DOREEN Lawrence, mother of racist murder victims Stephen Lawrence, last Monday carried the Olympic torch through Deptford. She said she was doing it for all victims of racism. Doreen and her family and supporters have notched up some historic successes against the institutional racism and general intransigence of the British legal system — the police force and the courts — including the conviction last year of two of the murderers of her son. But back in 1998, just after the McPherson Inquiry into the way the police handled her son’s murder investigation, which revealed to the public the appalling levels of racism within the police, she said: “I hope the lessons of this inquiry are taken seriously and we do not have to keep fighting the same battle over and over again down the years to come.”
That inquiry made an impact and there have been some changes but it was a victory built on shifting sand and indeed we do have to keep on fighting the same battles over and over again.
The root of the problem is that the police force and the British legal system are a part of the British state. And the state is the class apparatus created by and for the ruling class to keep the working class in its place — at the bottom. And it is designed always to revert eventually to its default setting, which has little or nothing to do with natural justice as most people see it, but to maintain the authority of the rich and powerful over the working classes.
And in times of severe economic crisis, when the power greed and corruption of the ruling classes — the bosses, the bankers and the landlords — is plain for all to see; when they are getting richer and richer while the living standards of millions of workers is being drastically cut, then the state machinery reverts quickly and automatically to its default setting.
And certain parts of the working class always get treated more harshly. That is because black workers, the Irish, travellers and other ethnic minorities are usually found among the lowest paid workers because of prejudice and discrimination on the part of bosses and secondly it is because treating workers of different ethnicities differently fosters racism and keeps the workers divided, fighting each other when they should be uniting to fight the common enemy, the bourgeois state.
Sometimes we are tempted to forget this. Most of the rank and file police and the white collar workers in the justice system are unaware that they are part of a repressive state machinery. Most of them are quite nice people who will go out of their way to help if they can. Some are idealists who honestly believe they are doing good for society — though most of those are quickly disillusioned by the way the system operates. But they see that as an error in the system, not understanding that it is the default setting.
So when a child goes missing, or someone burgles out house or we are assaulted by fascists on the street we go to the police — usually to be disappointed by their response. But we still go to them when in trouble; there is no alternative.
But verdicts like the acquittal of by PC Simon Harwood of the killing of Ian Tomlinson and the acquittal of eight men who, during last summer’s riots in Birmingham, drove their cars straight at a group of young Asian men who were defending shops against looting and killed three of them can only be explained by the default setting.
The judge in the Birmingham case, Mr Justice Flaux, acknowledged that the verdict was bound to upset and incense the families of the three victims. He said: “I know this has been really terrible for you, don’t think I don’t know that. I know Mr Jahan has done wonderful things for the city in ensuring we didn’t have a complete conflagration last August.
“Can I please ask you to remain calm and so far as it is humanly possible to put everything that happened last August behind you and look to the future. Throughout the trial you have all behaved in a most dignified way and I am very grateful for that.”
In other words, the working classes must just put up with it, keep quiet and meek and not get angry. That is the default setting of the British justice system.