begin with a conclusion. The police in any country are not a breed apart.
They are ordinary men and women, dressed in uniform, but essentially
representative of the people of the country. So, if Trinidad is now
gripped by allegations of police corruption concerning the escape of
convicted drug dealer Deochand Ramdhanie, it is because corruption exists
in Trinidad on many levels.
in Britain there have been calls for the resignation of the head of the
Metropolitan Police, Commissioner Sir Paul Condon, following the failure
by the police to bring to justice the racist killers of Stephen Lawrence.
The incident has heightened racial tension in London since he was the
fourth black or Asian youth murdered in racial attacks during the last two
years. The public inquiry into the police’s handling of the 1993 murder
of Stephen Lawrence began in March this year, with the Metropolitan Police
accused of incompetence, insensitivity and racism in their response to the
stabbing incident, to Lawrence’s parents and to the survivor of the
attack, Duwayne Brooks.
police have responded to the allegations by attacking the grieving parents
of Stephen Lawrence, their legal team, and even questioning whether the
murder was in fact racially motivated. Although it was not in dispute that
the gang who murdered Lawrence started the
attack by calling out “What, what nigger?” the police claimed
at various points during the inquiry that the attack on Lawrence was not
racist. CS Matt Baggott (who heads the police team at the inquiry) stated,
in contradiction to police guidelines, “Words are not sufficient
evidence of racial motivation.”
police officers, some of whom referred to Lawrence as coloured, said that
they felt let down by the Lawrence family and were being treated with
distrust and suspicion. Sir Paul Condon chipped in to complain that the
police were being pilloried. He said the questioning of his officers was
too vigorous, unfair and might harm relations between the police and black
following is a full account of the attack, and reveals much about the
state of Britain’s race relations today. Duwayne Brooks, who survived
the attack, said that he had met Lawrence after school and they went to
visit a girl in Lewisham, but could not find her. He went on: “Then we
went to Stephen’s uncle’s house and were playing Super Nintendo,
eating and chatting. We left about 9.50 pm and went to Eltham. I said we
shouldn’t have gone that way, there are too many white gangs.”
said as they waited for a bus in Well Hall Road, five boys walked towards
them from the Eltham railway station. “They ran across the road
shouting, “What, what nigger?”” recalls Brooks. He said one of the
youths hit Stephen on the head with what looked like a rounders bat and
then the others attacked him, but he cannot remember seeing a knife.
Brooks recalled that the boys ran away laughing, and he said when he
looked at him Lawrence was bleeding through his clothes and was saying,
“Look at me!” The pair ran from the scene until Lawrence collapsed.
claimed that when the police arrived one officer threatened to handcuff
him because he was “getting hysterical,” and another officer later
asked him if he or Lawrence had a criminal record and then said, “Are
you sure they called you niggers?” Brooks gave evidence at the Old
Bailey trial in April 1996, but the judge decided his eyewitness account
had been “contaminated and flawed” and he ordered the jury to return a
not guilty verdict on the defendants.
Sergeant Chris Crowley told the judge that Brooks had admitted to him he
had not seen the attackers’ faces, and although he picked them out in an
identity parade, he had already heard the names of the suspects through
is the most controversial case involving alleged institutional police
racism. It has galvanised huge sections of the black community in Britain
who are convinced that the forces of law are not on their side in Britain.
The police’s behaviour on the night of the attack has shocked many and
electrified a coalition of campaigners, including the London Chapter of
the Nation of Islam, Labour Party MPs, civil rights lawyers, church
leaders. It has also led to protests from many minority communities in
came to a head this year with the eventual hearing of an inquiry into the
murder. The obvious question is why didn’t it come to trial. The police
claimed there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict these five boys. The
Lawrence family says the police were deliberately dragging their feet and
made legal history by bringing the first private prosecution for murder in
the chilling point is that the Stephen Lawrence case has only highlighted
what must be going on on the streets every day in Britain.
the night of the attack:
summary, the police were accused of incompetence, insensitivity and racism
in their response to the stabbing and to Lawrence’s parents and the
survivor of the attack, Duwayne Brooks.
to my original point, I’m by no means suggesting that everyone in
Trinidad is corrupt and all people in Britain are racists. But I do
believe that there is a rotten layer in society that cuts across the board
and that we cannot view these incidents in isolation but need to use them
to do some soul searching as individuals and as a country.
this context it is almost absurd to ask who’s guarding the guards? The
relationship between the police and the public is one of trust. There is
an unwritten moral contract between the police and society. When the
police use their position of power to help the other side, they have not
only effectively broken the contract but also left us with no demarcations
on how to treat one another. Anything goes.
is undergoing its own soul searching about the honesty of its police force
over this watershed case which points to institutional racism in its
police force. In doing so the people of Trinidad have been forced to
examine their own attitudes towards other races in a very private way.
They have in effect been forced to take sides.
corruption in Trinidad and Britain is not news. It’s old stuff. But
finally we have some kind of transparency, concrete proof of what we
suspected all along. The Ramdhanie and Stephen Lawrence cases have
provided both Britain and Trinidad the opportunity to examine the
corruption and racism in all of us. Because a corrupt police force does
not exist despite a society; it exists because of it.