The murder of Stephen Lawrence, 30 years on
Many of us over the age of forty will vividly remember the death of Stephen Lawrence, whose life was taken at a bus stop in Eltham, thirty years ago. Murdered in a racist attack, the case continued for nineteen years to see only two out of five suspects charged. During this time, an independent investigation was initiated by the Lawrence family, and a two year long inquiry into the police mishandling of the case later went on to have significant ramifications on judicial legislation. Stephen’s death is known for being one of the highest-profile unsolved racially motivated murders, but, on its thirtieth anniversary, we are still left with the questions: has justice been served, and has the system healed at all?
The first Stephen Lawrence Day was April 22nd 2019, and is now well established as a national day celebrating Stephen’s life and legacy, overseen by the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation. But Stephen Lawrence Day is about more than commemorating Stephen’s death: the Foundation has worked tirelessly over the years in classrooms and communities helping to break down racist barriers, build a fairer, more inclusive society, and fighting to give marginalised young people access to good careers.
Stephen lived a fruitful life that was tragically taken from him. He was a good student and athlete, who loved hip hop and had ambitions of becoming an architect. Stephen Lawrence Day works to immortalise his life and celebrate the vision and ambition that helped define it.
Greenwich has a unique and tragic history, with racist murders during three years: Rolan Adams, 1991, Rohit Duggal, 1992 and Stephen Lawrence, 1993. Though the former two murders did not gain as much public attention, the police at the time were aware that local gangs were orchestrating racist hate crimes, yet little was done to prevent consecutive attacks. Some local activists believe that this history should form a part of educational curriculums as the wounds from these murders are still fresh, and as history continues to repeat itself, it is clear their scars reverberate throughout the Greenwich community. Ensuring the safety of individuals in the borough both in community and online settings should represent a priority in the borough’s schools, youth groups and state institutions. The answers to some of the big questions posed by Stephen’s murder thirty years ago lie within the local and national systems that are supposed to assist and protect the most vulnerable.
In 2019, our hate crime coordinator, Marc Lorenzi attended a conference marking the 20th anniversary of the release of the Lawrence Inquiry Report, the investigation into the handling of Stephen’s murder. Stephen’s father Neville was the first speaker. One of the final questions put to Mr Lawrence requested a comment on the legacy of his son’s death, a heritage he described as ‘disastrous’. Although this comment related to escalating deaths from knife crime, it was equally as poignant in the contexts of school exclusion, stop and search, unemployment and racist violence – all becoming ever more prevalent areas of concern in the lives of marginalised communities.
How can we combat these state-perpetrated cycles of oppression and violence that have been repeating themselves for decades? Black boys and men are two groups that are both over and under-represented amid a wide range of social systems. Considering the government’s total negligence to the communities that are suffering from their cuts that have changed public services almost beyond recognition, it’s unclear where the answers are going to come from.
The 1999 Lawrence Inquiry concerned itself with organisational development and reform (primarily the criminal justice and education systems), and it is now more important than ever to focus our attention on the deep-rooted structures of oppression that are continuing to corrode our communities. The recent Casey report echoes the findings of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report. In a statement that was unsurprising to many: the Met Police are institutionally sexist, racist and homophobic, the past and present are increasingly becoming eerily indistinguishable. It is important to encourage grassroots level initiatives by providing communities with vocabulary and guidance to effectively challenge discrimination and build the framework for a more equal and diverse society. However, those most affected and those who continue to fight tirelessly against systemic racism recognise that the real rot comes from systems outside of the average person’s reach.
While at the time of writing, the Home Office ushers in the Illegal Migration Bill that is hoping to exclude claims of asylum from those who travel to Britain using ‘small boats’. This bill would allow powers for the Home Secretary to remove “as soon as reasonably practicable” anyone who arrives in the UK to Rwanda or a ‘safe’ non-Western country. Closer to home, during February, more than 130 asylum seekers protested inside a Greenwich hotel where they have been ‘accommodated’ for a year and a half, after receiving notice that they were to be removed to a hotel in Bedfordshire, severing local connections they had worked hard to establish. This betrayal by the government is symptomatic of its hostile environment and further reinforces how deeply rooted institutional racism is within the British state.
Here at GrIP, we are fully committed to fighting racist violence and other forms of hate crime. For Stephen Lawrence Day 2023, GrIP will deliver workshops in schools and colleges, train professionals, host stalls at public events and speak on the radio and in local churches. If you have been targeted because of your race or religion please visit our hate crime page. We can help you work with the police and housing, as well as provide other forms of practical and emotional support such as helping write letters, attending meetings or referring you to counselling services.