A young soldier is attacked and killed in full public view on our streets, seemingly by extremists intent on creating fear and panic among the population at large.
An act of violence and abomination. A terrible, terrible event for the family, friends and colleagues of the victim. An attack on one of our soldiers, one of the many men and women who are prepared to die to protect our way of life.
Yesterday the news was full of stories about horrible killings in our society. This was one was so shocking because it was so immediate with video clips on the internet and the killers using that medium to spread whatever twisted message they wanted to get across.
Today I’ve heard several negative things which, in my view, play into the hands of all extremists. People calling for death, mobs, marches, violence to a whole group in our society who are as innocent as we are. People suddenly showing support for organisations which shouldn’t be more than an annoying pimple which needs to be popped. These organisations jumping on the horror and claiming it for their own – it’s utterly despicable. What is it that Gandhi said? An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
Let’s not let anger and fear make us blind to the good things…..
There are pros and cons to seeing a death like this victim’s played out so publicly – in America, people are used to seeing this type of thing more often. I’m in two minds about this. I heard a man on the radio saying it was disgraceful bringing this into everyone’s living rooms. Is it? Is it disgraceful that we face the horror up front? Those people in that street, that young man didn’t ask for that, did they? They had no choice in it. Can we hide from the risks we may all face?
But this exposure also highlighted other things – small acts of courage and care which happened in the few moments that this horrific event took place. The woman who tried to reason with someone who could not be reasoned with. Did she think or did she act? Her efforts provided, at a minimum, a distraction which could well have prevented another death or serious attack. Could I have done that? Would I have done that? I honestly don’t know.
The person, who even though it was hopeless, held the victim and wept over him – a stranger who cared, who just tried to be there in the most terrible of circumstances and amid carnage. Someone who just saw the young man and reached out. I believe the victim’s family will take a small crumb of comfort from that one act.
I heard comments about wishing the police had shot dead the people responsible. Yesterday, in the immediate aftermath I too had some sympathy for that view. But our police are professionals. They too, being there and in the midst of that awful situation, may have felt that way. But they, like our soldiers, were professional. We have no idea what the bigger picture is here – is there more intelligence around this incident? Is there information to be gained from the men responsible? Two meetings of COBRA in a 24-hour period suggest something else is going on here that we, the public, are unable to see and may well never know.
We should therefore take heart in all the courageous people around this incident who reacted in split seconds to an unspeakable horror. Many acted with dignity and caring towards complete strangers. Now is the time for the police to do their jobs, and for us to consider the pain of the family involved.
Stephen Lawrence was a young man murdered by rascists. We’ve known this for 18 years. Many of us have looked at the Lawrence family and been inspired by their dignity in the face of such horror – again and again and again.
It seems that we should reflect on rascism as a result of the court case and the conviction of two of up to six people responsible for Stephen’s murder.
Thanks to the dedication of his mother and his father, Stephen’s death has impacted upon the Metropolitan Police (and rightly so) and it’s certainly made me think about how rascism can creep up on you. Watching the BBC’s Panorama revealed a little of that in the behaviour of investigating officers immediately following Stephen’s death. What initial actions would have been taken if a white youth had been stabbed to death?
I, for one, am very glad that some members of that awful gang have been convicted and I hope a situation arises when others can face the same justice. However, let’s face it, their lives have been haunted by Stephen and his family these past 18 years. And that’s not going to end any time soon. Good.
But are we really any less rascist today? Or is it simply more hidden? Or simply directed elsewhere?
As a journalist, I’ve encountered rascism on numerous occasions. Often I’ve been shocked and saddened. But equally I’ve encountered such sentiments from acquaintances and that’s equally shocking. I try so hard not to be rascist – but it would be naive of me to think that I’m totally free of it.
I have many friends whose skin colour is different than mine, whose nationality is different to mine and whose culture and belief system is different. I adore all of those friends and feel enriched by them. A good friend of mine who is French recently reminded me how good our care system for the elderly is here compared with France – it was a sobering reminder of how we stack up against other countries.
But there are a few incidents I recall which I have found shameful. One was many years ago when a friend of mine (I won’t be too specific) lived in the East End of London. On visits, if you went out into the garden there was a delicious smell of curry cooking, of spices and exotic aromas. Many people living in that area were (or their parents, grandparents) from Asia. I also remember going on a bus with that friend and we were the only white faces on board and I did find it strange. It gave me a brief insight into what it must be like to be ‘the only black in the white village’.
But the most shocking thing about this was that this friend’s brother was so rascist as to be unbelievable. Always using rude words about people of colour and talking about what he’d like to do to them. Soon after my friendship ended, this brother became (yes you’ve guessed it) an officer in the Met. I’ve often worried about someone who was so meek on the outside but so rascist on the inside, could get into a police force. This all took place a couple of years after Stephen Lawrence’s death. So when the Met was found to be institutionally rascist – I wasn’t surprised.
More recently though, another friend went through a bad time which meant he had to claim benefits for a while. He had real trouble getting it sorted, while at the same time having a family to feed. He shouted out loud about it and I understood. It was a difficult financial time.
And then he went on to say something about ‘if his skin had been a different colour, he’d wouldn’t have had this trouble’ and ‘if he’d come from Eastern Europe, he’d have been given money hand over fist’. He lost me at these comments, I’m afraid. All of my sympathy drained away. Because these broad sweeping statements are simply not true, apart from being offensive to me.
In Swindon we do have an influx of people from Eastern Europe at the moment – often from Poland. They’ve come into the more middle class area of West Swindon. But the reality is that a large number of people from Poland have come here for many, many years – they’ve just lived in different areas of the town. We also have people coming from Afghanistan, Iran and many other places. Welcome, I say. All of these people enrich our town, hardly any of them are lazy, unwilling to work – in fact often the opposite.
The lesson of Stephen Lawrence for me is that rascism is still there – just below the surface and we must destroy it, one tiny drop at a time.
Fighting the drip, drip, drip of rascism....
I cannot help but write about the phone-hacking scandal which continues to rumble on – it’s there in the background for most people but for journalists it’s still the main topic of conversation.
As I’ve intimated previously that’s because we’re feeling that we’re all being tarred with the same brush as the few who either broke the law, or who got others to do it for them, in pursuit of a big story and the subsequent big bucks.
Some have raised eyebrows that an editor cannot know what his/her journalists are doing? But it’s possible, especially if you are not asking too many questions and your budget is so big that
Journalists can tell good stories without breaking the law
invoices adding up to £100k don’t register.
For most of us in the regional world of journalism that doesn’t happen. Money is so tight that such a spend would stick out like a sore thumb.
Another issue that’s worthy of consideration is the suggestion that police officers in the Met (and possibly elsewhere) may have taken money from journalists.
It’s amazing how many people think that journalists carry around a chequebook from their employer to wave around at potential interviewees.
Such a practice may be common place for national journalists but I’ve not come across it in local settings or even national television.
The only things I’ve ever paid for are as follows: travelling expenses, child care costs, loss of earnings which can be proved, payment of a telephone bill for a low income family where we needed regular contact over number of months, occasional donation to charity for use of facilities, occasional location fees for businesses.
When working on an antiques programme a few years ago I used to pay cash to traders/stall holders to use their space for a period of filming if it was going to disrupt business for more than ten minutes.
I’ve been asked for money many, many times by possible interviewees and have said no. As journalists we’re not allowed to pay anyone with criminal convictions, and I’d never dream of giving cash to a police officer. I may be naive, even after 20 years, but I’ve always been suspicious of anyone who’s first thought is to ask for money.
There are still many, many good people out there who tell their personal stories in order to spread the word, heighten public awareness alongside my need to make a good tv programme. Indeed, people will often take days off work just to take part in filming and never ask for a penny.
Tomorrow I’m filming with a family where the father suffers from severe OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Mum is taking a day off work to be with us (something we did not request). This is a sign of how important this family feels it is to highlight the issues around this mental disorder.
However this phone-hacking saga develops in the next days and weeks – remember this, there are good people around with relevant stories to tell and share.