Stephen Lawrence’s murder highlighted institutional racism. 28 years later, what has changed?

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22 April marks the third official Stephen Lawrence Day. Lawrence was an 18-year-old Black man who was murdered by a group of racist thugs in Eltham in 1993. 28 years ago he was stabbed and left for dead while his distraught friend, Duwayne Brookes, desperately attempted to save his life.

But on a national day to honour Lawrence, we need to ask has anything actually changed?

“Institutionalised prejudice”

What’s also shocking about the Lawrence murder, is the treatment his friends and family suffered at the hands of the Metropolitan Police (Met). From the failure of police at the scene to call an ambulance in time, or collect vital forensic evidence, to an almighty cover-up after the racist thugs were identified, the case unfurled a tightly spun web of police corruption and exposed the institutional racism rife in the Met.

Brookes, the main witness, went on to become a Liberal Democrat councillor. He was subjected to severe harassment and arrests by the police. In an interview with the Guardian, he said:

It’s not just about racism – although this remains a major concern for me – it’s also about the culture of the police…

That still needs to change. Their prejudices aren’t just against black people, but all kinds of people. With the police it’s not just about race, but about class, too, and about targeting certain families who they suspect of being guilty of crimes even if individuals within those families are not guilty of crimes. The Met is guilty of institutionalised prejudice.

“Murdered through racism”

The Macpherson Report published in 1999, in response to police failings, acknowledged that the police force was institutionally racist. Yet, the true extent of the dirty tactics employed against the Lawrence campaign was not fully uncovered until the 2014 Ellison Report. This also revealed that police spied on Lawrence’s parents and their supporters and smeared the main witness Brooks. Yet seven years on from the report, what has really changed?

Doreen Lawrence has continually fought for justice since her son’s murder. She founded the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, is a member of both the board and the council of Liberty and was appointed as race relations advisor to the Labour Party in 2020. In 2021, she led a review about the impact of Covid-19 on BIPOC communities. She expressed her dismay at the findings that concluded: “structural racism” is behind the “disproportionate effects of the pandemic” on those communities. She also said of the controversial Sewell Report that claimed the UK is ‘not institutionally racist’:

When I first heard about the report my first thought was it has pushed [the battle against] racism back 20 years or more. They are denying that the likes of my son were murdered through racism and the fact that it took 18 years to get justice for him. The report is denying all those issues.

As black youth unemployment rises disproportionately, the Covid 19 virus ravages minority ethnic communities. Meanwhile, the Conservative government continues to insist that structural and institutional racism does not exist in the UK. The struggle for racial equality is just as vital as it ever was.

A video to commemorate Stephen Lawrence Day reminds us why we should never forget his legacy.

Main image by James Eades / Unsplash