|Doreen speaks at the Shake! Preview, Feb 2011|
‘I can’t tell you what art does or how it does it, but I know that often art has judged the judges, pleaded revenge to the innocent and shown to the future what the past has suffered, so that it has never been forgotten. I know too that the powerful fear art when it does this, and that amongst the people such art sometimes runs like a rumour and a legend because it makes sense of what life’s brutalities cannot, a sense that unites us, for it is inseparable from a justice at last.”* (writer and activist John Berger)
On 16th November 2011, the re-trial finally opened against two men accused of taking part in a racially motivated fatal stabbing of Stephen Lawrence 18 years ago at a bus stop in Eltham, London.
Doreen Lawrence, family, and supporters have campaigned long and hard for this moment, not only fighting on multiple fronts to take on the system, but also bringing creativity and hope through the work of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. The demand for justice for Stephen has been a central issue for Shake! and everyone at Shake! offers our solidarity with them in this intense and urgent process of re-trial.
Shake! sees what happened to Stephen that day as symptomatic of a deep psychosis at the heart of Britain that must still be confronted and countered daily. Equally symptomatic is that the police investigation was negligent to the point of racism. This was
the conclusion of the landmark 1999 Macpherson Report – an enquiry that would not have taken place if it was not for the determination of Doreen and family in lodging a formal complaint with the Police Complaints Authority, and the political support of Home Secretary Jack Straw on coming into office in 1997. Jack Straw has said that Doreen is a woman you do not say no to, but there had been four years of NO NO NO before that moment, resting on a decades (some would say centuries) of NO before that. The case of David Oluwale in 1969 still echoes.
The Macpherson Report baldly stated that the police investigation into Stephen’s murder was “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers.” While the inquiry focused on the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), the report concluded that “institutional racism affects the MPS, and police services elsewhere.” Sir William made 70 recommendations aimed at “the elimination of racist prejudice and disadvantage and the demonstration of fairness in all aspects of policing.”
It’s now 2011. And it’s debatable how much has ‘improved’ as a result of Macpherson, except that now, we have a landmark document to use in the struggle. There have tragically been many more deaths in police custody cf Mark Duggan, many more racially motivated attacks and deaths of young people.
A re-trial of two of the 5 men originally accused is taking place, and it is awe-inspiring how Doreen and the family have maintained their resilience, how they have sustained themselves in what must feel like an indescribably long, outraged and pain-filled process.
But maybe, just maybe… it’s art, poetry and music that can begin to describe it. It can describe and it can also bring comfort and sustenance. And at the same time it can sound an outraged and insistent call to justice. Shake’s aims are to foster artistic expression in young people that can do just this. On this blog are poems, testimony, insights and moving and still images which are testament to how young people, supported by dedicated artists and facilitators, can flex that powerful creativity which Berger talks about, And begin to confront and change culture.
See some of the powerful art-activist events and creative writing by Shake’s young people both on Stephen‘s life and death, but also the wider issues which we face daily as a society.
See photos of Doreen being presented with a framed copy of Rotimi’s poem “Hey Stevie” in July 2011, on the announcement of the re-trial.
(*from essay “Miners”)