BLM PART 3: The Lawrence Legacy and Grime’s respon

Multicultural Britain has always shuffled and limped along with bandages concealing its wounds, the bandages slip sporadically to expose the injuries caused by the injustices of a system seemingly rife with inequalities. When the wounds of this country weep it is with shock and disbelief we face the realisation that racism hasn’t gone away completely, in truth relations have improved since our grandparents migrated to the UK, but a poisonous problem dwells at this countries core, the problem is buried under the surface of UK society making it much harder to pinpoint due to its hidden nature – Institutionalised racism. It’s in our schools – research shows when teachers assess and mark exams without prior knowledge of pupils’ ethnicities, black children score as well as their white class mates and also receive positive comments; assessments marked with teachers knowledge of pupils’ ethnicities resulted in poor scores and negative comments for black pupils. It’s in the workplace – studies show that employers were more likely to call job applicants with English sounding names to interview compared to that of African and Asian sounding names, also inequalities within the work place have tripled since 2001 making it a challenge for people within the ethnic minority bracket to secure work and those in employment are less likely to be considered for promotion. Institutionalised racism is harder to prove as seen in Mark Duggan’s inquests which began when his life was ended prematurely after being gunned down by UK police in Tottenham, London in 2011, he was 29. In the aftermath of his death police refused to be interviewed by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and police accounts regarding what happened that day changed repeatedly leading his family to conclude the police were being protected and were not held accountable for Mark Duggan’s death. However, systematic racism doesn’t always murder you in cold blood without a second thought or disable you from getting on public transport as seen when Chelsea fans pushed black commuter Souleymane Sylla off a Paris metro train gleefully chanting that they were racist and proud of it; no – institutionalised racism is much more subtle and devious, it chips away at your confidence due to poor treatment in schools, colleges or university, it snatches the opportunity to progress and achieve within the workplace, it sees a lack of representation in parliament (I can only think of Diane Abbott as a non-white MP) and most disconcerting, for the average person on the street in particular young black men; racial stereotyping can steal your right to justice or in Stephen Lawrence’s case grossly delay it.

Stephen Lawrence could have been you; he could have been my brother, he could have been your friend or your boyfriend. He looked like a few guys I chilled with back in the day; I see him in some of the youts I observe on my daily travels catching jokes with their friends and enjoying being in the prime of their lives without a care in the world as it should be. Stephen Lawrence’s life was stolen from him prematurely by a group of openly ‘proud’ racist thugs, he was stabbed to death on a South East London street on 22 April 1993 while innocently standing at a bus stop with the skin mother nature blessed him with, he posed no threat. 18 year old Stephen Lawrence’s barbaric and heart breaking murder changed the face of the UK institutions dramatically, it is painful that in creating a legacy for this country Stephen had to become a martyr and lose his life before a change could come. After Stephen Lawrence’s murder an investigation was launched into accusations of racism within the Metropolitan police force which saw Stephen and his family stereotyped by law enforcement as the cause of his murder and not the victims which of course they were. Police mishandled evidence, did not follow strong lines of inquiry due to their stereotypical beliefs that Stephen must be a gang member or drug pusher simply because he was black. Unforgivably the police staged a smear campaign against Stephen’s parents Doreen and Neville Lawrence to somehow justify their sons’ murder suggesting that these black lives who had suffered the most unimaginable pain and torment did not matter to the MET police. The law that is supposed to protect and serve all lives and victims of crime intimidated witness and Stephen’s best friend Duwayne Brooks and suggested that both men must have done something criminal to provoke the attack, when all they were ‘guilty’ of was merely existing. Just as we saw with the survivors of the New cross fire back in 1981, once again victims were being treated as suspects.

In February 1999 an investigation into the metropolitan’s police handling of the Stephen Lawrence investigation found the MET police and other forces throughout the UK to be institutionally racist. It was stated that there had been “A collective failure to provide a professional and appropriate service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.” The report sparked a widespread change in police practices across Britain based on the 70 recommendations the report made which included improving police attitudes towards racism and increasing the number of officers from an ethnic minority background across the UK, because after all Britain IS a multi-cultural society and we as an ethnic minority are less likely to trust the police if we can’t see ourselves reflected within these police forces. When differing minorities are sufficiently represented in positions of power we see someone who looks like us therefore we feel as though our lives are included in the demographic the law pledges to serve and protect; we feel they are with us and not against us. The pledge of serve and protect is not felt in black communities because history has shown us the police are more inclined to profile than protect you if you are black or Asian and with the statistics to back that up (145 Black and minority ethnic deaths (BAME) recorded in police custody from 1990 – 2016 and only 2 convictions brought to officers) the police are indeed institutionally racist, the distrust felt towards police from young black males in particular only intensifies when the stats. tell the harsh truths. Stephen Lawrence left a remarkable legacy on UK police practices and our judicial system (The double jeopardy law came into effect in 2005 allowing Stephen Lawrence’s killers to be convicted of his murder 20 years after the crime) but he should not have had to lose his life in such a horrific way for the government to take drastic action on UK race laws.

There have been vast improvements in the UK but they’ve been slow and half hearted. On the 20th anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s death the metropolitan police admitted that racism was still a problem within the force – 32 of 45 police forces across the UK employ mainly white officers and 11 forces in the UK have no ethnic minorities in their constabulary whatsoever. We still have a problem in the UK despite the investigation which was carried out 20 years ago which exposed institutionalised racism. How can we trust a system so reluctant to change and refuses to be inclusive of all cultures and races? One of the reoccurring issues found in the Stephen Lawrence investigation was that of racial stereo typing and racial bias, have the police improved as promised? No they have not. Black males are 12 times more likely to be stopped and searched compared to white males and with less than a quarter of these stops resulting in arrests it proves that officers had no justifiable reason to stop and question these men other than preconceptions and misjudgements based on the colour of their skin. Innocent until proven guilty seems to go out the window with some officers when they see black or brown skin and a guilty by genetics system seems to come into play, putting the person being questioned at an automatic disadvantage before they’ve even opened their mouth or retrieved their documents to protest their innocence, the very notion that you can be labelled as a criminal without concrete evidence because of the skin nature and genetics gifted you with is incredulous considering we are all one race – the human race. The fact that U.S law enforcement are overtly slaying black men as a reflex reaction rather than a last resort and the fact that racism snakes it’s way quietly throughout British institutions leads to the clear conclusion that ALL lives should matter and be treated equally and fairly regardless of skin colour, culture or ethnicity but findings reveal all lives do not matter to a number of police, governors, ministers, corporations, establishments, medical institutions and lastly clusters of society who choose to perpetuate ignorance by wishing all non-whites would “Go back to their own country.”

In times of crisis when human life is under threat we rally together to show solidarity and support. Just as the LGBT community around the world came together after the horrific Oklahoma nightclub killings to show they identified with the feeling of oppression within their minority group; so too have the black and Asian communities across the UK along with support from members of the white majority, who recognise the imbalance of treatment. The Black lives matter movement has resonated with black people in the UK because black men know what it is like to be stopped and harassed by the police based on their skin colour. Admittedly these disproportionate amount of stop and searches do not end in loss of life as it does so often in the U.S but parallels can be drawn as to the reason these men are stopped in the first place – racial profiling and stereotyping. I myself as a black woman living in the UK have come up against institutionalised racism in the work place which I fought against twice and won, it leaves you questioning – Why do I have to battle twice as long and hard because I’m misinterpreted and stereotyped because of my race? It does not feel like a win whatsoever all that is felt is weariness and the ugliness of judgemental ignorance. I myself as a black woman have been misinterpreted many times as being ‘aggressive’ when I’m merely stating a point calmly but clearly, I as a black woman have been labelled “scary” and “Intimidating” whilst sitting quietly, I as a black woman was told “I’m so surprised at your correct use of punctuation and grammar considering the life you must have led and where you grew up” the person who made this ignorant remark knew me for three days having joined our team and he had no idea how I grew up or where I was from, he made an assumption based on the colour of my skin and his own pre conceived ideas regarding race and class which most likely shaped his views on all people of colour without actually speaking to us or getting to know us before concrete judgements were made.

Racial prejudice isn’t always the person shouting “F*ck off back home you nig*er” it isn’t always the people chanting “Rubber lips, monkey face, wanna banana” (Yes this too happened to me in primary school) racial bias and racial stereotyping can lurk in the subtext of a conversation or in the refusal to hire someone based on their name, it’s displayed when a white woman hugs her handbag close to her chest when a black man in a hoodie walks by, it’s felt in a system set up to constantly demean and undermine a minority group until a person within that group rebels as expressed by Skepta in his powerful and thought provoking underdog psychosis video where he speaks about an education system which was against him as an over achiever – he finished school a year early but officials would not let him go to secondary school because he was too young, the system was also against him when he had to repeat the year and became distracted. Instead of explaining to him why his education was important teachers isolated him by throwing him out of class which made him feel excluded. He goes on to explain throughout the rest of his school days he was put down, upon finishing school in his day to day adult life he was treated with suspicion for wearing his hoodie because it was raining outside or being followed around a shop by security because it was presumed he was going to steal, these prejudgements make a person feel worthless and they start to believe the message the system screams at them – that they are nothing. This sees young men and women turn against a system that does not encourage ethnic minorities to succeed, as Skepta puts it a lot of young black men who experience these prejudices from childhood into adulthood go into a “F*ck the world mode.” This can then lead to some young black men making money on the streets shottin’ because the system would not let them in to make money legitimately and our young people are forced to do what they can to survive, but there is a way out. It’s not just Skepta who fought back against a system designed to keep him down, with ambition and determination he became more than the institution expected him to be; many UK Grime artists have come up through the struggle of their upbringings and environments and presented their raw life experiences on mixtapes, E.P’s and albums; they’ve shared their stories honestly and kept it real, allowing young people to relate to them and give them hope that they can too rise up from the oppression of a system intent on holding many minorities back. You too can break free and break through the systematic racism to be somebody and show the powers that be that black lives matter by achieving your goals.

The racial profiling Skepta described is something which is felt by many young black men and women and this is one of the reasons why black lives matter UK was formed and inspired by Black lives matter U.S. The inequalities throughout our establishments can cause long term damage to a person’s self-worth, aspirations or efforts to get ahead in life, these issues need addressing to create equal opportunities for all. The black lives matter movement which has swept the country is not saying “(Only) Black lives matter” it is vocalising that “Black lives matter (too)” and therefore should be given the respect that other lives are given because statistics show that this is not happening, when black, white, Asian, pink and purple can stand together in unison to let their voices be heard, when the disparities are recognised by all who are members of the human race and stop being refuted with strong denials only then can we correct the imbalance of treatment dependant on race, once realigned only then can we stand together as one species and say truthfully “All lives matter” until then Black lives matter is phase 1 of getting to a place of a harmonious and equal existence for us ALL.

Just as protests of the past (As detailed in Black Lives Matter part 2: Is Britain really that Great?) let the voices of the oppressed be heard to a nation resistant to change both socially and politically , eventually the plight of people was heard at a pitch which seemed to pierce the governing bodies protective bubbles giving them no choice but to listen, we find ourselves dealing with the issues our families fought 50 years ago, granted the prejudices are not as overt (in the UK) as they were at the time of the Notting hill and Brixton riots but they are as damaging and hurtful to a minority who have historically suffered mistreatment as the outsider, the uncivilised and the scorned; we now find ourselves at a junction which fuses the pain of the past with present loss and despair.

The barbaric killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have triggered feelings of familiarity regarding racial profiling leaving black communities feeling vulnerable worldwide. So powerful the parallels between ethnic minorities on both sides of the Atlantic the U.K has marched in solidarity and recognition in the name of the Black Lives Matter Movement to bring attention to the fact black lives are not treated as equal lives, the problem is not only confined to the U.S it’s a worldwide wound making it humanities grotesque injury. Black lives matter marches have taken place in -London on 08th, 09th and 10th July, Manchester- 11th July, Liverpool (which has a concentrated ethnic minority community in Toxeth as well as a large mixed race community throughout the city) – 16th July and Leeds (Which has a large Asian population) marched for Black lives matter on 14th July. So strong are the feelings of intolerance towards mistreatment of ethnic minorities overtly and covertly the movement has stretched to other (former) European neighbours Germany and Amsterdam. Watching black, white and brown come together to let their voices be heard is humbling and it is comforting to know that we as an ethnic minority are not alone in fighting this war against racial injustice.

Britain is a rich landscape of differing races and cultures and we have somehow (for the most part) managed to coexist and appreciate each other especially the next generation, through music. The UK’s problems are hidden in a system soiled with systematic failings but our youths interact and blend with each other. As we know artists are not immortals and they too have felt or observed injustices within our systems and recognise that they manifest themselves differently across the globe. Artists wield a power with their words and have something extremely special that politicians, establishments and the government don’t – respect and relatability from our youth. Grime artists in particular draw from their environments for their lyrical content, they are the impactful voices of an oppressive system and they use their voices to speak out about the struggles which they have encountered in a system which is not designed to encourage them but instead judges them. It is no surprise then that Grime artists being the outspoken forces of nature that they are have not held back in their opinion of the events which transpired in the U.S and are also supporting Black lives matter U.K. Novelist (pictured) who is something of a political activist if his tweets are anything to go by let his presence be felt at the BLM march in London on 09th July and displayed a simple but extremely powerful message “Stop Killing the mandem” the image is iconic and the message is written in a way Grime fans and young people outside the Grime genre will identify with. Novelist’s prominent presence during the Black lives matter protests was very important – he’s a young black man with talent building his foundations to secure a comfortable future, he is just like any young person trying to get by and the fact he became a focal point of that demonstration delivers the hard hitting message to a generation, Novelists generation – that if we don’t speak up now the next generation will suffer tomorrow.

Novelist is not the only Grime artist to speak out about their own experiences and frustrations, Stormzy posted a poignant statement on his twitter in which he urges people to “Do more, protest, march, donate and speak out and don’t be so naive to think that because we live in the UK black people don’t experience racism from police” which coincidently reminds me of Ghetts tweeting his frustration a few months before BLM protests began in the UK, that the law insists your past stays with you by bringing it to your door regardless of the fact you have paid your debts to society and turned over a new leaf to live a clean lifestyle. I have spoken to men who echo Ghetts’ sentiments who feel that the police still come knocking on your door unannounced to make “routine checks” making it hard to truly put the past behind them and get on with their lives as reformed men. It is often felt by many young black men that no matter how they turn their lives around, the system will still treat you like a suspect.

Grime artist Nolay also marched in London’s BLM protest and spoke out about the inequalities she had observed and powerfully pondered “How comes ‘All lives matter’ only comes up when we say ‘Black lives matter?’ When immigrants are drowning with their children and running from war to your countries, most of you don’t want them in your country. What happened to ‘All lives matter then’?

Rapper and MC Lunar C summed it up with the stark analogy – “Black lives matter doesn’t mean other lives don’t matter, just like save the planet doesn’t mean f*ck the moon.”

Lunar C also came up with another on point analogy when he stated – “Black lives matter doesn’t mean other lives don’t matter just like save the children doesn’t mean kill the adults.”

Let us be comforted in the knowledge that large portions of the majority race are standing with us not against us to make a difference which will hopefully spark further change because let’s face it, it’s going to take “A nation of millions to hold us back” – Public enemy

Cammy Thomas

References: Inquest.Org.uk, socialistreview.org.uk, The Guardian, the Independent, The Macpherson Report, Huck magazine

Picture Credits: Image of Stephen Lawrence: The Lawrence family / Associated press

Image of Novelist: Dovashot t:@kthecore_ IG: kthecore