Stephen Lawrence Day: So Many Reports and So Little Change

Stephen Lawrence was murdered 30 years ago and the question that we should ask ourselves is what has changed and is it enough. We recognise Stephen Lawrence as a symbol for young Black men who are still perceived as dangers to society. We are still living in a time when being in possession of a Black skin is very often perceived as a quality that invokes suspicion, distrust and fear and sometimes hate….and in some instances attracts unexpected hostility and overzealous and lazy policing. When Black people migrated to the UK having been invited by the British authorities to do work that White English people did not want to do, attitudes of the white British towards people with darker skin were often very negative at that time. Many discriminatory ideas had grown during the era of the trade in enslaved Africans when British people were told that Africans had no culture, no religions, no laws, no traditions – some Britons even believed that Africans had no languages and the term used for their communication was “tongue”. The recent report of A Conservative councillor and magistrate who ha been accused of saying "Nothing wrong with the skin colour at all. I think all white men should have a black man as a slave or black woman as a slave”. tells us that some of that thinking nestles in the sub conscious of many who are still in denial of their own racism.

The murder of Stephen Lawrence was seen as a watershed moment in race relations. Stephen Lawrence Day which takes place every April 22, was announced by former prime minister Theresa May at a memorial service in 2018 marking the 25th anniversary of Lawrence’s death; and takes place annually on the date of Stephen's death. The day is marked officially in the British calendar as a celebration of Stephen's life and legacy.

On the evening of April 22, 1993, a group of six White adolescents fatally stabbed Lawrence, a black teenager from Britain, as he waited for a bus in the south-east London neighbourhood of Eltham. Afterwards, it was discovered that Lawrence's murder was completely motivated by the colour of his skin. Of course, this was not the first time this kind of incident had taken place. On 17th May 1959 in Notting Hill London Kelso Cochrane was walking home, and was quite near the house in which he shared a room with his partner Olivia, when a gang of white youths surrounded him. They called him many insulting names, punched, pushed, thumped and then stabbed him…… When he collapsed, they ran away. Two black men walking nearby rushed over, and Cochrane was picked up and put in the cab; but by the time they reached the nearby hospital he had stopped breathing. Someone called a reporter at the Sunday Express and said, ‘three white youths have stabbed a darkie named Cochrane’. ….. this was the first post-war murder of a black person in Britain. Despite evidence to the contrary, including the fact that Kelso Cochrane was not wealthy, the police claimed it was an attempted robbery, not a racial murder. How many times, since then, have those subjected to Racism have been compelled to accept that Racism was not a factor as such an accusation does not sit very well in a judicial system that denies its own institutional racism. Lets not forget that the Scarman Report commissioned after the so called “Brixton Riots” denied there was institutional racism and laid the foundation for the establishment adopting that position…just a few bad apples!

I have always argued that Stop & Search is a fundamental element in characterising the relationship between the police and Black communities. Despite countless reports clearly stating that peoples of African & Caribbean descent are several times more likely to be stopped than any other racial group, very little has been done to address and respond to this issue, despite the fact that it has little impact on detecting and solving crimes. On the contrary it has vastly contributed to a deeply unhealthy relationship between the police and Black communities and has highlighted the presence of a culture within that service that not only tolerates racism but practices it; evidenced nationally by a series of high-profile incidents reported in the national press.

Some of us were involved in a six-month evaluation of Stop & Search in Southampton some years ago that showed that almost one in every 5 people stopped were either Black or Asian and mostly Black. Some recommendations were made, and as usual, nothing was done and it was filed away, and another Chief Constable came along, and we went back to ground zero doing more research and making meaningless recommendations. One major and simple recommendation was that Stop & Search figures be published and circulated to the public and somehow this commitment was ignored, and the constabulary continued hiding those figures in a complex and hard to reach online maze. The recent statement by Hampshire Police Commissioner where she quotes on national TVthere is a 'link-up' between the migrant crisis and lawlessness in Britain….does not help and is a continuation of this fallacious narrative from a position that should know better. Furthermore, the whole symphony of demonisation of Black peoples is orchestrated by a home secretary whose behaviour shocks many in her own party.

Previous reports have formally recognised that institutional racism is a significant feature in police services and the recent report that accused the Metropolitan Police of being racist, misogynistic, and homophobic is a chilling warning that other constabularies are infected with the same malaise. Black people have been saying this for decades and interestingly it has taken the tragedy of Sarah Everard to remind society that Black people were not being paranoid when making these accusations over the decades….and still senior police officers are quibbling about semantics! The age-old argument that misdeeds are committed by a few bad apples washes very thin these days. Doreen Lawrence was quoted as saying “t is not, and has never been, a case of a few ‘bad apples’ within the Metropolitan police. It is rotten to the core.”

Let us not be deluded by the fact that a national day has been declared, Stephen Lawrence Day like Windrush Day only serves as a reminder that Black people have a long way to go in the creation of a judicial system that not only recognises injustices but fails to take the necessary steps to respond to it.

You may want to check out the following stories: