Welling, 1993

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(395)

The vicious attack that left Stephen Lawrence bleeding to death at a south east London bus stop in 1993 was a racist murder that left a family heartbroken and many people angry.

There had already been other racist murders — Orville Blair, Rolan Adams and Rohit Duggal. Since the fascist British National Party (BNP) had opened its headquarters in Welling, south east London, racially motivated attacks had increased by a staggering 200 percent, leading the area to be named “Britain’s racist murder capital”.

Legal attempts to close down the Nazi HQ masquerading as a bookshop did not succeed. Time after time the Tory government and the Metropolitan Police failed to act, failed to protect local people of colour from unprovoked racist attacks and ultimately failed Stephen Lawrence.

The year 1993 also saw the BNP gain their first elected councillor, Derek Beackon, in Tower Hamlets, east London. They organised paper sales in Brick Lane amid an established Asian community.

The same year 17 year old Quddus Ali was beaten and kicked into a coma by a group of racists in Stepney Green. He was left permanently brain-damaged. No one was ever prosecuted for the attack.

It was left to local people, anti-racist organisations and the Anti Nazi League to defend communities from Nazi intimidation, threats and violent attacks.

The national demonstration at Welling gave us the chance to stand alongside the Lawrence family, to stand together against the Nazi BNP. The aim was clear: we wanted to shut down the HQ of the brutal murderers.

On 16 October 1993 tens of thousands of anti-racists from up and down the country arrived on coaches, on buses and on trains. We were angry, we were disgusted and we were determined.

We marched, chanting, “We are black, we are white, together we are dynamite!” and, “BNP — burn it down!” The anger was palpable. As long as the BNP HQ remained the racist attacks and murders would continue; the connection between the two was obvious.

The sense of pride I felt at being part of a huge anti-racist demonstration slowly became overshadowed by the realisation that everywhere was swarming with riot police.

Every side street was blocked by police vans and riot police. Above Plumstead cemetery the horizon was lined with riot police on horses as far as the eye could see. They were armed and they were ready for something.

We approached the junction that would lead us towards the BNP headquarters. We were confronted by riot police, armed and ready, with their identifying numbers removed from their uniforms.

Then it happened — we were hemmed in. We couldn’t go forward; the lines of riot police made sure of that, and with 60,000 people behind us, there was no way back.

Then they attacked. It had been a peaceful demonstration but we were angry and we were determined to ensure the closure of the Nazi HQ. We wanted to stop the killings.

The police were equally determined — determined to protect the BNP. They went about their task with vigour.

Heads were smashed with truncheons; horses were made to charge indiscriminately. It was a premeditated attack.

The police force that failed Orville Blair, Rohit Duggal, Rolan Adams and Stephen Lawrence were now viciously attacking us for standing up
for them.

The aftermath of the demonstration carried a shocking revelation — the state was more interested in pursuing anti-racist demonstrators than in pursuing the cold-blooded racist killers of Stephen Lawrence.

Duwayne Brooks, who had been with Stephen on his last night, was arrested and charged for protesting against the murder of his friend, while the murderers remained free, unpursued by the authorities.

We did eventually succeed in getting the vile Welling HQ closed down and the racist attacks associated with its existence dropped off.

In the wake of the Stephen Lawrence case the role of the Metropolitan Police has been open to examination.

The institutionalised racism has been exposed, illegal practices and deliberate attempts to pervert the course of justice unearthed. Consequently the force reeks with the stench of racism.

What we are left with is a generation which understands the nature of the police and is willing to stand up and defend its communities. But while the secrets may be out, the nature of the police remains the same.

Nelson Mandela once said in relation to the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the subsequent police inaction, “Black lives are cheap in the UK.”

This remains true with respect to policing — the killing of Mark Duggan in August 2011 is evidence of this.

But the response of local communities in the wake of his killing illustrates how deeply runs the anger at racism, police violence and injustice.