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BLINK commemorates Arlene Mundle

27/2/2002

A fearless campaigner for justice and equity.

Arlene Mundle(August 17 1953 – March 2 2001)

Arlene Mundle, who has died of cancer aged 47, was a fearless campaigner for social justice and equality. She played a major role in reshaping relations between the black community and the police in south London and demonstrating how the police can work positively with black communities.

Arlene was born in Portland, Jamaica. She was the granddaughter of a prosperous businessman and the daughter of an RAF warrant officer. When she was two, her family moved to Hong Kong, where her earliest memories were of life on the military base as the only black family. She recalled no overt racism, just a sense of being different and special – qualities which continued to set her apart.

In the late 1950s, her grandfather brought the family to Brixton, south London, where she and her sisters went to the Dick Sheppard school. At the age of 16, she began work as a secretary and switchboard operator.

By the mid-1980s, Arlene was enjoying the showy affluence of the times, earning good money as an escort in West End clubs. It was also the period in which crack- cocaine started appearing in Britain, and Arlene’s life took a downward turn as she became sucked into the world of drugs and crime. In the mid-90s, Junior and Arlene separated. Arlene knew it was time to turn her life around.

There was another blow when her friend Brian Douglas died in police custody in 1995. His family mounted a campaign to press for justice, and Arlene threw herself into this activity with a passion and fury. This was her first encounter with the community police consultative group in Lambeth, which was to become the platform from which she launched her public career.

Arlene’s fearless action was legendary. She was deeply concerned with the racism and injustice she perceived as endemic in police relations with black people. She harnessed that passionate concern, in particular working with The 1990 Trust, motivating others and engaging her organisational skills to huge effect. She met Stephen Lawrence’s parents and, through various campaigns, started to understand more about police work.

Arlene saw how black victims of crime were being poorly served by the police, but, more controversially, believed change would only come if the black community engaged with the authorities to push for it. No one pushed harder than she did.

Her direct approach and unorthox methods – telephone calls in the early hours, even to senior officers, were her trademark – came as a culture shock to the Metropolitan police. But at a time when the police needed to listen, she had plenty to say, so she was employed to provide a much-needed community perspective for senior officers on training exercises, and to advise an operation tackling drug-related gun crime, codenamed Trident.

At times, Arlene jeopardised her own safety, but she was never afraid to speak out against the villains on her doorstep, and took the lead in promoting a highly successful firarms amnesty in Lambeth. During the tension that followed the Brixton nailbombing in 1999, she was a conduit of understanding between grassroots black feeling and the police investigation.

When her cancer was diagnosed, messages of support came in from chief constables and from public figures such as Neville Lawrence, the former home secretary Jack Straw, and the former football star Ian Wright. Two months ago, she received a Metropolitan police commissioner’s commendation.

Everything Arlene achieved was done through her own efforts. Tragically, her illness struck just as she was to embark on a law degree at Southampton University. Her life was about transformation and she would have become a fine lawyer. She is survived by her three children, Rascelles, Acqua, Cassandra.

Arlene Mundle was the kind of person whom you felt you had known for years. In that sense she was an “old soul”. The 1990 Trust staff met her through the Brian Douglas Family Campaign in 1995.

Working for The 1990 Trust, she had convinced us of the need to speak publicly about how the black community could work with the police to tackle crack-cocaine gun violence. It was a difficult position to take. Nevertheless, she worked hard to ensure we spoke about these issues publicly. Her unwavering commitment was infectious.

(background material: The Guardian)

The following poem by Maya Angelou, which reflects Arlenes spirit so well.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

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