Stephen Lawrence Day 2024: Where we are today

22 Apr 2024 01:57 PM

It’s Stephen Lawrence Day today (22 April). Which means that, this year it has been 31 years since he was mindlessly killed in a south London street. Eltham to be exact. After a long drawn out and shameful history, two men have been convicted, but more suspects still walk the streets.   

There isn’t much my mum and I agree on. She’s a fierce Leo, and me - a fierce Sagittarian. Don’t get me wrong, we get on great, but the views are often way off. However, one thing we always agree on is how Stephen - in his striped unassuming sweatshirt, almost shy stare into the camera, that all too familiar teenager stance complete with folded arms; all reminded us of my brother. This year Stephen would have been 50 in September, and I wonder if they would have looked alike today? 

Our close history with Stephen Lawrence and his legacy is one that we should never forget at the IOPC. His racist murder led to our formation as a result of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry – led by Sir William Macpherson.  

The Macpherson report uncovered major failings in how Stephen Lawrence’s family and his friend Duwayne Brooks were treated, and in the policing investigation as a whole. Many of the findings - and the 70 recommendations made within the Macpherson report - focused on issues which remain as relevant today as they did when it was written - 31 years ago. 

There have been quite a few reports, reviews and plans which have followed, all in agreement, that if you are Black, Asian and minority ethnic, your experience of the police and your interaction with them may well not be a pleasant one. We have seen evidence of race discrimination and the disproportionate use of police powers such as stop and search and use of force and we have written about it in our Taser review and in our national learning report on Stop and Search.   

This issue remains a persistent concern, especially within Black communities because of the ongoing inequalities that can influence policing and ultimately continue to erode trust and confidence in policing.    

We are at the final stages of our work on race discrimination which will come out in a report shortly. It shines a spotlight on this longstanding area of concern to help maintain focus on policing and work towards an effective resolution. The work involved independently investigating cases where race discrimination is a potential factor to be considered and has helped us build a body of evidence to identify patterns or trends to improve police practice. We go beyond looking at individual encounters to identify positive and systematic issues which exist in policing, in order to deliver improvements. 

As the communications lead on this work, I am not the author, nor the one who has done the research and what I would call the hard graft.  However, I have read the draft, and offered my two pennies worth on it and I think it is good.  Yes, it treads ground that has been trodden before, it calls out institutionalised racism, and the racial disparities in policing that are reported each year. But it also goes a step further. It acknowledges the influence of racism on policing practice and decision making, and its impact on affected communities. For example, the adultification of Black children. It also acknowledges where we, the IOPC, can do better. So alongside the call to action for policing, it offers our commitment too.    

It is definitely one for your booklist…