The long awaited judgement in the Stephen Lawrence case demonstrates that there are people, albeit a tiny minority, who harbour a deep racism and may even be capable of terrible, violent acts. The fact that Tower Hamlets is a multi cultural, multi racial borough, where the overwhelming majority of people work and live together happily, should not allow for any complacency. We must always be on our guard and be vigilant. Those are at least some of the lessons we need to learn from the Lawrence family’s epic eighteen year old battle for justice.
Much has changed since that terrible night when Stephen Lawrence and his friend Duwayne Brooks were set upon by a bunch of racist thugs. Back then many people ‘lived in fear’, such was the climate of race relations in some parts of the country. For a start the Macpherson Inquiry – which was set up by the newly elected Labour Government in 1997 – concluded that the police force was rife with ‘institutional racism’. Councillor Abdul Asad, who was the Mayor of Tower Hamlets when Macpherson visited the borough as part of a national fact finding tour, tells me that the issue of institutional racism featured prominently in the testimonials given from members of the public.
When it finally appeared the Macpherson Inquiry also showed that the police had simply failed to act quickly enough on the detailed information made available to them in the immediate period following Stephen’s murder. Macpherson’s recommendations – some seventy in all – of course owed much to the indomitable campaigning work of Stephen Lawrence’s parents, Doreen and Neville. Many of those recommendations have since been put into practice.
However, there have been set backs as well. Multiculturalism has come under attack and there has been an increase in Islamophobia in sections of the media that should know better.
Yet there has been almost a national sense of relief that justice has finally been done and that the long, hard struggle of the Lawrencefamily was not in vain. Justice has at last been achieved with the conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris.
In many ways Britain is a different place to what it was that dark night eighteen years ago. But we cannot pretend that racism has been eradicated, nor that there is still much work to be done. Which is why I heartily agree with Lord Herman Ouseley, the former head of the Commission for Racial Equality when he says that “The police and criminal justice system should see this case as providing a baseline for establishing standards of investigation and prosecution for all hate crimes”.