Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Remembering Damilola

The resurgence of the Damilola Taylor murder case today has given me the opportunity to reflect upon the purpose of this blog and ask myself ‘Am I still me?’

I am able to compare my thoughts and reactions to this second trial with the feelings I had during the first one in 2002. This is a case that I have held exceedingly close to my heart. My greatest love was a relative of his. When I saw Damilola’s beautiful smile beaming from the Standard tonight my heart skipped a beat, there is such a family resemblance. It not only took me back to 2000, when he was murdered, but to a time before that when my own wounds were still raw.

Damilola’s murder came 7 years after the heart wrenching death of Stephen Lawrence. Stephen’s murderers still walk free. However, thanks to the unswaying determination of his parents this monumental injustice has, at least, been the catalyst to fundamental changes within the police force and the country as a whole. Lord Macpherson introduced the phrase ‘institutional racism’ to the English language and it could not be ignored. It is still here, the terminology and the racism. Those in power have been forced to sit up and listen. Changes have taken place, the Metropolitan Police have had to overhaul the very core of their thinking. They are not there yet, but the Lawrences, in their inimitable manner of focused calm have ensured that it cannot fall off the agenda.

When Damilola was murdered the country sighed together ‘not again’. Another black teenager violently butchered in a south London suburb. The similarities were unnerving. I remember thinking that at least they would get it right this time. The world’s media were upon them watching their every move. Hovering, waiting for an excuse to dive in for the kill. When the trial collapsed I was incredulous. It was based on the evidence of a seemingly ‘unstable’ 14 year old girl whose story was endlessly inconsistent. This, coupled with tales of vast sums of money being bandied about by the Daily Mail, led to the embarrassingly pathetic disintegration of the Crown Prosecution’s case. It was a disgrace. I was filled with fury and disbelief. I ranted and I raved, I felt sick with despair at the state of our criminal justice system. As a white person I felt responsible. How could this happen again? Why could our country and courts not protect him?

I felt nothing compared to his devastated family, I felt ashamed at my anger when I witnessed their dignified resilience.

This time around it is different. I read about the ‘mistakes’,

“At the Old Bailey on Tuesday, prosecutors said the new evidence -- possibly missed through "simple human error" -- pointed with certainty at the three defendants”

But I don’t feel anger. I feel relief for the family and admiration for the Police officers who have doggedly been rifling through the evidence for 6 years. They have not let it go, they have not forgotten. The pressure on them at the time must have been crumbling. I can, now, understand how they could have cobbled together a case in desperation in order to placate their numerous critics. I count myself amongst them. I cannot imagine how his poor parents are going to sit through another trial, listening a second time to the horrific accounts of the murder of their remarkable son. I hope to the very depths of my heart that this time it is not in vain.

The boys being charged were 12, 13 and 14 at the time. Damilola was only 10. This leads me back to a previous post, the understanding of hate. It takes me along the same train of thought of trying to understand why. Why did the bombers do it? Why did these kids do it? Maybe I will never understand but I’m going to give it my all before I give up.

I don’t know their ethnic origin. The eldest of the three is the only one who can be legally named, Hassan Jihad. What does this tell us? Is it relevant? Or was it just a random act of violence. They were kids, did they know what they were doing? I think they did.

It is more evidence of what I fail to understand in this world, but this does not mean I will ignore it.

Damilola’s parents and family deserve to see justice done, their pain and their patience has been incomprehensible. My love goes out to them and I am praying for their son, and our society.