Magazine article New African

'How Stephen Lawrence's Murder Nearly Happened to Us': In the Wake of the Stephen Lawrence Murder Conviction in December, 18 Years after the Black Youth Was Killed by Racist Hooligans in London, Our Associate Editor Clayton Goodwin, Shares His Family's Harrowing First-Hand Experience of Racism, Which Nearly Took His Own Mixed-Race Son's Life Just a Few Minutes from the Place Where Stephen Lawrence Met His Brutal Death

Magazine article New African

'How Stephen Lawrence's Murder Nearly Happened to Us': In the Wake of the Stephen Lawrence Murder Conviction in December, 18 Years after the Black Youth Was Killed by Racist Hooligans in London, Our Associate Editor Clayton Goodwin, Shares His Family's Harrowing First-Hand Experience of Racism, Which Nearly Took His Own Mixed-Race Son's Life Just a Few Minutes from the Place Where Stephen Lawrence Met His Brutal Death

Article excerpt

SATURDAY 13 OCTOBER 1991 was my birthday. My mixed-race son was then 19 years old. He was at college and lived away from home but had returned to help me celebrate. During the evening he went out for a while to see a former school friend and on his way back with his then girlfriend, who was white, ran into a group of over 20 youths at a crossroads less than 10 minutes' walk from the place where Stephen Lawrence was murdered 16 months later.

The hooligans gave him a severe beating - fortunately they had no knives with them. Bloodied, his eye damaged, glasses broken, and his clothes torn, he broke free and ran down a side-street. Too late, he found it was a cul-de-sac.

A sympathetic householder let him into his house and barred the door to his assailants. The man arranged for a cab to call at the back of his house and take my son and his girlfriend home.

We called the police. When they arrived, the older of the two policemen behaved in an arrogant and racist manner, doing the talking while his junior colleague kept an embarrassed silence. He tried initially to pin the blame for the fracas on our son, who, in any case, is of short and slight stature, and then excused the assailants for mistaking him for being a "Paki"--as if that did excuse their behaviour!--when he could see that the young man had got his brown complexion from the ethnicity of his black and white parents standing before him.

Becoming more voluble, the policeman pointed to the number on his shoulder and dared me to report him to the press.

The officer refused to take down notes - saying that no white person would come forward to testify on behalf of a mixed-race victim of racist aggression (even though, as he spoke, we were receiving phone-calls from witnesses trying to do just that; they had looked out of the window on hearing the noise).

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He refused to look in to the case, declining to visit the scene of the crime, or to radio for his colleagues to do so, as he said that the perpetrators would be long gone, so there would be no physical evidence, and the owner of the chip-shop would not be able to remember the assailants from among his many customers of an evening. (No evidence? The following afternoon our son's friends found pieces of his torn waistcoat exactly where he said the incident had happened.)

The younger officer found his voice with the eminently sensible suggestion that we should get our son to hospital as quickly as possible. We had to cut short the interview with the police to take our son for treatment.

It was not the last that we heard from the local police station. A few days later, a policeman in plain clothes called on us. He told us his name and rank, explained that he was some sort of liaison officer, and asked us to call him by his forename as that "was more friendly and he and his colleagues wanted to be considered as friends of the whole community".

"Geoff" - let us call him that - played down the attitude of his earlier colleague by saying that he had been really sympathetic and had submitted a proper report on returning to the station. Where was it? - he couldn't say. As public relations exercises go, it was sickening.

The attack had a profound psychological effect on our son. Even though the incident was 20 years agog he has been reluctant to return to the area, preferring the anonymity of the inner city, and when he has done so he has come by train or cab, not trusting the buses or walking on the street.

We had been lucky - these assailants did nor carry knives - as we realised on reading of the fatal attack on Stephen Lawrence in the same vicinity just a few months later.

I reported the matter to the inspector at the local police station. The UK Gleaner newspaper offered to give the incident front-page coverage and a speech-writer for Paddy Ashdown, then leader of the Liberal Democrats, offered to get him to include a reference in a speech. …

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