Photograph: Anselm Ebulue / The Guardian
Tré Ventour 24 • Northampton • Writer and race equality activist
“I remember when Mark Duggan was killed by police. It was my generation’s Stephen Lawrence moment.”
From the Guardian
Race and racism. Just now we’re going through a surge fomented in the US and probably aggravated on this side of the Atlantic by the frustrations of lockdown and the habit of imitation. Longer term the abiding chronic issues have not been helped by a widening gap between ideology and pragmatism. I seldom have to confront the reality. One small exception was two years when I was at the crossing from the Houses of Parliament to Westminster tube station. A large grey BMW shot across the pedestrian green light in front of me. I tapped his bonnet in rebuke. (Tapped not thumped. This is important). As I reached the other side, I saw out of the corner of my eye that he’ d stopped his Beamer in the middle of the road, blocking the traffic at one of the busiest junctions in London and was heading straight at me. He was big, early middle aged and black. I picked up speed, resisting the urge to break into a run and made it through the ticket barrier. Christ! Will he leap over and stab me?
“Hey you, what you think you doing to my car?” “ Sorry” I mumbled, then turned and fled. Rightly or wrongly I reckoned that a large black man driving a newish BMW who had the gall to stop the traffic at Big Ben had all the self importance of a drugs baron. Racial stereotyping? You bet. I now have inkling of what stop and search is like from the police point of view. If I’m wrong I apologise to the memory every time I think about it. But only up to a point. Mine was a trivial gesture. I’m more than willing to take instruction on what it’s like to be on the receiving end. But I’m more than frustrated that the issues around racism and what racism actually is, are much the same as when I first came across them half a century ago.
The Guardian’s focus has been shifting further towards diversity under editor in chief Kath Viner. Today they’re doing a big number on Race. The short testimonies are chastening. So is the news report of 200,000 at 150 demos in June. (Whither social distancing?).
Columnist Afua Hirsch does her thing. She asks “who will hold the police to account for acts that criminalise the black community”? No doubts about sharing responsibility there. She simply dismisses Met Commissioner Cressida Dick on black crime.
But this is apples and pears stuff. Is nobody interested in closing the analytical gap? The few who prescribe are attacked. George Floyd was a case where in the very different US culture his petty criminality didn’t stop his elevation to international martyr in funeral rites that exceeded JFK’s. Michael Duggan was something else despite changes of story over the gun. That his death in 2011 triggered shop and car burnings near my home in central Ealing well away from black estates still makes me wonder. Added to the fact that a young decent black quoted today can still regard him as “our Stephen Lawrence”.
These attitudes seem even more implacable than those working class Prods v Micks in NI. The change there is that acts of violence are no longer respectable although sectarian solidarity is just as intense. In England the near panic about knife crime and gang activity generally is overshadowed by police rough handling over stop and search. Gunmen aren’t called out as they were so powerfully over the killing of Lyra McKee in Belfast whose funeral was attended by 2 PMs and carried live on national TV. In England after the family victims’ statements the real victims are overlooked. I did my first report on black deaths in police custody on attachment to BBC TV News in 1974. What has changed? A hardening gangland culture, that’s what. And big raves in south London stimulated by gangs many of them black, to make up for lost revenue during the Covid lockdown.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London