Thursday, January 05, 2012

Stephen Lawrence... and now

Stephen Lawrence was stabbed on the streets of South London by a racist gang, April 22nd 1993.   He was 18, and wanted to be an architect.  On January 3rd 2012, his killers were found guilty and sentenced.  His death, and the 18 year struggle for his justice, illustrates how stunted the UK and its sense of equality and reason can truly be.

I was five years old.  And I remember the case.  It stood for the injustice of the Black British.

Whilst waiting for a bus with his friend, Stephen was effectively jumped by five white boys.  They shouted racist taunts,  and surrounded him.  He was stabbed twice, and bled to death whilst running from his attackers.  To cut a long story short, a group of witnesses and public informants notified the police of the gang members' identities, and the police took their sweet time arresting them.  All five of the suspects were released on the grounds of insufficient evidence when the country knew they were guilty.  I remember seeing footage of the two main suspects smiling as they left the court.

Following a cold case review in 2006 that revealed Lawrence's hair and blood to be found in the two prime suspects' clothing, a retrial took place in 2011, and a verdict reached a few days ago.  Now, onlookers shake their heads in amazement; how could this have happened?  As if this racial inequality is a myth, or something that only happened back in the 90s.  As if they were so long ago.

It was different back then.  Before the explosion of the Internet, social networking, and this obsession with celebrity, I guess that things were more real then.  We didn't just chat breeze, and 'like' statuses, retire to our homes, and fall into the foggy illusion that things would work out by doing nothing.  We opened our mouths and we shouted.  I believe we fought, because I remember several racial slurs being accepted whilst I was at primary school that are now considered politically incorrect.  

Back in the day (and yes I know I must sound like an old relic) Black people, as a whole, in the UK did not survive on stereotypes, and the majority knew better than to start unnecessary tension, because as a race we knew that ultimately we would pay for it.  My own relatives of black descent were subject to racist attacks by the police (on one occasion a family member was loaded in the back of a police van, beaten by three officers and left on the side of a road).

Now, if you rightly accuse someone of exercising a racist attitude or action towards you, people laugh at you.  They tell you that you're being overly sensitive, or that you can't take a joke.  Why are the emotions and reactions of a black person considered a joke?  They mock you with demeaning catch phrases they've scooped from UrbanDictionary, "Is it cos I's black?!"  How bad does the situation have to be before it can be classed as racist?  I suppose jokes are good natured, and racist attacks and murder are (grudgingly) unnacceptable.

As we progress into the 21st century I do wonder what will become of the country, when the racial tensions mount, when the blind ignorance of the youth collides with the prejudiced ignorance of the aged, and the country's downfall has us reaching for a group to persecute.  I wonder how long the nation will sweep its flawed recounting of our heritage under the carpet - chiefly the British Empire and the after effects of the ransacking and exploitation of other nations.  Can you erase a nation's past?  Apparently not when we live in its questionable future, one potent with shame and resentment, and a deluded sense of entitlement.

Once again I know I'm not supposed to say these things.  Yet how long can you ignore the past when it taints our future?  The world is not black and white, and we live in a grey era.  For now I remain grateful that in this instance, eighteen years after his senseless murder, Stephen Lawrence has been granted justice.  The best justice this society will allow.  

May his family find peace.  And finally Stephen, rest in peace.


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