Condolences to John and Linda, Joseph’s parents and Jonathan and David, his brothers and all of the Burke-Monerville extended family. If I were to name you all, we’d be here till 6.00 o’clock… tomorrow morning.
I have witnessed close at hand your pain, your hurt and your grief these last weeks, and have had cause to applaud your faith, your resilience and generosity, even in your grief, and your togetherness as a family. Let me express my special admiration for Jonathan, who in the last 11 weeks has borne the loss of his twin brother and best friend with immense courage and dignity, sustained by what I sense is an inner peace and deep faith, and above all, the knowledge that his beloved brother, though no longer with him in the mortal body, is as inseparable from him in spirit as they both were in life; sustained by the knowledge that the Creator and the Ascended Ancestors have welcomed him in glory to his eternal home.
We have gathered here to celebrate Joseph’s life and all that he was, and all that he gave because of who he was and how he lived.
But, even as we celebrate, we mourn.
We celebrate the fact that he was all he could be; but we mourn the fact that he was cut down in his prime and prevented from being all he aspired to be: an even more loving twin brother; a son of whom his parents could be justly proud; proud because of who he was as a person, his self-belief and how he lived his values; proud because of his achievements and his example to others. All he aspired to be: a loving sibling; a loving, funny and caring uncle and guardian; a role model to his siblings and his peers; a committed and active citizen; a successful and innovative forensic scientist.
As they mourn, one of the many things Jonathan, his parents and the entire family struggle with, - even as they give thanks for the fact that they did not lose three sons -, is the cruel irony that Joseph who so abhorred violence and loved peacefulness, who was always the one to make peace, was made the innocent victim of such gratuitous violence.
I deplore utterly the statement that is made too often in relation to incidents such as that which claimed his life and in which so many others like Joseph have lost their lives..., the statement that: 'it was a tragic case of him being in the wrong place at the wrong time’. There never is a ‘wrong time’ for any person going about their lawful business to be in any place. If you step out in front of a bus through carelessness, you are in the wrong place and your penalty points for walking without due care and attention might just be death. But to suggest that victims of murder or maiming such as Joseph and his brothers were ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ is to place heartless gunmen and murderers on our streets and in our communities ‘in the right place at the right time’. This, surely, is arrant nonsense.
Gratuitous violence! Senseless murders! Wasted lives! Young people in emotional lockdown, killing and maiming without regard to the consequences of their actions for their victims or for themselves! Parents burying children; children burying one another more than they bury parents or grandparents! Parents and grandparents living longer in keeping with national trends! Their children and grandchildren dying younger and becoming murderers at a young age, bucking national trends.
In a survey I conducted in Bristol among 80 secondary school students some 5 years ago, I found that the things that preoccupied them most, in order of level of anxiety, as they went about their daily routine were:
- Being killed/murdered
- Going pen (going to prison)
- Getting stabbed
- My loved ones dying around me
- Anything happening to my family
- Losing loved ones
- Our youths
Those young people were sharing the fact that their greatest daily anxiety was the possibility that they could die, or their loved ones could die or be stabbed by ‘our youths’, people just like them. Their concern was not about how many ‘A’ and ‘A*’ GCSEs they would get, or where their school would be in the league tables. No, their concern was about how to stay alive. That made many of them admit openly to carrying knives for their ‘own protection’ and to being prepared to kill somebody before they kill them.
A new language has developed around the phenomenon of fear and territorial antagonisms among young people. My ‘Endz’ defines my territory. Trespassing into ‘other man’s endz’ could render you vulnerable and might easily lose you your life. Consequently, many of the students in Bristol narrated the circuitous routes they take to school in order not to be caught in other people’s ‘endz’ and be thought to be seeking to control territory. Similarly, young people talk casually about ‘getting wigged’, meaning ‘shot in the head’, or ‘getting duppied’ (by knife or gun), i.e., being killed and sent to the world of ‘duppies’, the spirit world, with less emotion than when they talk about stumping their toe. They attend funerals of young people like themselves as if they are going to a party.
How have we come to this?
How have we created a generation that sees violence against one another as some sort of a life-style choice and that regards maiming, suffering and death with such cold indifference?
Why is there a belief in government circles no less than in the media that this is a phenomenon that involves poorly educated young people, school resisters, excluded and semi-literate young people, feral thugs, sick people with no sense of responsibility who believe that the world owes them something? A belief that appears to justify the view that “this is ‘black on black crime’, thankfully, and the nation need not concern itself with it”.
Five people are known to have been killed in the course of the disturbances in London and elsewhere in England in August 2011. Hundreds of people have been killed on our streets since 1988 in incidents in which both perpetrators and victims were of African heritage. In one period, such deaths averaged 27 per year in London alone. There have been 12 young people in London already this year. Yet, politicians, the media and the nation as a whole seemed to take it all in their stride. We see nothing like the sense of national outrage or the urgency with which the government, the media and the entire country responding to the disturbing civil unrest in the summer of 2011.
In the last year or so, we have seen media reports of trials for the murder of African/British young people by African/British young people in which those involved in perpetrating those murders were the sons of pastors, university professors and other parents in high status jobs. In one particularly barbaric event in central London, the perpetrators included sixth formers, some of whom had already secured places at University.
This tendency to push this matter away from ourselves and distance ourselves from it is part of a process of national denial, a denial in which we ourselves as the African community in London also engage.
We are here to celebrate Joseph’s life. But, Joseph did not die of natural causes. He was not the victim of an unfortunate and unavoidable accident. No, there is a context to us being here to commit his body to Mother Earth.
Yesterday, I received the following message for the Burke-Monerville family from my friend, Dr Rosemarie Mallet, Vicar of St John the Evangelist in Angell Town, Brixton:
My prayers are with the Burke-Monerville family as they face another tragedy. What pain and injustice they are having to live with….!
I have recently buried a church member aged 16, murdered the day after Prince Joseph, and I am now supporting a family whose son was tragically murdered a couple of weeks ago also. It is relentless and the battle must be waged on so many fronts, and so many levels.
Up and down the land, we, predominantly African inner city dwellers, turn out to funerals such as this, in numbers such as this, with sickening regularity and with far too much resignation.
My friends, I want to tell you today that it does not have to be like this. And if, like me, you do believe that it does not have to be like this, the question we must each of us ask ourselves is: how can I take personal responsibility, acting where I am and in relation to those around me, to ensure that Joseph’s death will not have been in vain.
How can we, today, make a covenant with our own children and with our community to do all in our power to put an end to this self inflicted plague that is ripping out the heart of the African community here in London, as elsewhere in Britain?
On 22 April 2013, senior representatives of the British state joined the Lawrence family in marking the 20th anniversary of the murder of 18 year old Stephen Lawrence by white racists. Leaders of the three main political parties and the Mayor of London attended a memorial service at St Martin in the Fields, near Trafalgar Square, to pay tribute to Stephen and to acknowledge ‘the debt the country owes to the Lawrence family for refusing to give up, ensuring those who were guilty of Stephen’s murder were brought to justice’.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, pronounced at the Memorial, totally without irony, that
"The senseless killing of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 was a tragedy. It was also a moment that sparked monumental change in our society – change that has been brought about by the tireless efforts of Stephen's family in challenging the police, government and society to examine themselves and ask difficult questions.
"I believe that many of those questions have been answered: from improved community relations to more accountability in policing. Much has been achieved, but we know that more still needs to be done. We owe this to the memory of Stephen."
But, even as he spoke, no less than seven families around London were grieving and mourning the recent loss of their young sons, including the Burke-Monerville family and those in Lambeth that the Reverend Dr Mallett mentioned in her message to them.
The Burke-Monerville family, like so many other African families bereaved on account of the senseless murders of their innocent children by other African children are wondering why it is assumed that the pain and grief that they suffer and that abides with them for all time is qualitatively different from that endured by Doreen and Neville Lawrence, or why it is assumed that those hundreds of senseless murders by African heritage young men have any less to do with the condition of Britain and with ‘race’ as a powerful dynamic in that condition than the murder of Stephen Lawrence by those white racists.
Racism is an ideology, a poisonous and dehumanizing ideology and one that informs the conduct of racists, benign, murderous or genocidal. At the far end of the spectrum, it leads people such as the murderers of Kelso Cochrane, David Oluwale, Ahmed Iqbal Ullah, Stephen Lawrence, Anthony Walker and hundreds of others to hound, hunt down and kill their victims on account of their racial origin. This is despicable, heinous and barbaric, but logical. What is unfathomable is the ease with which young Africans slaughter one another, often on account of nothing more than ‘trespassing’ on somebody’s ‘endz’, being seen in a neighbourhood to which you don’t belong.
The only ‘ideology’ they seem to subscribe to is one of self-hatred, hatred of others who look like themselves, nihilism and gratuitous violence. Their conduct is not deterred by the well-publicized number and manner of such killings, or by the lengthy sentences handed down to others like themselves who are found guilty of such murders. So, when in cold blood a young man could nonchalantly say: ‘Waste them anyway’, he is simply refusing to complete the sentence and add the words ‘…because we’re wasted anyway and totally surplus to requirements!’.
Those young people appear to have no knowledge of, nor connection with, the struggles of their parents’ and grandparents’ generation, including the struggle to ensure that they could walk the streets anywhere in Britain without being set upon by the police or by white racists simply because they are African or Asian. They impose ‘post code’ boundaries upon one another at will and guard those boundaries with knives and guns which they use without inhibition against one another, and against innocent others who have no business with them, even as the communities in which they live campaign against the way the police use their ‘Stop & Search’ powers and constrain innocent young people from going about their lawful business unmolested.
So, how does that clutch of politicians that flanked Doreen Lawrence and her family in that photo-call at the memorial service demonstrate that they care about those scores of young people murdered in the Capital, including Trevor and Joseph Monerville, that have not had the profile of Stephen Lawrence or been the subject of inquiries about the link between them and the structural, cultural, institutional and personalized manifestations of racism in Britain?
The various assaults by the State and its institutions on African people in Britain since the 1950s: by way of immigration legislation and the racialization of immigration, the police and criminal justice system, ‘Stop & Search’, criminalisation of young Africans through the use of ‘Sus’ laws, school exclusions, the displacement of African people and their historical contribution to the making of Britain and struggles in Britain from school curriculum, youth unemployment, deaths in custody…, about all of which they themselves have amassed ample evidence through surveys, the work of the Home Affairs Committee, Office for National Statistics, etc., those assaults are all of a piece, even though successive governments and Opposition pretend that they do not and cannot join up the dots.
Given that history and what continues to constitute reality for African people, especially young African British males, I cannot help putting a different spin on how leaders of this nation are responding to the Stephen Lawrence tragedy of twenty years ago, while being indifferent to the murder of hundreds of other African young people in the last 20 years, including in the first 4 months of this year.
The State's response, no less than the media's, is in many respects a way of using the Stephen Lawrence tragedy to expiate white guilt; guilt about the fact that the death was caused by the wilful act of white racists and the equally wilful, historical and structurally endemic racism of the British police. So they cry:
'Forgive us! Forgive us! We are good people at our core; and don't get caught up in all of that “State and police bashing” that “your people” love to do in response to the actions of those among us who do not represent who we really are, whether they are racist murderers out of uniform or in uniform, or racist police who fail African people by indulging racial stereotypes and targeting them for abuse of power in every possible form'.
A key reason for the persistence of these crimes, notwithstanding the welcome reduction in the number of deaths in the last twelve months, is the fact that sections of the community shield known murderers and there is ‘de facto’ collusion in the sense that too many people subscribe to or are coerced by the ‘no snitching’ ‘rule’. The whole community therefore lives in fear of gunmen and cold-blooded killers and in deep anxiety about the safety of their sons, while others actively protect them or fail to report their activities to the police for fear of what might happen to them or their families and loved ones. Now that Operation Trident is no longer involved in targeting those gunmen and gun suppliers and in investigating murders, it is about time that the entire society gets the message that this is not just a crime and disorder issue for the police, but an issue of the health and wellbeing of the whole community. In the same way that the police are held to account by the community, therefore, the community should also be held to account for its own part in working collectively to root out that murderous menace from its midst.
Trevor Monerville was murdered in Hackney in 1994, not by one but by five men. It beggars belief that nobody knows who those people were. But, no one has been brought to justice. The police are even now looking for Joseph’s murderers. I have absolutely no reason to believe that they have somehow disappeared into the ether or got lost in cyberspace. They continue to live and be fed and be cared for by people somewhere, who know that a family has had their lives turned upside down as a result of their actions.
There are hundreds of people like us living in communities up and down this country with blood on their hands and the death of other people’s children on their conscience. ‘Blood on their hands’ because they failed to prevent further murders from happening when they had the opportunity to do so. Ballistic examination has shown time and again in London and elsewhere, Manchester for example, that one single gun could account for 8 to 12 murders in one community, as it gets passed from one murderer to another would-be murderer.
So, why is this such an intractable problem for the police, the same police who manage to intercept and bring to justice would-be perpetrators of ‘terrorism’ against innocent targets in the community? Why is it so impossible for them to find the people who commit these murders in the heart of these communities? It is reported that in that small area in which Joseph was shot dead, there have been no less than 8 murders.
Today, the Burke-Monerville family pleads with the community of Hackney and London. Stop shielding those murderers. Don’t let them and the gun that they used to kill Joseph circulate freely and deny others the right to life.
God made a covenant with us:
And I will take you to me for a people. And I will be to you a God: and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
[Exodus 6: verse 7]
Let us covenant with one another, today, to rediscover our togetherness as a people facing a common crisis, and to act collectively to save our children and not just to turn up in such numbers as we do today to bury more and more of them.
May God help us all!