‘Go Home or Face Arrest’: promoting ‘community cohesion’ in ‘post racial’ Britain?

August 10, 2013 in Blog

The year is 1990. The place, Hackney in East London.

A man is walking along Homerton High Street accompanied by his children whom he is taking to join the public library. A builder’s truck passes by and a wooden plank is hurled at the man, accompanied by a shout of ‘Go home, you stinking Paki’. The man is hit on the head and falls to the ground in front of his horrified children. Fortunately, although suffering a serious head wound he lives to tell the tale and thankfully is not the victim of yet another racist murder.

Who was he?

He was a primary school teacher from Trinidad, of Indian heritage, a descendant of indentured labourers who were brought to the Caribbean from that great outpost of the British Empire, India, beginning in 1845, to replace the enslaved Africans who had moved away from the plantations following the abolition of slavery in 1838. He had never been to Pakistan or anywhere else on the Indian sub-continent. Before Trinidad won its political independence and became a republic, he had carried a British colonial passport. Read the rest of this entry →

Why Doreen Lawrence’s peerage could harm the Stephen Lawrence cause

August 7, 2013 in Gus in the Media, Print

Print screen from The Guardian's website (http://bit.ly/158a5tr)

Print screen from The Guardian’s website (http://bit.ly/158a5tr)

Now that Doreen Lawrence has been made a life peer, her canonisation by the British establishment is pretty much complete. But while her undoubted achievements are lauded by the entire British political class, other campaigns related to racist murders and unlawful killings continue to be systematically obstructed and obfuscated by the state and its institutions: campaigns for justice for Sean RiggsAzelle RodneyChristopher AlderRoger SylvesterJimmy Mubenga and more; campaigns which the state would no doubt prefer us not to know about, much less to join.

Over the past 20 years, we have become used to hearing newsreaders say: “Doreen Lawrence, mother of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence…” And it is worth reminding ourselves of exactly who this woman is, and why she was thrust into the limelight: Doreen was a mother seeking justice for the murder of her innocent son, cut down in his prime while going about his lawful business; a mother who, assisted by the wider African and Asian community, was able to place her son’s murder by white racists in context; a mother who was able to gain strength from the active and prolonged support of activists and campaigners within this wider black community, many of whom kick-started the campaign that supported the Lawrence family in holding the Metropolitan police and the home secretary to account for the investigation of Stephen’s murder. Read the rest of this entry →

“To the barricades!”

May 20, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks, Open letters

On 13th May 2013, Diane Abbott MP put out a call to the 10th London Schools and the Black Child (LSBC) Conference: “Black Children & Education: After Gove, where next?”.

"Michael Gove at Chantry High School" by Regional Cabinet (Flickr - CC BY 2.0)

“Michael Gove at Chantry High School” by Regional Cabinet (Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

For the past 13 years, the Communities Empowerment Network (CEN) has been campaigning for equality and justice in schooling and education and against the practice of excluding a disproportionate number of African heritage children.

Diane Abbott has demonstrated a passion for schooling and education over very many years, especially on account of the schooling experiences of children of African heritage.  In 1999, she held two conferences in her constituency the London Borough of Hackney on ‘Hackney Schools and the Black Child’.  In 2000, the third of these was held which, like the previous two, attracted some 400-500 people.  In 2002, Abbott joined forces with the newly elected London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and started the London Schools and the Black Child conferences which ran annually until 2009.

Those conferences proved very popular with African parents, teachers and community activists, some 2000-2,500 of whom attended most years.  However, although the focus of the conference was schooling and the ‘black child’, fewer than 50 black school children attended in any one year.  The conferences generated a great deal of heat and excitement, but typically very little action.  They allowed for no resolutions or demands to be put to government and each succeeding conference failed to focus upon whatever action those who attended in the preceding year may have taken in their communities in response to the issues debated.

Meanwhile, the Labour government of the day continued to pass laws, whittle away rights and allow schooling practices which were as detrimental to ‘the Black child’ as anything the Conservative administration had done prior to the Labour victory at the polls in 1997.  Yet, year on year, the Education (or Schools) Minister would attend Diane’s conference to tell ‘the black community’ what the government was doing to raise standards and tackle the endemic underachievement of African Caribbean children in the schooling system.

Diane Abbott intends that this conference would address the question: “Black Children & Education: After Gove, where next?”.  Some of us might think it even more pertinent to ask the question: “‘Before Gove, what?“.  Read the rest of this entry →

Tackling school exclusion

May 13, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks

Fenton Classroom, by Wolfram Burner (Flickr)

Fenton Classroom, by Wolfram Burner (Flickr)

Gus John, Chair of the Communities Empowerment Network (CEN) announces another annual report (2012/2013) and sets out the challenges facing this charitable, community-based organization that deals with almost 1,000 school exclusion cases each year:

The current education climate is such that CEN’s work and purpose become more crucial in the struggle to defend children’s fundamental rights and support the self-empowerment of parents/families as partners in their children’s schooling, education and personal development. Communities struggle perennially to encourage schools to see themselves as important spaces and places not only for their students but also for the communities to which those students belong.

Given the complexity of those communities and of the challenges students face as part of them, it is legitimate for parents and students to expect schools to have due regard to the community’s aspirations and the diverse needs of the student body, especially given the range of obstacles students must overcome if they are to set, believe in and realize their high ambitions. Read the rest of this entry →

To iconize and canonize: Stephen Lawrence 20 years later

April 23, 2013 in Blog, Essays

From: The Guardian's website (http://bit.ly/11KVIgp)

From: The Guardian’s website (http://bit.ly/11KVIgp)

On 22 April 2013, senior representatives of the British state joined the Lawrence family in marking the 20th anniversary of the murder of 18 year old Stephen Lawrence by white racists. Leaders of the three main political parties and the Mayor of London attended a memorial service at St Martin in the Fields, near Trafalgar Square, to pay tribute to Stephen and to acknowledge ‘the debt the country owes to the Lawrence family for  refusing to give up, ensuring those who were guilty of Stephen’s murder were brought to justice’. 

Beguiling as some might have found it, there is something both fascinating and deeply disturbing about that memorial, the presence at it of those leaders of state and above all, about the statements they made.

In 2012, Gary Dobson and David Norris were finally convicted of Stephen’s murder after repeated failures by the Metropolitan Police that arose from corruption, incompetence and what the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry led by retired judge, Sir William Macpherson called ‘institutional racism’. Indeed, the convictions were possible only because in 2005 the ‘double jeopardy’ law that had existed for 800 years was changed to allow a suspect to be tried again for the same offence if there was “new, compelling, reliable and substantial evidence”, which had not been previously available. Three suspects Gary Dobson, Neil Acourt and Luke Knight, had been acquitted following a private prosecution brought by Stephen’s parents in 1996. David Norris had not been prosecuted before. The Lawrence family is still hopeful that sooner rather than later they will see all of Stephen’s murderers behind bars. Read the rest of this entry →