By SIMON DEVILLE
LONDON-Anti-racism has reached a high point in Britain following the campaign for justice for Stephen Lawrence, a Black teenager murdered in Eltham in South East London in 1993.
The police investigation of the Lawrence case was dogged by racism, incompetence, and corruption.
Despite 26 separate witnesses approaching the police within the first few days of the investigation, giving the police the names of the killers, the police claimed that their investigations had been met by a “wall of silence” from the local community. The police involved refused to accept the possibility that this was a racially motivated murder.
The Crown Prosecution Service refused to prosecute any of the suspects, claiming that there was not enough evidence. The family then conducted a private prosecution of the suspects, one of the only times there has been a private prosecution for murder in British legal history.
The judge allowed the trial to go ahead, but instructed the jury that they must find the suspects not guilty. Thus, he ensured that the suspects could not be tried for murder again. An internal police enquiry gave the investigation and the officers concerned a clean bill of health.
Yet the campaign for justice persisted despite this and began to pick up broader support. Following the election of the Labour Government, the Home Secretary agreed to a public enquiry into the murder investigation around Stephen’s death. It is hard to overstate the importance that the Stephen Lawrence campaign has had on British society since then. Many commentators have stated that Stephen Lawrence is the British Rodney King.
The enquiry itself showed that the officer in charge of the investigation didn’t even know he had the legal power to arrest the suspects.
A team of undercover cops who kept watch on the suspects’ houses saw them dump plastic bags into the rubbish, but said that they didn’t think to check that they might be blood-stained clothing.
Throughout the enquiry the police did all they could to convince the inquiry that they were completely incompetent, the alternative being that they were racist and corrupt. Despite this, the enquiry (headed by a fairly right-wing judge), concluded that not only were the police involved in the murder racist, but that there is an institutional racism running throughout the Metropolitan Police.
The Lawrence family’s campaign has drawn together a wide layer of anti-racist activists throughout the country, and has held racism within the police under the spotlight for months.
Not only did the campaign address broader issues of how the police respond to crimes against Black people, it also addressed the widespread harassment that Black people face from the police.
This has proved a catalyst for the development of anti-racist organization throughout the country, leading to the launch of the National Civil Rights Movement.