'Racists, police, the media won't divide us'
"A LOT of Jason's white friends are too scared to speak out. I want all of us to join together and fight this. We have already lost two members of our family and no one should have to go through that." That was the plea from Sinead McGowan, widow of Jason McGowan, one of two black men from the same family found hanging in Telford after suffering racist death threats. Jason was found hanging on New Year's Day, six months after his uncle Errol was found dead. Errol had been on the receiving end of two years of racist harassment.
The local police have insisted up until now that the two men killed themselves. Sinead was addressing a packed and emotional public meeting in Wellington, Telford, on Wednesday of last week. The McGowans had met West Mercia police the day before and forced them to reopen their investigations into the two men's deaths. Two hundred people turned out for the meeting. Black and white, young and old, they were determined to voice their support for the McGowans.
They also wanted to make it clear that they were disgusted with the adverse coverage given by the Sun and the local Shropshire Star. The Sun dug out the estranged father of Jason last week to say that he believed his son had committed suicide. The Shropshire Star ran a front page story, "Warning Over Race Backlash", implying that the campaign for the McGowans was stirring up racial hatred. This particularly angered the McGowans, as Jason was working for the Shropshire Star at the time of his death.
Cliff McGowan, brother of Errol and uncle to Jason, told the meeting he was "disappointed with the way they [the Shropshire Star] seem to want to support the police from the beginning. They seem to want to dig up as much dirt on the family as possible."
Cliff was also critical of the way local politicians have tried to play down racism in Telford. Also on the platform was Socialist Worker journalist Hassan Mahamdallie who said that the police were refusing to learn the lessons of the Stephen Lawrence scandal and that local people, black and white, should get behind the McGowans. Speakers backed the platform's view.
Shropshire Star employee Simon Parton, who worked with Jason, made it clear that many of the staff were against the line the Star had taken. Simon said, "I am here as a friend of Jason. There is wholehearted support within my work colleagues for the McGowans. And I know Jason did not kill himself." One man said he was disgusted that the council had allegedly been putting out memos telling people not to speak about the case: "They seem more worried about tourism and the economy of the town than the McGowans."
An elderly black man stood up and addressed the meeting. "I'm deeply impressed that so many people have come out tonight. This racist business has gone on in Telford for far too long," he said. He made it clear that he would fight any attempt to divide black from white. "I've got white grandchildren and I love them with all my heart. People think that it's only going to be black people who are going to fight this. They are wrong. We are not fighting on our own. White people will stand and fight with us. We've got to unite." Council worker Mike Jeffries, who had brought many of his workmates to the meeting, backed him. Mike had a message of support for the McGowans from his union branch.
- For petitions, leaflets, and speakers write to: Justice for Errol and Jason McGowan, PO Box 216, Telford, TF1 4WU.