Having lost a talented son in a despicable racist murder, the Lawrence family should have been able to assume that the police would be deployed to hunt down the killers and give the family the support they desperately needed. Losing a child is, after all, every parent’s worst nightmare. Losing a son in a racist attack must be even more painful with its hateful overtones and echoes of past injustice.
As if `institutional racism’ in the Met was not bad enough, we now have allegations from an undercover policeman that he took part in an operation to dig for dirt on the very people whose lives had been torn apart. I would expect these gutter tactics in a corrupt and dysfunctional country far from these shores, but not in what the pompous elite complacently claim to be the world’s best democracy, a nation renowned for its fair play.
I have always felt a deep sense of sadness when reporting on this story as a journalist. It reflects so badly on our society. It exposes an undercurrent of racist beliefs and sheds light on appalling police practises back in the early 1990s.
And whilst I won’t be popular for saying this, today I also feel sorry for all those decent and fair police officers. We need a police service we can trust. As a white man it is difficult for me to see things through the eyes of someone of colour. But I do believe the police are trying to become more representative, even if that process is ridiculously slow.
Speak to an African or Arabs who have moved here and they will often praise our police compared to their experiences `back home’ or the flagrant racism found in countries like France or Greece. There will always be bad apples in any organisation. The few times I have needed the police over the past decade I’ve found them to be overworked but generally professional. They think less like a `force’ and more like social workers acting pragmatically. But that’s of little comfort to Stephen Lawrence’s family, friends and supporters. And sentiment alone will not root out corruption and malpractice in the police.
Visions of `Rodney King’
Apparently back in the late 1990s during Sir William Macpherson’s public enquiry into the bungled murder investigation, senior officers were too fearful to come clean about the undercover operation as they had visions of `Rodney King` riots on the streets of London.
A quarter of all 16-24 year olds in London are officially recorded as unemployed and claiming benefits. In some parts of the capital a far higher proportion will be `economically inactive’ and below the radar, many of them black or Asian. Living a life with no hope and rudderless is a recipe for disaster. It’s a volcanic wound waiting to explode. The riots in August 2011 should have been a wake-up call.
Ticking time bomb
I long for a decent, harmonious and more equal society. Many black and ethnic minority people fear or loathe the police. Many, especially the more successful, don’t have issues with them.
But in the poorest communities, who are being disproportionately affected by the swingeing cuts and rising unemployment, this story could become a tipping point.
A secret campaign to discredit the Lawrence family in their hour of need will only serve to reinforce anger among those who believe the police and society are against them.