by Fiona Small and Francesca Quaas
In 1985, when Lee was 11 years old, police burst into his home on Normandy Road, Brixton. Awoken by a gunshot, the next thing Lee realised was that his mother Cherry had been shot.
“I was shouting and screaming as I saw my mum lying on the floor, not sure about what actually happened. I remember my mum said she can’t feel her legs.”
The police was looking for Lee’s elder brother, who did not live with the family at the time. They broke into the house at night.
“I remember the house being surrounded by police when they kicked in the door. There was no warning, they just shot the first person they saw. My mum was up because she heard a noise, thinking it was my pregnant sister. My mum just wanted to check if she was all right.”
As the incident happened, people from the community gathered at the house but weren’t getting any answers. Similar to last year’s riots, people were marching to the police station demanding answers to why Cherry Rose had been shot in front of her children. Frustration came and triggered the 1985 Brixton uprising.
The police officer who fired the shot was not prosecuted. Cherry Rose was left paralyzed from the chest down and subsequently bound to a wheelchair. She sadly passed away last year on Easter Sunday. Doctors gave her a life expectancy of 10 years but she lived for 26 after the incident.
“It shows the strong character she was. My mum has always been my biggest inspiration, she never felt sorry for herself.”
The incident greatly affected the whole family as Cherry had to spend two years in hospital.
“The incident initially tore us apart. We, the children had to stay with other family members or friends. Only when she came back from hospital the family re-bonded. From that point the relationship changed as I had to be more of a carer. Although mum was still there for us, physically she couldn’t do certain things. I had difficulties at school and we never got any form of counseling, we just got on with it somehow.”
How do you deal with feelings of anger and revenge?
Mum led by example, she showed none of those feelings, so we didn’t grow up allowing those feelings to manifest. I am still hurt about what happened, and more so about the injustice as no-one was held accountable.
In her passing I had strong feelings but I had to look into myself and ask how would she have wanted us to do this. That’s why I have set up the foundation. I’m trying to put all my energy into positive things.
What is the legacy you would like to leave behind in her honour?
When I look at my mum she was strong, determined and an optimist. She wouldn’t let get anything in the way of what was important to her and that was her life and her children. I want to use the charity to represent her and her spirit.
The charity is set up to support family and individuals whose life has been disrupted through tragedy. We did not have that support and I think things would have been different if we did. It could have compensated the hardship through that painful journey.
Do you think if you were a white family that you would have been treated differently? Bearing in mind that the incident happened over 25 years ago.
I do believe that race comes into it. Things would have been handled more delicately. The way they entered the house, knowing a family lived there as they admittedly did surveillance of the house before. They must have known that young children lived there but did not take that into consideration.
What needs has your charity identified?
The importance of bringing communities together. The work we want to do has an open approach to people who are affected in different ways. We work with schools and offer various, bespoke methods of help, linking with other organisations. We have regular community events, like the family fun day. It’s about building a community network. I have a company which transports elderly and disabled people. I can help families with simple transporting needs.
Regardless of how the 1985 incidents are perceived for us as a family, we felt supported by the fact that the community came together and felt our pain.
What is your vision for the foundation?
First of all I am allowing myself to be guided where the charity is concerned. In five years I want to look back on the individuals we actually helped and see the testimonies of them.
Where do you see your organisation fitting into the whole topic of Black History Month?
Last year we had a tribute to our mum. A play called Her Story which gave you an insight to what happened and the effects it had. We used it to create awareness.
I watched documentaries on Black History Month which would skip pass the 1985 uprising. My aim is to bring it to the forefront that this can happen, why it happens, and how people cope with the consequences.
An inquest has been opened into the death of my mum as she died as a result of the injuries she sustained. Therefore the whole case has been re-opened. We are hoping that a light of some justice can come out of this. I think it would do a lot for people, especially for their confidence in the justice system. We are currently awaiting a date for a hearing of the inquest.
www.cherrytreetrust.org // 07985 814444