Darcus Howe - listens to Stephen Lawrence's father

With a simple remark, Neville Lawrence throws light on the issue of racism

I winced when I saw Doreen Lawrence on the campaign trail with Ken Livingstone prior to the London mayoral elections. Before then, I had never heard her utter a single word that betrayed the slightest interest in electoral politics.

Her pain and suffering at the loss of her son Stephen, who was murdered by white racists in 1993, have been compounded by the failure of the Metropolitan Police to bring the perpetrators to justice. That a politician should dare use her to beg for black votes is a deed most foul. I attach no blame to Mrs Lawrence. I heap opprobrium on the head of Ken Livingstone and those opportunists who advised him.

I note that her husband, Neville, has returned to Britain from Jamaica. I am not sure whether this is a permanent move. He had relocated to Jamaica, far away from the scene of his tragedy. The compensation that he had been paid by the Metropolitan Police, a pittance, had been swallowed up by the cost of relocation. He told me, in an interview, that his first task back here would be to rebuild an old Volkswagen Beetle that had been rusting in a friend's garage for years. I suppose it is a metaphor for rebuilding his shattered life. I wish him well.

I viewed the experiences of both Doreen and Neville through the eyes of a father whose son is the same age as Stephen would have been, had he lived. Neville Lawrence and I are both in our early sixties. We arrived in this country almost simultaneously from the Caribbean, he from Jamaica and I from Trinidad. We brought up our children in working-class communities in what were often difficult times. I recall one moment when my eldest son had to foot it across Chelsea Bridge with a gang of white racists in hot pursuit.

I have met Neville Lawrence in person at public events. He is not given to much talk, but my ear had always been cocked for anything he had to say. I was certain that because his experience was so intense, at some point he would say something that would be hugely illuminating on the issue of racism.

And, finally, it dropped like a thunderbolt. He said the following: "I cannot understand how a person standing on a street corner watching people walk by could make judgements based on the colour of their skins."

Note the simplicity. Neville lives in the world of reason; racists, alas, do not.

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