On Sunday morning Nelson Mandela was laid to rest. Billions tuned in to watch. Black people. Brown people. Yellow people. White people. He was the most loved human being on our troubled planet. A hero. An icon. A man who took on evil and prevailed.
He was a man who put us all in touch with what
better angels of our nature’. He made us believe that the bad guys don’t always
have to win. Lincoln
Above all else, he persuaded millions to judge their fellow human beings on the basis of their character and personality instead of the colour of their skins.
When they sent Nelson to
Island in 1963, it was perfectly OK to
tell a nigger joke at the bar of any pub in . Try it now. You might just
get locked up. And Nelson was part of that narrative. A huge part. Britain
You would really think that on the very day we bade him farewell that even the most racist of people would take care to keep their bigotry under wraps.
Well, you would think that.
But it wasn’t the case on the streets of
on Sunday evening. It wasn’t the case for my two sons. They were subjected to
the kind of treatment that Nelson Mandela broke a million rocks to dispatch to
the dustbin of history.
My sons were deemed to be guilty of the crime of being the only two coloured guys in the room.
Here are the bones of it. And it was 15 December 2013 by the way. It wasn’t an episode of ‘Life on Mars’.
The lads were out on the town celebrating Tottenham 0 –
Liverpool 5. Did they have a few drinks? Sure. Were they
legless and out of control? Nope.
At 11.30 they entered a local nightclub called Chancers. It was seasonally full. There were about a hundred people inside. 98 were white. 2 were brown: mixed race. My two.
Before getting their drinks in, they headed into the Gents. As you do when you have spent a few hours celebrating Tottenham 0 –
Liverpool 5. Is going to the Gents in a nightclub a
crime? Not the last time I looked.
At this point I will have to edit my oldest son, Dyonne, out of the tale. There is a chance that he might be charged. So I will play safe. He has no proper idea yet of what he may or may not be charged with. What he at least does know is that is nothing to do with drugs, violence, terrorism or treason. So instead I will focus on my youngest son, Courtney.
At about 11.45 Courtney was standing by a sink talking on his mobile phone when first the club bouncers and then the policemen came into the Gents. Mob handed. Spoiling for a fight. Courtney had his hands cuffed tight behind his back and nobody was much in the mood to explain why. Things were confused. One minute he was talking on his phone. The next minute he was in handcuffs. There was talk of suspicion of drugs.
Where was the clue that provoked the club’s bouncers to storm into the Gents and ring the police? Well you would think it must have been a hell of a clue. Compelling. Because if it hadn’t been compelling, the police would surely have asked for the bouncers to accompany them to a quiet office away from prying eyes and eager ears. I am not familiar with the exact architectural layout of Chancers, but I feel pretty confident that they will indeed have some sort of office. In the quiet and calm of the office, the policemen could have taken a detailed statement from the bouncers. And then they could have taken a detailed statement from Courtney. And then they could have weighed up each set of facts and decided how to proceed. Maybe they could even have called the ranking officer at the station and sought a second opinion.
So what would the bouncers have had to say?
Courtney arrived in the club at just after 11.30pm
He went to the Gents.
Where in those two mundane facts was there anything to provoke a call to the police station requesting immediate attendance? Does entering a club and going into the Gents automatically suggest illicit drug use? Is it enough to summon an overstretched police force at their busiest time?
Well I guess not. I figure the majority of the 98 white people who were in that club took time out to visit the toilet at some stage of the evening. And I dare say their visiting the toilet wasn’t deemed to be suspicious enough for the police to be called in.
But Courtney wasn’t one of the 198.
He was one of the two.
He was a 21 year old mixed race man and therefore a different set of rules applied. The bouncers couldn’t settle with idea of a brown man going to the Gents. Because they were obviously of the firm opinion that brown people are bad people. Criminal people. Drug using people. So when a brown man goes to the Gents, you get onto your walkie talkie and call in the cavalry.
And the cavalry came. Within minutes. It was the kind of ultra rapid response that would do justice to any major incident. Maybe Al Queda should think twice if they are planning a spectacular in
Be warned. Our boys in blue are quick off the mark. When a brown man walks into
the Gents in a nightclub they are on the scene in the blink of an eye..
The officers chose not to take the option of a measured assessment of the situation in the privacy of an office.
Instead, without a moment’s hesitation, they cuffed Courtney’s hands behind his back and marched him out of the Gents.
And they marched him straight across the dance floor where 98 sets of eyes watched his each and every step. A brown lad with his hands cuffed behind his back. A brown lad being led by two uniformed policemen. White policemen.
Courtney has joined the Territorial Army recently and he spends his days out on the streets recruiting for Queen and Country. So that made a really great impression. Hands cuffed and a policeman on each arm. A brown man in cuffs. I think the word is stereotype.
Outside and onto the street. Would it be a ride in a van? No. He was to walk all the way. Hands cuffed behind his back. A policeman on each arm. Just another brown lad headed for the cells. That was what the pedestrians on the street saw. That was what the passing cars saw. They saw the stereotype. And this is a very small town where gossip thrives like flies on a cow pat.
They marched him into the station and informed him that he had been arrested on suspicion of drug offences. They took his name. They took him into a cell. And then they made him strip. They checked every square inch of every item of clothing. Then they checked every square inch of him. I’m going into no more detail. None needed really.
And outside in the corridor a couple of the female officers were finding the whole thing really funny. Now why does that sound familiar? Private Lynndie England? Abu Graib Prison? Oh yeah, naked brown men in cuffs can be really, really funny.
The officers claimed the justification of ‘reasonable suspicion’. Apparently if you go into a night club and then use the Gents it is deemed to be ‘reasonable suspicion’. And this ‘reasonable suspicion’ makes it perfectly OK for policemen to cuff your hands behind your back, show you off as a captive in front of hundreds of eyes, and then to humiliate you in a stark police cell.
Sound familiar Nelson? I guess they must have done the same to you on
. Many, many times. White
policemen in bare cells. Break down and humiliate. Demonstrate who is in
charge. Robben Island
For being guilty of the crime of not being white.
And so my son joined a club of many millions. A club with many distinguished members’ names up on the board. Nelson Mandela. Martin Luther King. Malcolm X. Steve Biko. Men found guilty of the crime of not being white by white men in uniforms. Men stripped and humiliated. Bend over… spread….
And the titter of female laughter from the corridor outside.
They didn’t find anything for the simple reason that there was nothing to find. They must have been sick. How can it be that a coloured lad DOESN’T have any drugs on them. Or a knife. Or a gun. Or a suicide vest.
How can a 21 year old brown lad in fact be a serving TA soldier who was doing no more than celebrating Tottenham 0 – Liverpool 5?
So did they apologise when they let him go?
Why should they? They had ‘reasonable suspicion’ on their side. He was brown. He was male. He was 21. He had gone into the Gents.
However they did tell him not to return to the club.
Don’t go into the club. Don’t sit at the back of the bus. Don’t use the water fountain. Don’t take up your place to study at the
University of Old Mississippi
Don’t get uppity.
Your type don’t warrant a reason.
Courtney went back to the club to get his jacket and to find his mates inside. At first the bouncers said it was OK for him to go in. But a few minutes later they changed their minds. They said that the police had called them up and the police said that Courtney wasn’t allowed in the club.
Don’t you get uppity boy.
Don’t push it Kaffir.
Know your place.
Well thanks to the likes of Nelson, my son Courtney doesn’t know his place. He’s going to get uppity and he’ll have his mum and dad at his shoulder every step of the way. And the ghosts of Nelson and Steve and Martin and Malcolm will be at his shoulder every step of the way. Because to let them get away with it on the very day that we said our goodbyes to Nelson would be a betrayal of every sacrifice he made for every single one of us. Courtney is a tough lad. He always has been and a couple of months of intensive army training have made him tougher still. He was able to take the humiliation in his stride. But like he says, what about other young brown lads who might walk into the Gents in a
Dumfries nightclub? What if they
are foreign visitors? Students at the University or workers up at the hospital?
Is it OK to let things lie and make it easy for white men in uniforms to abuse
and humiliate young brown men for the simple crime of not being white?
No it’s not OK.
And it never will be.
But Courtney will now probably have to get used to making sacrifices of his own. How many times will he get stopped on the street? Will a trip to the cells become a regular thing? When he gets his licence, will he get pulled all the time? And will his mates start to wonder if going out on the town is more hassle than it is worth? Will they be deemed to be guilty by association? Will they also get marched up to the station for the same treatment? Christmas is days away and both lads would like to go out with their mates, but they can’t bleach themselves. This is their home town, but it doesn’t feel such a safe place any more. Not when you get treated like this for using a gents toilet. To their credit, the local paper are keen to run the story. To shine a light. But right now Courtney is wary of his photo appearing in the press. He fears that bit would be too much like pulling the tiger’s tail. Instead he will be lodging an official complaint and telling his story to our local MSP and Council Leader. Democracy is supposed to stop this kind of thing. We’ll see. As a Hillsborough survivor I find it hard to find much faith in Democracy’s ability to come down hard on appalling police behaviour
But this is not going to be filed away in a cabinet in a basement storeroom.
This is coming out into the light.
In your name Nelson.
In your name.