Racism lives long after Stephen Lawrence
No one knows the pain of bereavement better than Doreen Lawrence, who is having to battle claims that the Metropolitan Police tried to smear her family’s reputation. She endured the racist murder of her son Stephen – and murder is a million times more painful than any other bereavement. All the boy did was try to get home after a night out – oh, and have black skin. I forgot that bit. If you are standing waiting for a bus, you don’t expect to be knifed by a complete stranger. By all accounts, Stephen Lawrence was a charming, intelligent young man going home to see his parents, when he was attacked with a knife. He fell to the ground then managed to stagger to his feet, his clothes and hair soaked with blood from his wounds. Moments later, he fell down and died.
That was April 22, 1993. A number of highly unpleasant young men were charged with Stephen’s murder but the Crown Prosecution Service in England claimed there was insufficient evidence. For Doreen and Neville Lawrence, Stephen’s brother, Stuart, and sister, Georgina, much of the past two decades have gone past like a bad dream, one from which they never seem able to awaken.
As I said, being black was Stephen’s only ‘sin’. Black death. No convictions. End of story. So, why didn’t the Lawrences just give up? Because the senseless murder of the son they adored hurt them beyond belief, because they are brave people who vowed they would seek justice for Stephen. Neville and Doreen Lawrence have spent all these years fighting back, overwhelmed again and again by a combination of Stephen’s brutal loss and the rampant disease of official indifference.
Isn’t it ironic how politically correct we have become since Stephen’s death? So quick to object to various words people use when they describe minority groups.
Half-a-century ago, Martin Luther King made his ‘I have a dream’ speech. Pertinent then, it is even more pertinent now, especially here in Britain where racism is an everyday story, whether it be name-calling, extremes of physical assault or worse.
Remember King’s immortal words: “I have a dream: that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, ‘We hold these truths self-evident that all men were created equal’.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today”.
Doreen and Neville Lawrence had a dream as well. They dreamed their sons would live a long and happy life, enjoy good careers, marry and give them grandchildren. The fact that their dream turned into the worst of nightmares is an indictment on us all. Imagine if the victims had been white. It would be unheard of if no one went to jail after murdering two white boys. Just think of the fuss we make in this country whenever white children go missing or die a horrible death. Think Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, think April Jones. It does not happen very often, but, when it does, all hell lets loose. Once convicted, murderers of children go to prison and everybody from the governor down hates their guts. They killed a child. They did the unforgivable and they will be punished – by all of us. Either the child is found alive amid great national rejoicing or the evil perpetrator is caught as quickly as possible – mainly in order to still the inevitable public uproar – unless the child happens to be black. Then, suddenly, nothing is quite the same on the criminal justice front, is it?
The Lawrences have been hurt beyond our comprehension, because they lost a child they adored, because they have had to fight for justice on behalf of their boy. Their lives have been turned upside down and inside out by one single act of evil. Nothing will ever be the same again. Abandoned by every person they thought would help them, the family must feel destroyed by the latest revelations about the police operation to smear their reputation.
Racism in the UK is alive and well. And it is not just about a violent minority. It is about prejudices and assumptions which are ingrained. If urgent action is not taken by the criminal justice system, we will continue to see black people die violent deaths, followed by no convictions. Shame does not even come close.
The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry had profound significance for race relations in Britain. It struck at the heart of all that was rotten within the police as well as within society. Or so we thought at the time. But the rotten stench never really went away. It hid its head in shame for a while, before, slowly but surely, coming up for air and stirring up the poison – all over again.