Phil Scraton reflects on Race Hate and its consequences

In the light of a forthcoming play, which imagines what life might have been like for Anthony Walker, the 18 year old student, who 15 years ago was brutally murdered, Phil Scraton returns to a radio script he wrote 14 years ago. Its argument resonates vividly and painfully down the years.

Anthony: A Drama by Jimmy McGovern BBC 1 8.30pm 27 July 2020

Anthony Walker


RACE HATE

For several years I wrote and presented a scripted radio broadcast for Féile Radio in Belfast. Seven each a year, 90 minutes long, the script interspersed with music. What follows is the final section from the programme: The Roots of Race Hate broadcast in 2006. The programme opened with my experiences of working with the Irish Traveller Community on Everton Brow, Liverpool in the 1970s. In this extract I mentioned the murder of Anthony Walker:

‘At the beginning of this programme I recounted my experience of visiting Walsall in the aftermath of an unlawful eviction in which three young Irish Traveller children died. They were trapped inside a burning trailer dragged from its jacks by bailiffs.


At the time I struggled with unanswered questions:
• under whose authority could a local authority, using private bailiffs supported by the police, recklessly evict Traveller families in the dead of night, killing their children in the process?
• what kind of supposedly democratic, pluralist state – national and local – would sanction such acts of brutality?
• what kind of investigative system would deny that a grave crime had taken place?
• why was there no expression of public outrage, no media concern, no political condemnation?
• what kind of inquisitorial system would return verdicts of accidental death?
• why was academic research uninterested in researching and recording the experiences of Gypsies and Travellers?


Alongside these six key questions was what I called the Henry Reynolds’ question. Gypsies and Travellers had endured violent repression for generations. Why weren’t we told? As an active anti-racist, why didn’t I know?


In a typically lucid, moving and considered commentary on Rwanda the Irish journalist, Fergal Keane looks down from a bridge and sees two bodies, man and baby, caught in the rocks to the side of the river. He writes:
‘I saw that the child had been killed with a machete, a gash across its skull. It did not seem like a real child. It looked like a doll. Or perhaps it would be more truthful to say I did not want to accept that it was a child. I looked again and of course knew that further back along the river, perhaps fifty to one hundred miles further back, an adult had taken a knife and ended the life of this child and then hurled it into the water … I kept my eyes closed and gripping the rails of the bridge made my way back to the car in the manner of a blind man. I did not want to look back at the river, to see it ever again. And on the journey north to Kigali where the war still raged, I kept asking myself the same question: ‘what kind of a man would kill a baby. What kind of a man?’


Keane goes on to talk of genocide, of how in Africa ‘we almost invariably explain such a slaughter as a matter of tribalism’. Naively, he continues:
‘A crazy African thing. A horror somehow mitigated by the knowledge that Africans have always been prone to this kind of behaviour. Genocide prompted by implacable and ancient tribal antagonisms.’ Like many of his fellow journalists and photographers Keane had arrived in the midst of recurring massacre and migration. There was no shared consciousness of the ravages of colonial rule and the exploitation of cultural differences.He says, ‘I drove in from Uganda believing that the short stocky ones had simply decided to turn on the tall thin ones because that was the way it always had been.’


Scratch below the surface of this genocide and you find not a simple issue of tribal hatreds but a complex web of politics, economics, history, psychology and a struggle for identity. Two years later, following his personal quest to understand the consequences of the brutal colonisation of Africa by competing European States and the protracted and bloody struggle for independence, Keane returned to his initial question, ‘What kind of man?’ he responds:
‘I think the answer is very different. What kind of man? Anyone, anyone at all. Not a psychopath, Not a natural born killer. A man born without prejudice or hatred … but a man who has learned hatred. A man like you and me.’

My research into deaths in custody in England reveals the depth of racism within the state and its institutions. Throughout the 1990s, custody deaths leading to unlawful killing or neglect verdicts at inquests represented the sharp end of the continuum of state violence directed towards Black people.
While brutality knows no hierarchy, the killing of Joy Gardner in July 1993, by officers of the Metropolitan Police extradition unit, exemplifies the impunity with which physical force can be directed towards those who resist arrest. She was bound with tape, her mouth gagged, dying of suffocation. Following her death it became apparent that black people featured disproportionately in the numbers of controversial deaths in custody. Oluwashiji Lapite, Brian Douglas, Leon Patterson, Wayne Douglas, Ibrahim Sey, Christopher Alder, Roger Sylvester, Sarah Thomas, Alton Manning and Kenneth Severin became familiar names mourned within Britain’s Black communities. Each died in custody, their families alleging neglect or brutality

As inquest verdicts of unlawful killing began to stack up, actively pursued by INQUEST, the United Nations Committee Against Torture produced a report on its extensive UK investigation into custody deaths. It concluded that a significant cause for concern was ‘the number of deaths in police custody and the apparent failure by the state party (UK) to provide an effective investigative mechanism to deal with allegations of police and prison authorities’ abuse’. Soon after this report was published the Police Complaints Authority stated that the police ‘have to ask themselves whether they are treating black and ethnic minority people as well as they would white people’. Coming in the wake of reassurances from all criminal justice agencies and the Home Office that the Macpherson Report’s recommendations had been implemented effectively, this was a significant indictment of police policy and practice.

In March 2000 the killing of Zahid Mubarek by his racist cell-mate in Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution was a clear illustration of how, within an institution, racism can be ignored or even encouraged. Stops and searches, house raids and wrongful arrests, internment without trial and so on, together add to the experience of vulnerability in communities where institutionalised racism has a long and established history. Racism on the street draws support, even legitimacy, from institutionalised racism.

Anthony Walker died in Huyton, Liverpool just over a year ago. With his cousin, he walked his girlfriend to a bus stop. For no other reason than the colour of his skin he was on the receiving end of a torrent of racial abuse from a young man outside a pub. Frightened, the three walked quickly through the local park to another bus stop. But the racist and his mates jumped in a car and ambushed the three as they left the park. Anthony was left with an axe in his head. He died several hours later. In a climate of hate, to be different is enough to be a target.

To be Black or Asian, is to be other, to be an outsider. With racist attacks throughout England and Wales up six fold, in the current climate the deep seated racism that is Empire’s legacy has once again risen to the surface. And racist attacks are a regular feature of daily life throughout the island of Ireland. Abuse and assaults on the street, people firebombed from their homes, mosques and shrines desecrated. It is a climate of hate that emphasises already existing inequalities in a society that promotes the pretence of multiculturalism.

Working class Black and Asian communities understand all too well the meaning of economic marginalisation and social exclusion. They also understand the historical context of imperialism that treated their ancestors and their homelands as places to conquer, to enslave and to own.
And so it is with Travellers. Like Stephen Lawrence and Anthony Walker, Johnny Delaney was killed by racists in Ellesmere Port in 2003. Johnny was 15 and lived with his family on the Travellers’ site in Liverpool. He was attacked by a group of youths on a playing field. Knocked to the ground he was repeatedly kicked and one of his attackers stamped on his head with both feet. He said Johnny deserved the kicking ‘because he was only a fucking gypsy’. To his family and to witnesses the attack was undoubtedly racist. The Cheshire police investigated it as racially motivated. Two 16 year old boys were prosecuted for the killing. The judge, however, ruled that there was no racial motive for the attack. The boys were found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to four and a half years.

Johnny’s father and mother, Patrick and Winifred, campaigned tirelessly to have the killing recognised as racist. The real concern remains that because Johnny was neither Black nor Asian his death could not be classed as racially motivated. Yet it is difficult to appreciate how the killing could be considered anything but the ultimate act of race hatred. The trial judge’s ruling exemplified how easy it is to take racism out of context, to remove it from the equation, thus denying its ever-present and all-pervasive reality.
Hate knows no hierarchy. Yet Gypsies, and Irish Travellers in particular, remain the most vilified of all ‘ethnic’ groups. They exist at the sharp end of the continuum of institutional and interpersonal racism. In the media they endure levels of racist abuse and stereotyping that would lead to immediate censure if directed against any other ethnic group.


Earlier this year Patrick Delaney died, campaigning to his last breath for justice and rights for Gypsies and Travellers. In the tributes to his work one stood out:
Patrick took every opportunity to challenge the inequalities that Gypsies and Travellers experience in the criminal justice system. He was destroyed by the lack of justice to such an extent that it killed him.

In understanding racist or sectarian violence and murder, the long history of colonial rule and the power it dispersed to its beneficiaries, at home as well as abroad, is central. Its legacy is racism, its currency is hatred and its consequences implicate us all.’

Corbyn and Anti-Semitism – Prof Gus John answers Archbishop Welby

Back in 2015 Gus John took a breath at the age of 70, reflecting on fifty years of struggle. On the In Defence of Youth Work web site we observed, ‘Prof. Gus John arrived in the UK in August 1964, aged 19, to study for the priesthood. But almost from the moment he arrived he became involved in what was to become his life’s calling – education, youth work and the struggle for social justice and human rights for embattled communities as an activist and an academic.’

Thankfully Gus is still struggling and following his motto, ‘Do Right! Fear No One!’, he has resigned from his position on the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns in protest at Archbishop Welby’s endorsement of the Chief Rabbi’s condemnation of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. I hope you will find time to engage with his coruscating rebuke to what might be called ‘the establishment at prayer’ and its damaging intervention into the most significant election for decades – see my ‘From Social Selfishness to Social Solidarity’.

Corbyn and Anti-Semitism 
Prof Gus John answers Archbishop Welby 

Of Stained-Glass Houses and Stones

On 26 November 2019, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, backed the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis in his condemnation of Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, stating that Mirvis’ criticism of Corbyn and the Labour Party should ‘alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews’.  In response, Professor Gus John, independent consultant and a lay member of the Archbishops’ Council’s Committee on Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns (CMEAC)*wrote:

                                                                                                                                         

So, the jury has returned its verdict. 

Jeremy Corbyn has failed the fitness to practice test.  His fitness to lead the nation has been tested in his handling of complaints of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party and he has failed that test.  What is more, under his watch the Labour Party is suffering the ‘shame’ of being investigated by the government’s anti-discrimination watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.  

This is all most intriguing.  Let’s take a moment to dissect it.  Corbyn is considered unfit to lead a government because with him at the helm his party has failed to deal swiftly and decisively with the anti-Semitic conduct of a minute proportion of its members.  This has cause hurt among the Jewish population and alienated Jewish supporters of Labour. So, Corbyn is presumed to be guilty of ‘joint enterprise’, because although he himself is a committed anti-racist and against anti-Jewish racism, by implication he has colluded with those who are not by failing to act decisively against them.  As such, his is taken to be a failure of leadership in that he did not ensure that appropriate mechanisms existed within the Labour Party to deal with complaints of anti-Semitism in a timely fashion. But, the absence of such mechanisms and processes is an organisational and institutional issue. The matters being complained against and being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission are ones which are to do mainly with the conduct of individuals, whether they are rank and file members of the Labour Party or people holding official positions in the party.

Why this distinction? It seems to me that what is missing in this whole hysterical discourse which sounds increasingly like populism on speed, is that discrimination against any group or population in society who are rendered outsiders and not quite considered integral to the body politic typically manifests in at least four observable ways:  structural, cultural, institutional and personal. In this case, the actions of individuals in the Labour Party and what those actions indicate about their attitudes to the Jewish community are considered to be indicative of an embedded culture of anti-Semitism within Labour, a culture presumably endorsed and sustained by Jeremy Corbyn, if only by his failure to deal with the people responsible for perpetuating it in a timely fashion.

So, the Chief Rabbi proclaims with all the authority that goes with his position that Jeremy Corbyn is not fit to lead a government of a country in which Jews that have been so let down by him have to continue not only to live but to be full citizens. The actions of people within the Labour Party whom he has failed to deal with have caused the entire Jewish community to have cause to look over their shoulders as they go about their daily business and the responsibility for that must be laid at Corbyn’s feet.  The sense I make of that is that combating racism and anti-Semitism will not be safe in Corbyn’s hands, so on 12 December, people should think carefully about what they do in the ballot box and let their conscience lead them, because if he has failed to do his duty by the Jewish community and to get that right, he surely cannot be trusted to get anything else right. The media on the other hand reacts to the Chief Rabbi as if he were the Pope, speaking for all British Jews as the Pope would for all Roman Catholics.  Secular Jews and those who do not hold with the views of Jews for Labour are considered not to matter.

It seems to me that the Chief Rabbi and those powerful figures like the Archbishop of Canterbury who have weighed in behind him are being more than a little sectarian and establishing a hierarchy of oppression if they seriously expect the entire nation to judge Corbyn and his capacity to run the country for the good of all its citizens on the basis of their assessment of his performance in dealing with anti-Semitism.

This is all happening at a time when, despite the government and the media focusing on Brexit as the only show in town, people’s lives are being lost and their fundamental rights being trampled upon as a direct consequence of the government’s hostile environment.  At a time when citizens of the African and Asian diaspora have to be constantly ‘looking over their shoulder’ for fear of being ambushed by border force apparatchiks, or by right wing vigilantes who appoint themselves as defenders of our country and its borders. At a time when employers, landlords, schools/colleges/universities, doctors surgeries, A & E departments and other health providers are being appointed without their say so as immigration officers and extensions of the UK’s border force under the Immigration Act 2016; when people who as young black men were harassed and criminalised by the police 40 years ago under the ‘Sus’ law are being told now that they are undocumented and they must leave the UK because they have a criminal record and have therefore forfeited their right to remain; when undocumented workers who having been denied benefits are having whatever earnings they derive from casual work confiscated as ‘proceeds of crime’; children being excluded from school for not having the proper uniform because they are being fed from food banks and their parents/carers cannot afford to buy the clothes and shoes that would make them compliant with the school’s uniform policy.  One could go on.  

I am not aware of the Chief Rabbi or/and the Archbishop of Canterbury alerting the nation to the quality of leadership that perpetrates and sustains such human rights violations.  I have been an external examiner for colleges and universities for the last forty years. I have lived in the UK since 1964. I am to attend an examining board next week where a student will be defending her PhD thesis and I have been given strict instructions to make sure and bring my passport to prove I have the right to work, or else I won’t be able to present my external examiner’s report.  

This is the state at structural level doing to sections of the population what the Chief Rabbi is accusing the leader of the Labour Party of being nonchalant about with respect to his party’s treatment of Jews.  If the number of deaths in custody that the African community has suffered for half a century without a single police officer being found guilty of murder or manslaughter had occurred within the Jewish community, by now the entire nation would have been brought to a standstill.   Given our interlocking histories on the axis of race, ethnicity and class in post-colonial Britain, no one group in the society has a monopoly on oppression, or on hurt.

And what gives the Archbishop of Canterbury the right to endorse the Chief Rabbi’s scaremongering about Corbyn and adopt such a lofty moral position in defence of the Jewish population?  I have often had cause to wonder how it is that Justin Welby was made Archbishop of Canterbury, rather than John Sentamu.  Sentamu consecrated Welby as Bishop of Durham in York Minster in October 2011. By November 2012, just one year after becoming a Bishop, it was announced that Justin Welby was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, though it was widely expected – in some circles at least – that Sentamu would get that post.  Sentamu was a highly respected black senior cleric and had been a Bishop since 1996 and Archbishop of York since 2005, six years before he consecrated Welby a Bishop. It may well be that the appointments committee prayed and fasted and sought divine revelation before making their choice, so let me not gainsay the workings of the Holy Spirit!  Be that as it may, if Anglicans in the UK from the African and Asian diaspora were to judge Justin Welby as the leader of the established church by the same criteria he appears to be employing in his assessment of Jeremy Corbyn, he too would fail the fitness to lead test. There are numerous reasons why Anglican clergy, laity and employees within the Anglican Church who are so-called black and ethnic minority don’t call out the Archbishop of Canterbury on racism in the church and its leadership, in the same way that he sees fit to join the orchestrated condemnation of Jeremy Corbyn.  Maybe, just maybe, he has now given them permission to do so. Those who occupy houses clad with stained glass should perhaps be a trifle more careful when they join others in throwing stones.

Professor Gus John – 26 November 2019

In addition a copy of Prof Gus John’s resignation letter

If you are unfamiliar with Gus John’s history, you might find the following links revealing.