trigger warnings: anti-black violence, racism, death
On the 22nd of April every year, Stephen Lawrence Day takes place to recognise the life and legacy of Stephen Lawrence, and the vital work his family have delivered over the past 28 years to create a fairer and more equal society for all.
Stephen was killed in a racist attack in South East London almost 28 years ago. Institutional racism within the police meant his killers were not even arrested until over two weeks had passed since his death, and the charges were dropped on the basis of insufficient evidence despite multiple witnesses. The failure to bring accountability to his death sparked a movement against racist policing and justice that continues today.
Because of Stephen and his family, we were able to begin to unmask some of the rampant institutional racism present in the policing system in the UK. The Lawrences’ campaign brought forth a public inquiry, the Macpherson Report, which made over 70 recommendations regarding systemic racism in policing. As part of the findings on the Lawrence case, the Macpherson Report had recommended that the rule against double jeopardy (the common law rule that once acquitted an accused person could not be tried a second time for the same crime) should be repealed in murder cases, and that it should be possible to subject an acquitted murder suspect to a second trial if "fresh and viable" new evidence later came to light. In 2005, the law was changed in line with the recommendations.
William Macpherson, who led the inquiry into the events surrounding Stephen’s death, died in February 2021. “I had great aspirations that, in his lifetime, he might have been able to see how his Report was able to change policing and society for the better,” wrote Baroness Lawrence after his passing. “Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to, as racism continues to affect both the police and society at large. There is still much work to be done and Sir William’s conclusions remain as relevant today as they were when they were published in 1999.”
Stuart Lawrence has called for unity against racism: “For me, there needs to be one clear message: we need to be able to just say “we are an anti-racist country”, then we could tackle all the systemic problems around race.” Despite the immense amount of campaigning and change the Lawrence family has achieved, there is still a long way to go.
In 2011, Stephen Lawrence’s killers were finally convicted of their crimes. They were found guilty of the murder of Stephen Lawrence and given life sentences. Like Derek Chauvin in the George Floyd case which was brought to a verdict this week, this is just one small instance of accountability – true justice can only be achieved when no one has to die, and for these killings to stop we must envision a world without police. These verdicts are not enough. Neither increased diversity in police forces, nor body cameras, nor “better training” are enough – the problem is policing itself. We need to restructure our society and put resources back into the communities themselves.
Often the focus of these commemorative days is on tragedy and pain. Today we are remembering Stephen Lawrence as the bright and brilliant young man he was and the change he continues to inspire.
During his teenage years, Lawrence excelled in running, competing for the local Cambridge Harriers athletics club. He was creative, and loved to draw. At the time of his death he was studying technology and physics at the Blackheath Bluecoat School and English language and literature at Woolwich College. He was an aspiring architect described by his mother, Baroness Lawrence, as ‘just one of those kids that would thrive at everything.’
We don’t often hear about who Stephen was as a person, the things he loved and found joy in, the love he shared with friends and family in his life. He is so much more than his date of death. Today we remember Stephen’s life, and all the young people in London who deserve to live a full and happy life.
Stephen Lawrence Day is about the part we all play in creating change in our society, to make life better for everyone. It is an opportunity for us to make children and young people’s voices heard, make the changes they’d like to see and create a society that treats everyone with fairness and respect. We have a responsibility to build our own communities of care, radical love, and solidarity.
May Stephen Lawrence rest in power!
Source: Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation
Visit the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation Website for more information on how you can get involved.
Read: Stuart Lawrence, Silence Is Not an Option
Alex S Vitale, The End of Policing (free to download as an ebook at the moment)
Mariam Kaba, We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organising and Transforming Justice
Watch: BBC, The Murder that Changed a Nation
Listen: The Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation have teamed up with TikTok to deliver a LIVE memorial concert – hosted by Yinka Bokinni and featuring Max Cyrus, Baroness Lawrence, Alicai Harley, Ray BLK and The Compozers. It starts at 7pm BST, you can find all the information on how to join here: https://loom.ly/3JXjI_Q
Learn: Imagine if we all could go back in time and give our younger selves a message or statement that would help you live your best life. A Message to My Younger Self is a career focused event for young people led by Baroness Lawrence (The Stephen Lawrence Foundation), Monique Campbell-Dixon (Adobe), Hanna Mercer (Adidas), Karen Blackett OBE (WPP), Amanda Lee-Ajala (City Of London), Register for free here.
Follow: The Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation are asking people to share how you #LiveYourBestLife inspired by Stephen. You can also find online posts through #BecauseOfStephen.