22 April is Stephen Lawrence Day – an annual event held on the date of Stephen’s death as a celebration of Stephen’s life and legacy.
Stephen Lawrence was a black teenager who lived in Eltham in South London. He was murdered in an unprovoked, racially motivated attack on 22 April 1993 at 18.
Police began surveillance on the prime suspects and made several arrests; however, the Crown Prosecution Service discontinued the prosecution citing insufficient evidence.
Frustrated by the lack of action in the case, the Lawrence family launched a private prosecution, and a magistrate agreed that a trial should go ahead based on new evidence. Neil Acourt, Luke Knight and Gary Dobson stood trial, but the judge instructed the jury to find the defendants not guilty.
The Macpherson Report
Four years after Stephen Lawrence’s death, an inquest was reopened and determined that five white youths unlawfully killed him in an unprovoked racist attack. An official Police Complaints Authority report found significant weaknesses, omissions, and missed opportunities in the investigation but no evidence of racism.
A public inquiry into the handling of Stephen’s case was held in 1998, leading to the publication of the Macpherson Report, which has been called ‘one of the most important moments in the modern history of criminal justice in Britain’. The Macpherson Report concluded that Stephen Lawrence’s death resulted from professional incompetence, institutional racism, and a lack of leadership.
Because of Stephen, institutional racism was brought into the spotlight, sparking one of the most important moments in British criminal justice.
It led to some cultural changes in attitudes to racism, the law, and police practice. It also paved the way for a greater understanding of discrimination of all forms and new equalities legislation. But theirs is still a long way to go.
Is institutional racism still a thing?
Despite the Macpherson Report, institutional racism is still prevalent in schools and the police force. We only need to look at the case of Child Q to see how black children are still being failed. Did you know that black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched and five times more likely to have force used on them?
In May 2020, Ryan Colaco was stopped and searched by the police. After being “aggressively tailgated” by them, he pulled over. The police claimed they could smell cannabis.
After the incident, he spoke on Channel 4 about institutional racism and was stopped and searched again on the way home, during which his window was smashed (see video below), and he was stripped, searched and held in a cell.
The Met Police do not like public embarrassment. Six days after appearing on Channel 4, speaking about a previous stop and search, they put @Ryan_Colaco’s window in. It’s clearly time we #withdrawconsent. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/UeUnTAVA36— Michael Morgan (@mikewhoatv) April 18, 2022
In March, a young man was stopped and searched for wearing a coat. The police told him that he “was not dressed for the climate”. In March! It has to be said that what is considered hot weather for some is barely warm for others.
Not only that, many young people don’t have the money to buy spring-to-summer transitional clothing and will focus on having that one good winter coat that hides their embarrassment and saving for clothes for summer. Also, people with body dysmorphia will often hide under oversized coats. Basically, I’m saying that police shouldn’t be profiling young black men in coats as drug dealers.
This is a new riff on “I can smell cannabis” as a reason to stop and search people, a practice that the Independent Office for Police Conduct says should not be used as a reason to stop and search people.
The Stephen Lawrence Foundation created Stephen Lawrence Day to celebrate his life and legacy. It exists “to inspire a more equal, inclusive society, and to foster opportunities for marginalised young people in the UK”.
Doreen Lawrence fought tirelessly for justice for her son, and as a mother myself, I often wonder if I would have maintained the will and dignity that she has. The short answer is probably not.