Eighteen-year-old Anthony and his cousin Marcus Binns, then 17, were racially abused, chased in a car and then ambushed in a park by Paul Taylor, 20 and Michael Barton, 17, late at night on July 29 this year. The teenagers had been waiting at a bus stop with Anthony’s white girlfriend Louise Thompson, 17, near his home in Huyton, Liverpool.
The circumstances of Anthony’s death mirrored the brutal attack of 18-year-old black student Steven Lawrence in 1993. Lawrence was fatally stabbed by white youths at a bus stop in south-east London. An inept police investigation of the murder and the unsuccessful prosecution of three suspects led to an inquiry headed by retired judge Sir William Macpherson. Its’ report cited institutional racism as the overriding factor governing the way in which police dealt with the case.
Paul Taylor and Michael Barton, brother of Manchester City footballer Joey Barton, were convicted of Anthony’s murder on the 1st of December. As the trial judge sentenced them to life imprisonment, he condemned their deeds as “poisonous to any civilised society”. They will serve minimum terms of 23 and 17 years respectively.
Throughout their ordeal, the Walker family have expressed forgiveness towards Barton and Taylor. Described as devout Christians, they refused to entertain feelings of resentment. Anthony’s mother said “I have to practice what I preach. I don’t feel any bitterness towards them really, truly, all I feel is … I feel sad for the family”. Gee Walker has also spoken of her ‘admiration’ for Paul Taylor, after receiving his letter of apology for his murderous actions.
She said “surely his mum must have instilled some goodness in him for him to accept that he has done something wrong”. This display of magnanimity has been widely praised. Journalist Bel Mooney, writing in The Mail newspaper (2.12.05), has likened the bereaved family’s response to a ‘candle of hope’ and an example of ‘the finest aspect of the human spirit’. Mooney also suggests that the Walker family’s willingness to forgive is a microcosm of what can be achieved between ‘tribes and nations’.
For those who have lost loved ones in a similarly heinous manner to Gee Walker, forgiveness is a necessary first step in coping with grief and moving forward with their lives by achieving “closure”. However, this reaction is not easily understood by many, including those who regard themselves as fellow Christians.
Speaking on the Jeremy Vine's BBC Radio 2 show the day Barton and Taylor were sentenced, Rosalyn Yates, a mother who identified herself as a Christian, said only God could forgive the man who forced his way into her daughter’s home and lethally stabbed the 25-year-old. The perpetrator had already spent 15 years in prison for armed robbery and was free on license when he committed the murder. The inconsolable mother added that “no one should feel an obligation or duty to forgive”.
Did Anthony Walker's mother believe she had a religious duty to forgive her son's killers because anything else would be a betrayal or denial of Christian doctrine? Was she made aware of her obligation to help restore good community relations in the wake of the racist murder, by community leaders and police family liaison officers terrified of Birmingham riot-style reprisals?
Official figures show that Merseyside Police recorded a 72 per sent increase in the number of racist attacks between 2001/02 and 2003/04. When Gee Walker praised the mother of Paul Taylor, was she tempted to ask about the element of Taylor’s background and life experience which may have fuelled his hatred of black people?
The idea of forgiveness forms the cornerstone of Christian belief. In practice, it should not be allowed to unilaterally free anyone from their political, legal and moral responsibilities. There can be be no real closure for anyone while violent racism manifests itself in the form of vile murders like that of Anthony Walker's.