Remembering Stephen Lawrence

It is Black History Month in the UK and each year I try to read something about black history of the UK.  Having grown up in 60s and 70s, my history lessons were exclusively about the exploits of white men, and usually rich white men.  Having grown up in London, this is surprising because my part of London was diverse from the time of my birth.  In fact, this diversity was not only normal but a reason to be proud of our borough.

Yet, it was in this same borough that Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993.  The fact that he was killed simply because he was black made it the lowest point in recent history of London.

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The only reason his murder wasn’t just another statistic was that his parents would not accept the poor investigation by the police; shortcomings that were due to the preconceived ideas about young black men brought by the police to the crime scene.

The tragic events are detailed in Brian Cathcart’s 1999 book, ‘The Case of Stephen Lawrence’.  It pieces together the racist murder by a gang of white youths at a bus-stop in south London, and the failure of the police investigation to bring anyone to justice for the crime.   I read this book on publication and was appalled that the case would have been quietly forgotten had it not been for the efforts of Neville and Doreen Lawrence to keep it in the public eye.

Doreen Lawrence wrote her own book, ‘And Still I Rise’ which has even more power due to the fact that this is a mother’s grief and determination we are reading about.  Duwayne Brooks wrote his own story, which has an extra dimension since he was targeted by the police even after the murder.  ‘Steve and Me’ is worth reading for this different angle.  I read his book straight after Doreen Lawrence’s.  In 1999 the Tricycle Theatre put on Richard Norton Taylor’s drama documentary based on the transcripts of the Inquiry into police failings in this case.  I did not get to see it so read the play script instead.  ‘The Colour of Justice’ distils the case into a tragic story of indifference with no satisfactory conclusion.

This weekend, I read Dr Richard Stone’s book, ‘The Hidden Stories of The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry’.  Dr Stone was one of three advisers appointed to support the Inquiry Chairman, William MacPherson.  The convention is that advisers to inquiries maintain confidentiality ever afterwards; the report must speak for itself.  But what are you to do when the climate in policing and race relations means lessons learned from this tragic case may be lost?  Dr Stone provides analysis of the debates behind the scenes and the battle he and others had to get, then Commissioner, Paul Condon to admit to institutional racism.  This one acceptance by the Commissioner could have provide the impetus for change throughout the system.

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The book is worth reading.  We need to be reminded of this case and we should never forget Stephen Lawrence.

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