So Doreen Lawrence has become Baroness Lawrence of the House of Lords, which brings up so many associations for me that I thought I would just catalogue a few, in case any resonate with you.
In case you are not familiar with her life and work,
“Earlier this year, she gave evidence to a Commons committee after former undercover officer Peter Francis alleged that the police made attempts to find information to smear the family while they were pushing for the case to be investigated properly.” [quote from guardian article]
This put me in mind of work i have recently been introduced to by some amazingly dynamic doctoral students at Osgoode. The Voices-Voix project, (here) includes the Dissent Democracy & the Law ollaborative Research Network for Legal Scholars, Activists and Social Scientists convened by Charis Kamphuis, PhD Candidate at Osgoode and a Senior Research Fellow, Critical Research Laboratory in Law & Society. Click through to their website for a great collection of resources around their mission:
Democracy is more than elections. Healthy democracies need the oxygen of active participation by citizens and civil society. The public service needs to be able to do its job. Scientists must be able to collaborate and publish their results.Faith groups, development organizations, the labour movement and so many others are important vehicles though which citizens, workers and activists organize themselves to make a difference.
Civil society depends on an enabling environment – an environment where governments create the legal and political space that allows civil society to flourish.
Unfortunately, in recent years, there has been a concerted attempt to restrict these spaces.
Those who disagree with the federal government have been defunded, intimidated, spied on, censored, fired and marginalized. Their work has been reframed as activism, human rights and “advocacy.” And let us be clear – these are no longer viewed as good things, at least when undertaken by progressive organizations. International development organizations, environmental groups, equality rights and women’s rights associations, pay equity organizations and immigrant and refugee resettlement groups – have lost their funding or found their charitable status under threat. Environmental activists have been labelled as “terrorists,” money launderers and agents for foreign interests. (see here)
The police spies issue now on the front pages in the UK (see here, for instance) is a good example of the kind of concerns that Voices-Voix wants to bring to all of our attention.
Voices of Mothers
Mothers like Doreen Lawrence, who fight on behalf of their murdered children, can be heard in my city as well. In Toronto, UMOVE (United Mothers against Violence Everywhere) have taken on the cultural roots of the violence that killed their children, and they also take on the police response by critiquing and working with the police. Find them on Facebook here, and read more here and read/watch video of three members here. These women (and others like Families of Sisters in Spirit) go beyond understandings of victims rights which track law and order approaches that I cannot support.
The Brits were recently having a little issue over police lying, to which Doreen Lawrence had some response.
The mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence said sections of Britain’s communities were fully aware that the “police do tell lies” long before the so-called “plebgate” scandal. More.
Naturally that leads me straight to Canada’s R.D.S. case, here. Here’s a page from the CBA, which gave an award to Learn more about the judge of the first instance in that case Corinne Sparks, here (the CBA gave her an award about 5 years ago). Her preference for the testimony of an African Canadian youth defendant over that of a police officer in a Nova Scotia youth court led to allegations of bias which dragged all the way up to the Supreme Court. Incidentally, this case is one with an interesting gender split.
Black British Women’s Activism
The word “Black” sometimes has a different meaning in the UK, by the way. In any case, there are loads of leaders here to watch, from individuals like Doreen Lawrence and Jayaben Desai. Southall Black Sisters has long been doing anti-racist feminist work. You may have seen their recent work on immigration
Here is UK poet Benjamin Zephaniah “what Stephen Lawrence has taught us”. (i usually think of Sinead O’Connor’s Black Boys on Mopeds, but in fact that song is about the case of Nicholas Bramble. good song, though, and not unrelated case).
We know who the killers are,
We have watched them strut before us
As proud as sick Mussolinis’,
We have watched them strut before us
Compassionless and arrogant,
They paraded before us,
Like angels of death
Protected by the law.
It is now an open secret
Black people do not have
Chips on their shoulders,
They just have injustice on their backs
And justice on their minds,
And now we know that the road to liberty
Is as long as the road from slavery.
The death of Stephen Lawrence
Has taught us to love each other
And never to take the tedious task
Of waiting for a bus for granted.
Watching his parents watching the cover-up
Begs the question
What are the trading standards here?
Why are we paying for a police force
That will not work for us?
The death of Stephen Lawrence
Has taught us
That we cannot let the illusion of freedom
Endow us with a false sense of security as we walk the streets,
The whole world can now watch
The academics and the super cops
Struggling to define institutionalised racism
As we continue to die in custody
As we continue emptying our pockets on the pavements,
And we continue to ask ourselves
Why is it so official
That black people are so often killed
We are not talking about war or revenge
We are not talking about hypothetics or possibilities,
We are talking about where we are now
We are talking about how we live now
In dis state
Under dis flag, (God Save the Queen),
And God save all those black children who want to grow up
And God save all the brothers and sisters
Who like raving,
Because the death of Stephen Lawrence
Has taught us that racism is easy when
You have friends in high places.
And friends in high places
Have no use whatsoever
When they are not your friends.
Dear Mr Condon,
Pop out of Teletubby land,
And visit reality,
Come to an honest place
And get some advice from your neighbours,
Be enlightened by our community,
Neglect your well-paid ignorance
We know who the killers are.
you can watch the poet recite this poem here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Awns1EIUweA
I have avoided the discussion of cooptation or tokenism or denial of the popular movement that might be a part of our discussion of Baronness Lawrence’s peerage – it’s out there (google it – I don’t feel like linking at the moment), but I as more interested in other things, like the ways that racialized women experience injustice and pursue justice. And how about the picture below for the project of finding neat costumes for girls, like this photographer did? I do actually keep a set of photos for when I get around to it, see below.