History will recognise that the indefatigable campaigning of Stephen Lawrence’s parents has done more to change this country than a mountain of race relations legislation. brap chief executive Joy Warmington reflects on the lessons of the Stephen Lawrence murder.
I, like many others, waited with bated breath for the outcome of the Stephen Lawrence retrial – and felt a sense of immediate relief at the conviction of his killers. But now some of these immediate emotions have dissipated, I wanted to reflect on what this case has meant for the race equality movement and for wider issues of justice within our society.
Firstly, of course, we must be thankful that after longer than Stephen Lawrence himself lived, two of the teenager’s killers are now behind bars. But as Doreen Lawrence herself said, there’s no cause for celebration. It’s another reminder of the sorrow and anguish the Lawrence family lived with for over eighteen years – and will continue to live with.
Many in the media were desperate to make the case that Britain in 1993 was a world away from what it is today. The routine, unchallenged racism that was the order of the day then has been swept aside, they said, by the changes in policing, public services, education and the equality laws that were implemented following Macpherson’s inquiry into the murder and the Met’s investigation.
Sadly, I don’t share that optimistic view. Since 1991, according to research by the Institute for Race Relations, at least 96 people have been murdered in circumstances where racial hatred was either clear cut or suspected. At least fifteen of these cases remain unsolved. In fact, just days before the Stephen Lawrence retrial, Anuj Bidve, a 23-year old Indian student from Lancaster University was shot dead by a young man barely older than Stephen’s killers. The appalling fact is, the Lawrences’ pain and loss is the tip of an unimaginable iceberg of suffering.