Dear Stephen: Race and belonging 30 years on
On 22 April 1993, a young aspiring architect, Stephen Lawrence, was murdered in a racist attack in Eltham, southeast London. His death had a seismic impact on British society, shining a spotlight on its racial inequities, prejudices, discrimination and violence. It also prompted the landmark Macpherson report, which brought the issue of institutional racism into the mainstream and whose findings were echoed in the recent Casey report. To mark the 30th anniversary of Stephen’s death, the Runnymede Trust and the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation have jointly produced a new report, Dear Stephen: Race and belonging 30 years on, that honours his life and legacy. Here is the introduction to this vital piece of research.
Racism has always been a matter of life and death. This was never more true than for Stephen Lawrence, a bright young man who dreamed of becoming an architect.
Stephen was murdered by racist strangers as he made his way home with a friend in southeast London, 30 years ago. It was not only his killers who targeted Stephen with racism. The behaviour of the police – from those first on the scene to those who handled the disastrous investigation into his murder and dealt closely with his family – was characterised at every stage by racist treatment and bias in the system. Significant questions were raised on accountability in the criminal justice system and whether Black and minority ethnic communities and families were treated fairly.
The fight for justice that followed, led by Stephen’s grieving parents, has brought us all to know Stephen’s name, and carry forward his legacy.
The seminal 1999 Macpherson Report, published in direct response to the manner in which the police handled Stephen’s case, recognised unequivocally that the Metropolitan Police Force was ‘institutionally racist,’ an unprecedented finding at the time. Many events in the wake of Stephen’s murder, including race equality legislation, still inform and influence racial justice work today.
However, as Stephen’s mother Baroness Doreen Lawrence has said on several occasions, the many positive strides towards race equality in the wake of his death cannot ever compensate for the loss of her beloved son.
Although it can feel as though progress towards racial equity has stalled, through this report we hope to remind one another that the vast majority of people in the UK support the path to racial justice, and that we can and will get there together. We offer this piece of work in that sentiment of hope, and of course in memory and honour of Stephen Lawrence.
‘This important contribution to Stephen’s legacy at the 30th anniversary of his death reveals the points of hope and connection in our communities, particularly for young people who, like Stephen, have ambitions to become the architects of a more equitable future. Their resilience and determination to create change underscore the importance of fostering a sense of belonging and understanding. Through their collective strength, they are actively reshaping the world for the better.’ - Baroness Doreen Lawrence OBE, in her foreword to the report
Read the full report: Dear Stephen: Race and belonging 30 years on.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Runnymede Trust.
Join the fight for racial justice: support the Runnymede Trust’s work by making a donation.
Photo © James Boardman Archive/Alamy Stock Photo
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