Police Officer


Stephen Lawrence and his legacy ahead of the anniversary of his death

As the 30th anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s murder is approaching, academics specialising in policing and criminology at the University of Hull reflect on the impact of his legacy.

On Thursday 22 April, 1993, 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence was brutally murdered in a racist attack while waiting for a bus with his friend. Stephen was a sixth-form student, who lived with his family in Eltham in South London.

His murder sparked outrage and eventually highlighted ongoing racism within Britain, with the Metropolitan Police being found as being ‘institutionally racist’ following an inquiry into their investigation of his death.

Stephen’s parents continually fought for justice for their son and two of the original suspects in the murder were eventually found guilty in 2012.

Now, on the 30th anniversary of his death, it’s timely to reflect on the importance of his legacy and how impactful this has been in policing and justice across the UK.

Professor of Criminology and Victimology at the University of Hull, Professor Simon Green, said: “We should remember Stephen Lawrence’s racially-motivated murder for three reasons.

One, the tragic loss of a young life filled with potential. Two, Stephen’s parent’s search for justice and the subsequent exposure of the Metropolitan Police as ‘institutionally racist' in the MacPherson Report. And three, the ongoing reminder that racism – both institutional and individual – continues to adversely shape the lives of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people in the UK.

Professor Simon Green

“There have been some important changes since Stephen’s murder. The introduction of ‘hate crimes’ in the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act and the emphasis on the victim’s perception of whether an offence was ‘motivated by hostility or prejudice’ demonstrates society’s intolerance towards racism and empowered victims to report racist crimes.

“Stephen’s parents' search for justice highlighted so many problems in policing that have not – and should never – be taken off the agenda. But there is a long way to go and meaningful, sustainable change doesn’t happen quickly.”

Speaking on how Stephen’s legacy continues to change the world around us, lecturer in Professional Policing at the University of Hull and former Assistant Chief Constable of Humberside Police, Darren Downs, said: “Policing has changed as a direct consequence of the Lawrence Inquiry and the tireless work of Stephen’s family since the tragic event.

“There are still significant amounts of work to do and a long journey ahead, but it has made a difference and will continue to do so. As soon as I look at the challenges that lie ahead around community cohesion, race and equality, the first thing that comes to my mind is Stephen and that is how it should be.

“The desire to change and continue to be better is there and the drive and passion I see around many public bodies across the criminal justice system is fantastic.

I don’t think we would have achieved as much if it wasn’t for the Lawrence report, the drive of Stephen’s family and the legacy it has created.

Darren Downs

When looking at the changes made in recent years, Professor Simon Green said: “At the University, we are helping to teach the next generation of police officers and we routinely talk about this and many other examples of injustice and discrimination with our students.

“But the real issue remains in the space between ‘classroom’, ‘training centre’ and what is ‘learnt’ on the job. To change this we must work with the police to bring new evidence, experience and expertise into their organisation and through this challenge their (and our own) systems and assumptions to create a fairer, safer and more tolerant society.”

After Stephen’s death, the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation was set up to inspire a more inclusive society and to bring opportunities for marginalised young people in the UK. To learn more about the invaluable work the charity does each day, visit their website here.

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