BY CELIA PUGH
LONDON- "What I see is that Black people are still dying on the streets and in the back of police vans," said Doreen Lawrence, responding to the findings of an inquiry into the death of her son. Eighteen-year-old Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death by a racist gang at a bus stop in south London in April 1993, as police looked on.
A determined public campaign of the Lawrence family since that night forced the Labour government in 1997 to concede a public inquiry, headed by retired High Court judge William Macpherson. For months, the inquiry has been a point of heated debate among working people, in Parliament, and the big- business media. The racist nature of the police has been exposed through the report published February 24.
Duwayne Brooks, who was with Lawrence during the attack, concluded, "Racism killed my friend Stephen.... It also allowed the officers investigating the case to treat me like a suspect, not a victim. It also rubbished our chances of convicting those killers of the murder of Stephen Lawrence."
Evidence to the inquiry exposed the facts of this police obstruction and cover up. The police officers called to the scene disbelieved Brooks' evidence that the gang taunted, "What nigger," before the unprovoked knife attack. They grilled Brooks and the Lawrences, assuming a crime-related fight.
It took five days before police began investigating suspects. At first they claimed a "wall of silence" from the local, largely white neighbors. The inquiry disproved this. Within hours outraged local people supplied names and evidence to the police, who ignored it. They ignored a sighting by their own officers of one suspect removing clothing from his home, covered by a black garbage bag. Cursory investigations followed, with no records, reports, or serious effort to pursue evidence of the killing.
The first arrest took place more than two weeks later, after a meeting between the Lawrence parents and visiting South African president Nelson Mandela. However, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dropped charges on the grounds of insufficient evidence. A private family prosecution three years after the murder also collapsed.
Brooks, already suffering posttraumatic stress disorder, was harassed by the police, who worked to discredit his eyewitness evidence. He was repeatedly stopped under "stop and search" laws, which give a free hand to police to harass anyone they claim is acting suspiciously. Home Office records show that Blacks are five times more likely to be stopped by the police under this law.
Millions of working people identified with the public campaigning by the Lawrence family. A protest received the support of the Trade Union Congress. In an attempt to head off the pressure, the Metropolitan Police announced an internal review of their investigation. This found that the case had been "competently and sensitively investigated," a claim dismissed by the Macpherson inquiry as "factually incorrect and inadequate." The inquiry revealed Paul Condon, head of the Metropolitan police, accepted the review without question. In 1995, Condon sparked a storm of anger with unsubstantiated claims that most street robberies were carried out by young Black people.
Revelations about the Lawrence murder and police conduct are a blow to the police force. But Macpherson's conclusions are an attempt to limit the damage and rehabilitate the force. The police obstructed the conviction of the racist murderers, yet no steps are proposed to prosecute officers. Following the report, the Labour government fully backed Condon and rejected calls for his sacking.
The Macpherson report upholds stop and search laws and suggests new statutes against "race crimes," including racist language in private homes. It recommends a challenge to the right not to be tried twice for the same offense.
With permission of the Home Office, police hid a video camera in the suspects' home and taped them expressing violently racist views. This was subsequently rejected as inadmissible evidence in court. The widespread outrage at the video's content has been used by pro-cop forces to call for less restraints on such police snooping.
The inquiry proposals center on "race awareness education" in the police and recruitment of more Black cops.
"The institution of the police cannot be reformed," said a statement issued by the Communist League. "More Black officers will not change its nature. The police force exists to uphold law and order for the minority of ruling rich families who profit from capitalism. They treat working people with contempt, as suspects to be kept in our place."
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