Friday, January 6, 2012

The More Enlightened Europe: Racism

It's Friday night in the UK, and I've had a queen bitch of a week, the first week back at work after Christmas. So, I settled down this evening to watch a bit of telly with the husband.

Apart from the usual depressing stories about David Cameron's austerity drive, the jiggly Euro and queasy stories about inadequate nursing care in geriatric homes and on maternity wards (that's the fabled single-payer healthcare system for you), the biggest news in Britain this week has been the guilty verdict and sentencing of two men for the racist killing 17 years ago of an Afro-Caribbean teenager, Stephen Lawrence, in South London.

That doesn't mean that it's taken the police 17 years just to trace and track Lawrence's killers. The police had arrested a gang of five, of which these men - Gary Dobson and Stephen Norris - were two; and all had been tried and acquitted of Lawrence's murders, 17 years ago, as teenagers, themselves. Lawrence's grief-stricken parents had even taken out a private prosecution of the gang, which would have resulted in no prison sentences (it was a private civil action), but would have offered some closure and some sort of financial retribution.

The fact that these two were tried at all, again, was down to a significant change in the double jeopardy concept - the legal tradition which says a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime, if acquitted originally - which happened in 2003, during Tony Blair's last tenure. The laws were changed, enabling a second trial, in important cases such as murder or armed robbery, only if new and compelling evidence were established.

I remember when Stephen Lawrence was murdered. It resonated with us because my husband had grown up in the part of London where Lawrence lived. He knew the bus stop where the gang of thugs - one of whom was part and parcel of a South London (pronounced "Sarf London") crime family - had randomly attacked and stabbed him to death. It was horrific, and it devolved into something very creepy and sordid.

A packed bus passed the scene just as Lawrence and his companion were being attacked - his friend managed to get away and survived. People saw what happened. Yet no one pressed the buzzer on the bus to stop it, no one ran off, people passed by. When several people travelling on the bus initially came forward to give statements as witnesses, suddenly these statements were rescinded. The police dragged their heels in their investigation. Evidence was mishandled and corrupted. There were rumours that one of the boys' fathers, or their operatives, were subtly insinuating either members of the jury, itself, or their families.

A civil action suit, some years later, ended in chaos, and the same "not guilty" verdict that the Crown case had rendered.

Long before he became a staple at MSNBC, Martin Bashir interviewed the five suspects, who'd actually been filmed on police surveillance tapes talking of racial violence and hatred, but the most they would admit - actually, it was Gary Dobson who admitted it - was that they were known as "loveable rogues" in their neighbourhood.

Tonight, I watched two television programs: Eastenders and Law and Order: UK. The former is a prime time soap and the BBC's flagship program, aired four times weekly. As a matter of trivia, the latest actress to play the Bionic Woman, Michelle Ryan, got her start as a teenager in the soap.

Tonight, one of the soap's black characters voluntarily went to the local copshop with information about the big Christmas fire which gripped the nation. His line upon his return was: "Today a black man went into a police station and didn't get charged. I call that progress."

This is England we're talking about - the 21st Century - England, the UK, Great Britain, Europe - you know, that place which is supposed to be culturally and intellectually so superior to us in thought, word, deed and health care.

Later, in the British version of the Law and Order franchise, a black solicitor (a lawyer who doesn't try courtroom cases) is speaking to a black QC (Queen's Counsel - an esteemed lawyer who only tries courtroom cases, complete with black robes and George Washington wig) about the defending QC's client, a young black student who's been accused of killing a white policeman. The solicitor - the lesser lawyer - a woman (surprise surprise - misogyny exists here as well) is acting for the Crown Prosecution Service. Her senior cohort, the defending lawyer, pulls rank and race on her, hoping to conflict her about his client and the traditional - yes, even here - unease felt between people of colour and the police force.

"You know how it is for people like us," he goads.

"People like us?" she questions, demurely.

"People like us," he reiterates, pointedly.

"You mean ... legal advocates," she remarks.

This is the British being coy. They're saying that justice is blind, and colour really doesn't matter; and the end of the program proved that the kid who shot and killed the copper wasn't really trying to kill the copper anyway, but the perp found guilty of another crime, and the perp was - you guessed it - black.

Also, earlier this week, a guy called John Terry, the captain of the England soccer team (think Eli Manning or Tim Tebow) was charged with race hatred talk (yep, that's a crime here - you see, freedom of speech differs from country to country) because he was overheard in a professional match, referring to an opposing biracial player as "a black cunt." This means he will appear in court, be tried and fined and have a police record. No imprisonment. In the meantime, he will still pay for his platinum Premiership London team and still captain England; and many people who watch the game, don't think he did anything wrong. Just a bit of banter between the lads. Well, the lad on the receiving end of Terry's tongue reported him.

Tony Blair did few honourable things as Prime Minister, and many criticised him when he managed to revise successfully the laws governing double jeopardy. This pressured the Metropolitan police to keep the Lawrence file open, and new investigative techniques found evidence linking at least two of the gang of five - Dobson and Norris - to the murder scene. This week, they were convicted, which was good. The bad part, was that they were sentenced as minors, even though they are now men in their late thirties. They got 13 and 14 years' imprisonment, respectively; but an be parolled after half that amount. The two half-terms, added together, don't even add up the the disgraceful amount of time it's taken to get justice for Stephen Lawrence.

That's how much the life of a non-white British youth is worth.

This comes the week after five white lads in Manchester attacked Anuj Bidve, an Indian graduate student, and shot him point-blank in the head the day after Christmas. The police have, at least, charged and arrested a suspect, who's twenty.

This comes, the week after I had a major altercation with a twenty-one year old, recently hired by my firm as an educated individual who was regaling several people on his administrative team with strange tales of the "white nigger" who works at the local branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken. He was appalled because I ripped him a new asshole as he thought he'd said nothing wrong.

This attitude isn't the fashion. This is learned in the home.

So whenever you hear someone extolling the moral superiority of Europe and Europeans, comfort yourself with the fact that they don't have a clue about the way things really are here.

And I haven't even begun to talk about the Continent yet.

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