The Legacy of Stephen Lawrence

Stephen Lawrence was an 18-year-old teenager. He dreamt of being an architect when he was older and was in the middle of studying for his A-Levels. Thirty years ago today, he was murdered in a racially motivated attack by a group of white men. He was waiting for a bus with a friend when the group started shouting racial slurs at them, before attacking them and stabbing Stephen. He died of his injuries.

The hate crime sent shockwaves throughout the country, not just because of the brutal racism in his murder but because of the spotlight that the ensuing investigation shone on police incompetence and institutional racism. The case became one of the most high-profile and controversial in British criminal history, having a profound impact on race relations legislation and and on the justice system.

It took nearly twenty years for two of the men involved to be convicted of Stephen’s murder.

What has changed since Stephen’s death?

Unfortunately, whilst progress has been made, the Machpherson Report; Twenty Two Years On found that “there have been important improvements in policing including significant improvements in the policing of racist crimes, in the commitments made to promoting equality and diversity and in good examples of local community policing. But our inquiry has also identified persistent, deep rooted and unjustified racial disparities in key areas including a confidence gap for BME communities, lack of progress on BME recruitment, problems in misconduct proceedings and unjustified racial disparities in stop and search.” The recently published Casey Report found the force to be institutionally racist, as well as homophobic and misogynistic.

SARI’s Strategic Director, Alex Raikes MBE DL, states that “we need to see agencies acknowledging that institutional racism and systemic racism is still a fundamental issue that pervades in all systems and agencies in the UK. Organisations need to commit significant resources and make race equality strategies and action plans compulsory and not an add on. If they can make GDPR, Health and Safety and Safeguarding critical areas of business – why can’t they put tackling the insidious abuse that is racism on at least the same level with at least the same level of resources? They must all up their game, and this is not just the police either. The Macpherson Report referred to local authorities, housing and education sectors as having responsibilities too.”

Stephen’s legacy

Stephen’s family have long lobbied for justice for Stephen. In the face of systemic racism and media scrutiny they refused to give up and have made incredible waves in the UK in memory of their son. They set up the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust (now known as Blueprint For All), working to create a fairer and more inclusive society in which everyone can succeed regardless of race, ethnicity or background. Stephen’s mother, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, has since helped to set up the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation, who this year are encouraging people to honour Stephen’s legacy and ensure that the next 30 years look different from the last.

According to Victoria Phair, SARI’s Assistant Director, “although we have seen progress, the issues of racism, inequality and discrimination are interwoven into all systems of society.” It is up to all of us to challenge these issues and make sure that the next 30 years we strive for a society which treats people in a just and fair way.

As we mark the anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, it is vital we remember that at the heart of all of this was a young Black man who had his future ahead of him. Because of racism, his life was cruelly taken, and his family and friends have been left to grieve their loss. Because of racism, it took years for there to be any form of justice, and the fight for full justice for Stephen continues.