Leader: As sparks fly upwards

02 April 2008

TWO STUDENTS, Sophie Lancaster and Robert Maltby, were attacked by a gang of youths in a Lancashire park last August. Both were kicked in the head and stamped upon. Ms Lancaster died; Mr Maltby survived, though with severe injuries. Last week Brendan Harris, aged 15, and Ryan Herbert, aged 16, were convicted of murder. Brendan Harris is said to have laughed and joked with his mother when questioned by the police. The three other members of the gang, who admitted assault, are said to have sniggered at Ms Lancaster’s mother during the trial. The only reason for the attack was that Ms Lancaster and Mr Maltby were dressed as Goths. Their only act of provocation was to look different.

Were it not for Ms Lancaster’s death, the incident would have been unlikely to escape from the pages of the Lancashire Telegraph. Countless acts of unprovoked violence take place in this country, often fuelled by drugs or drink. Home Office figures suggest that the overall rate of crimes against the person is down nine per cent; at issue, though, is not the rate of incidence, but the fact that such things can happen at all. Once again, the human animal is exposed as it is when no social constraints exist: violent and remorseless.

Harriet Baber, recalling the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King on these pages, describes the fear of young black men that pervaded US society at the time. The widespread riots that were triggered by Dr King’s death appeared to bear this out. The nation was entering the last stages of a 300-year experiment in inhumanity. It had finally dismantled the legal framework that supported segregation, but it was at a loss to know how to deal with the poverty and alienation that had been left by slavery. Dr King’s message was that black people were not an alien race to be contained and feared, but fellow citizens, children of God, who would thrive if given fair access to education, housing, and work. The only reason for injustice was that they looked different.

The message of Christianity is of equality: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” However differently people behave or look, whatever race they are or fashion they espouse, they are all children of God. Thus every act of violence or oppression, whether corporate or individual, is in a sense fratricidal, like the murder of Abel, and a thread of responsibility links everyone to it. Trouble there will always be, but also a duty to do something about it.

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