a Lawrence "action plan" without consulting any of them. They also complained that the council's attacks on jobs and conditions, and its privatisation plans were hitting black workers hardest.
MACPHERSON ALSO hit back at police who say that the Lawrence inquiry has made them afraid to stop and search black people, and that this had led to a rise in crime. Macpherson called this "an absurd simplification" and went on, "We pointed out the discriminatory nature of stop and search. "The report didn't cause the problem. It highlighted the problem." Today the police are six times more likely to stop and search black people. This is a rise on the 1998 figures when black people were, on average, five times more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts.