This September will mark 35 years since the shooting of Dorothy “Cherry” Groce and the subsequent 1985 Brixton riots that followed.
While what happened to Cherry and the Brixton riots isn’t taught in schools, it’s a staple part of Black British history and serves as a stark reminder that not a whole lot has changed since that fateful morning on September 28th, 1985.
For many Black British Caribbeans, Cherry Groce’s story is familiar to their own. As a member of the Windrush Generation, she migrated to the UK from Jamaica in her teens, settling in Vauxhall, south London.
She was remembered for her strength and pride in where she came from. In an interview with the BBC, her son, Lee Lawrence said: “She was loving, caring and understanding, so our house was a welcoming place.”
Cherry was a lover of Motown music. Boasting a huge collection of vinyls filled with Al Green to Otis Redding, music emanated throughout the Groce household.
Cherry was also someone who was sociable, well known, and respected, according to Mr. Lawrence.
A pillar of the community, lover of music, proud Jamaican, and a full-time mother were just a few ways to describe Cherry – and this continued even in the face of adversity and extreme injustice.
On September 28th, 1985, police officers raided Cherry’s home in search of one of her children, and she was shot at the age of 37. The bullet lodged in her spine, paralysed her from the waist down and she remained in a wheelchair until she died from kidney failure in 2011, which was directly linked to her gunshot injury.
Following the shooting of Cherry Groce, riots and unrest spread across Brixton and surrounding areas. The incident also resulted in an outpour of support for Cherry and an uprising of a community that had long been mistreated.
Cherry wasn’t predicted to live as long as she did. She was able to be there to see her children grow up and they took care of her during her time of need.
“There was no manual. No support. No counseling. We had to roll up our sleeves,” Mr. Lawrence told the BBC.
“She would cook, hoover, and try to do as much as she could from that wheelchair.”
Justice for Cherry didn’t come easy. Douglas Lovelock, the officer who shot her, was charged with unlawful and grievous bodily harm in 1987 but was later acquitted.
In 2014, an inquest found that there were “eight failures made by police during the raid” and Cherry’s death “was the result of serious and multiple police failures on the part of officers across the ranks.”
Then Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, issued a public apology to the Groce family for the shooting “and the time it had taken to say sorry.”
Following the inquest, Mr. Lawrence said: “Following her passing, we finally established the full truth of the events of that day at the inquest in 2014. Since then we have established The Cherry Groce Foundation to work for restorative justice and cohesion across our community.
“This memorial is a living legacy to a woman who never doubted the power of truth nor the spirit of the community. We believe it will both honour and inspire a community that seeks to live in harmony.”
In 2020, architectural firm Adjaye Associates shared images of a memorial dedicated to Cherry, which will be erected in Windrush Square in Brixton.
Of the memorial, David Adjaye said: “The construction of this memorial will speak to restorative justice and will symbolise what matters to the community, to London and the whole world. This tragedy went too long in the public realm without acknowledgment and there is now renewed urgency and importance in finally facing this history.’
Mr. Lawrence added: ‘The 35th anniversary of my mum’s shooting is a poignant time for our community. Over the years and despite all odds, we as a community have never faltered in our pursuit of justice.
‘While we still face enormous challenges, coupled with the impact of a pandemic, our plans for the memorial remain firm. The memorial will serve as a living legacy to a woman who never doubted the power of truth nor the spirit of the community. We believe it will both honour and inspire a community that seeks to live in harmony.’