‘Stephen Lawrence’ is name that has always held importance to me. Even in my childhood I recollect hearing his name, and despite not knowing who he was, knowing it held a great significance.
This year, the 22nd of April marks 28 years since 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racially motivated attack. His crime was waiting for a bus in Eltham with his friend, and instead of returning home to his family, he and his friend, Duwayne Brooks were chased by a racist mob who caught up with Stephen fatally stabbing him.
His story and his name will have been heard by many young black kids from London. And for me it wasn’t until 2012 that I realised why they always carried that extreme significance.
In that year, I remember the news reporting that two men were to stand trial for Stephen’s murder. I – of course – was baffled by this. Murdered in 1993 and the trial’s happening 19-years later?
Being young, and maybe naïve, I asked my mum why this was the case and why it was such a big thing. She explained to me, that this case wasn’t something that was just a ‘big thing’. It was something that would become history. She explained to me that back in 1993 when this horrific murder happened, it exposed a hard truth that Britain as a country has never really wanted to address. The institutional racism that resides in lots of organisations in this country, most importantly within the police.
The subsequent cover up and ‘Not Guilty’ verdict to men that had taken an innocent life was a massive blow to Black Britons and confirmed their worst fears about the where they stood in the country.
After hearing stories my great-grandmother had told me upon coming to the UK during the Windrush era, it saddened me that blatant racism still resided in the country I call home. That racism had survived beyond the days of my grandmother’s time of ‘No Blacks, No Irish and No Dogs.’
Still reeling from the previous year which included the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan and the protests/riots that followed. I became increasingly aware of the wider experiences of the Black community. It was affecting me. Significantly.
Following the trial and watching documentaries, educated me even further. I began to learn the names of those such as Cynthia Jarrett, Joy Gardner, Jimmy Mubenga and that of the New Cross Gate Fire victims.
It was a lot to process, and Stephen’s death deeply troubled me. I had the same gut-wrenching feeling that I had when I was 8 years old and read a book about the lynching of Emmitt Till. Until then, I had always thought such crimes only happened in America, but Stephen is a permanent reminder that the UK isn’t the exception.
With only two men being convicted for his murder – and tried as young adolescents, his case is the only one to date to overrule the ‘Double Jeopardy’ law. A law that typically prohibits a person being convicted or tried for the same crime twice.
Despite not all of the involved being behind bars, it’s important to remember Stephen and his legacy to all of us. Though his life was cut short, his death was an important spark needed to challenge the dynamics of racism within this country. It’s a shame this narrative did not end with him, since by now, we remember many other Black people in the same way.
For centuries, across the world, Black people have been disregarded and dehumanised due to racist ideologies.
The murder of George Floyd was a reminder of the ongoing inequality and discrimination we face. It’s important we never forget those that we have lost on our journey, and the official Stephen Lawrence Day on the 22nd of April is a day we should never forget.