Saturday, 12 October 2013

Review: And Still I Rise: A Mothers Search for Justice by Doreen Lawrence

This was a really hard read, unsurprisingly. losing a child must be the hardest thing in the world but losing a child to racism and then having that compounded by the racist society around you must make it so much worse.

The first part of the book documents Doreen Lawrence's life starting in Jamaica and then moving to England, her marriage and the birth of her three children. It then  moves on to Stephen's murder, the emotional aftermath and the fight for both justice and to highlight the racism of the police service, the judiciary and the wider society.

 She explains how straight from the beginning they were dismissed, patronised and ignored by the police:

"Already despite the shock and grief I was feeling, it seemed strange to me that when we turned up to the hospital on Thursday night the police must have seen us coming...and yet no police officer said anything to us. No one offered to take us home after we were told Stephen was dead . No one took our addresses or any other felt as though we were completely isolated  and that our wonderful young man's death was of little concern to anyone in authority" p73
She writes of how the police initially assumed that Stephen was in a gang and his death was a result of a gang fight even when they were repeatedly told that this wasn't the case. She writes of how the police didn't understand and judged negatively, how after the murder, there were always lots of Black family and friends in the Lawrence house supporting the family, how the police were suspicious of these people and "acted as if some of these people might just be involved in the murder" The police behaved as if the Lawrences were not smart enough to understand police procedure and what they were doing about the case. After the inquests and the McPherson report it turned out that the police were not doing everything they could, that they lied about having their best detectives on the case and they ignored a flood of tip offs from local people telling them who committed the murder. While at the same time the police managed to catch a burgular in the area who was a black man

"The black thief took priority over the white murderers. Even in my darkest moments I would not have believed this possible"

Stephens Murder was not highly publicised, was hardly picked up by the press at all until the Lawrences met with Nelson Mandela and Mandela made a statement about it, because no one cared about the murder of a young black man.

One thing that really struck me was how activist groups with their own agendas tried to jump on the campaign and turn it or use it for their own agendas rather than supporting getting justice for Stephen. I have to say i am not at all supprised that the SWP was one of these groups

"The Anti Nazi League (ANL), which we had by then come to realise was a front for the SWP, wanted to hold it in southeast London  around the BNP "bookshop" ...At a meeting...the argument was put to a vote. The central London march was agreed.While we were away in Jamaica burying our son, it emerged that the ANL had organised  a demonstration in the south-east regardless of our wishes and of the vote at the meeting" p116

And it just reminded me how carefull we, as activists, have to be not to hijack or let causes be hijacked by people with other agendas, and why so many people are suspicious of or refuse to work with the SWP because they do this sort of thing ALL THE TIME (Still! Twenty years later!)

Doreen Lawrence comes across as angry, understandably, and  she channels all her anger into energy for her fight for justice, her anger is controlled, focused, planned almost so she can get the most out of it.  she says
"it was anger that stopped me going insane, anger at all the things the police were doing and saying, anger at the judicial system, the lawyers exploiting loopholes for the suspects, the complacent judges bending over backwards and never in our direction"

She talks about how one of the things that helps her move towards a place where she is comfortable with herself is the work of Black writers such as Maya Angelou, Terry Mcmillan, Alice Walker, How Black historical work made up for what she wasn't taught in school, and how she read the autobiographies of Black civil rights leaders. She comments:

"There are still so few meaningful writings about our Black British experience; I feel that we are still playing catch up, and I would love to see more young black writers addressing the realities of our situation in Britain"
And this is partly why diversity in writing and publishing is so important, So everybody, not just white middle class men, can see themselves reflected back in the books they read.

At the time of publication of this book (2006) no one had been found guilty of Stephens murder but in 2012 two of a highly probable five suspects were given prison sentences of fifteen and fourteen years.

This year Doreen Lawrence has been awarded a Labour Peerage for her work

"A Labour source said: "Doreen Lawrence is a hero of modern Britain. The strength and courage she has shown in her fight for justice for her son Stephen has had a profound impact on attitudes to racism and policing. Her campaigning has changed, and will continue to change, our country for the better.
 She acknowledges in her book and is proud of all the changes that have come about because of her persistence and campaigning but she also warns against complacency:

"When people say things like 'you've changed policing in this country' I feel a chill, because it sounds as if we're all right now, and it is so easy to find reasons not to keep a close eye on what those with the power in our society do. It is easy to criminalise whole groups of people and not take seriously what is done to them by others. This book for me is a warning as well as a reminder. May you never experience what I have experienced"

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