The South London Samaritan (the murder of Stephen Lawrence)

22 April 2004 | Faith & Society

Stephen Lawrence was murdered in South London on 22 April 1993.  

Luke 10: 25-37 

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’

He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

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Robbery along the roads leading to and from Jerusalem, a major commercial centre, was a well-known hazard in the time of Jesus. In addition to tithing to the priests a share (perhaps one or two per cent) of the agricultural harvest, every year Jews with land and cattle were required to bring one-tenth of their profits to spend in Jerusalem.

 As for the Samaritans, having analysed despised trades and Jewish slaves, and then illegitimate Israelites and Gentile slaves, Joachim Jeremias writes: ‘Descending to the lowest degree of the scale, we come to the Samaritans’ (Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, p 352). At the time Jesus was speaking, hatred had been freshly renewed: ‘one Passover at the time of the Procurator Coponius (AD 6-9), some Samaritans strewed human bones in the Temple porches and all over the sanctuary in the middle of the night’ (p 353).

At first glance the only connection between the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence at a bus-stop beside the Well Hall roundabout in south London on 22 April 1993 and the parable of the Good Samaritan is that the perpetrators escape justice. Stephen Lawrence is stabbed and bleeds to death in less than fourteen minutes in the road. The attacks take place not in a desolate place but in front of witnesses in a road ‘thick with parked BMWs and Mercs. The road has two police stations: one down by Eltham High Street and one up by Shooter’s Hill. Close to the second police station was Brook Hospital.’ (Duwayne Brooks in ‘Steve and Me’, p 27). And of course the attacks on Duwayne Brooks and Stephen Lawrence are about racism, not robbery.

On 29 June 1998 the public inquiry chaired by Sir William Macpherson took evidence from one of the suspects, Jamie Acourt. Michael Mansfield QC, counsel for the Lawrence family, asks Acourt about the police surveillance video which Acourt has previously seen of Acourt’s brother and friends.

 

MANSFIELD             Neil Acourt says, whilst picking up a knife from a window ledge in the room and sticking it into the arms of a chair says: ‘You rubber-lipped cunt. I reckon that every nigger should be chopped up, mate, and they should be left with nothing but fucking stumps.’ Now, Jamie, have you forgotten that?

JAMIE ACOURT     Yes, I have, yeah.

MANSFIELD             Right. Shocked, are you? An honest reply, please.

ACOURT                   I ain’t shocked. It is nothing to do with me. I ain’t shocked.

MANSFIELD             David Norris is saying: ‘I’d go down Catford and places like that, I am telling you now, with two submachine guns and, I am telling you, I’d take one of them, skin the black cunt alive, torture him, set him alight.’ Then a little further down: ‘I would blow their two legs and arms off and say, and say, ‘Go on, you can swim home now’ ‘, and he laughs. Neil Acourt, your brother, says: ‘Just let them squirm like a tit in a barrel.’ Do you find all this shocking?

ACOURT                   I have no comment on it.

It is in this context that we have, for any Christian, the parable of the Good Samaritan – with the challenge of racism which the parable does also contain.

From the evidence to the Lawrence inquiry on 26 March 1998. Edmund Lawson QC is counsel to the inquiry, and Ian Macdonald QC is counsel for Duwayne Brooks.

 CHAIRMAN             Thank you very much for coming. Mr Taaffe, you have been involved in giving evidence so much that I understand that your personal life has been disrupted.

LAWSON                  Your name is Conor Andrew Taaffe, is it not?

TAAFFE                     That’s right, yes.

LAWSON                  You and your wife had gone to a prayer meeting at the local Catholic church?

TAAFFE                     Correct.

LAWSON                  Then there came to your notice a couple of young black boys who were jogging along?

TAAFFE                     … Mmm. When I say jogging, I didn’t so much mean that I thought they were out jogging for exercise, just to sort of describe the pace. They seemed to be running. I did sense immediately something wrong, something dangerous, something suspicious straight away. It just – you just knew, you know.

LAWSON                  You saw Stephen, to use your words, ‘crash onto the pavement’, is that right? … And [Duwayne Brooks] appeared to be trying to flag down passing cars?

TAAFFE                     He was, yes.

LAWSON                  Once you had appreciated, and very quickly you did, as your wife had said, that this was something serious, you went straight over towards where Stephen had fallen, did you not?

TAAFFE                     Yes, yes … He was definitely still alive at that stage …

TAAFFE                     … When I went home – this isn’t material but I will say it anyway – I went home and washed the blood off my hands with some water in a container, and there is a rose bush in our back garden, a very, very old, huge rose bush – rose tree is I suppose more appropriate – and I poured the water with his blood in it into the bottom of that rose tree. So in a way I suppose he is kind of living on a bit …

MACDONALD         Mr Taaffe, I think we all appreciate that you did a wonderful thing that night. I just wanted to ask you about the moment before you crossed the road, you had some fears about what was happening? You sensed danger … You thought they might be about to commit a mugging or something like that?

TAAFFE                     The thought flashed through my mind, being wary of the situation, that perhaps it was a ploy. One would fall down and you would think: ‘Oh my God, there’s something wrong.’ You would go over and the other might get you. That did pass through my mind.

MACDONALD         Was that because it was two young black men running along the other side of the road?

TAAFFE                     I would say that that was part of my assessment, yes.

 

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Heavenly Father

To have time or not to have time

To see or not to see

To know or not to know

To feel or not to feel

To cross over or not to cross over

To touch or not to touch

To be desolate or not to be desolate

To admit or not to admit

To be forgiven or not to be forgiven

To understand or not to understand

To forgive or not to forgive

To be or not to be.

The choice which you give us is the point of your creation:

Be with us when we choose.

In Jesus’ name we ask.

Just a second