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Stephen Lawrence Day


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By Professor Neil Chakraborti

In the wake of of the trial for the murder of George Floyd, it feels more important than ever to reflect upon the legacy of Stephen Lawrence. 

The legacy of Stephen Lawrence has been profound and wide ranging. Stephen’s life, his murder and the flawed investigation into this tragic racist attack resonated with all communities across all walks of life, and took on a political and social dimension. Many of us will recall a collective sense of shock at the senseless loss of life. A sense of despair at the lack of justice for Stephen’s family and friends.

A sense of anger at the continuing hostility faced by black and minority ethnic communities day in, day out. And then, perhaps a glimmer of hope following the publication of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry that something positive could emerge from the darkness of Stephen’s murder. The recommendations from the Inquiry, and in particular the acknowledgement of institutional racism, energised the push for structural change and is widely seen as a watershed moment in British race relations.   

Sadly, recent events have shown us that the underlying factors behind Stephen’s story – injustice, violent racism, entrenched prejudice – are just as relevant today nearly 30 years on from his murder. As the academic and campaigner Gus John observes, these problems are reinforced by a continued failure to understand how structural, cultural, institutional and personal forms of racism intersect and manifest in the everyday experiences of black people. Undoubtedly progress has been made in various contexts and domains, but is it enough? Can we do more? Why aren’t we doing more?  

With Stephen Lawrence Day fast approaching, we have an opportunity to reflect on these questions. 22 April is a day dedicated to Stephen’s memory which enables all of us to think about the role that we play in creating a society in which everyone can flourish, irrespective of their skin colour or other identity characteristics. It is not a day for empty pledges, denial or delusion. Rather, it is a time for individuals and institutions to commit to being part of the solution to a fairer, kinder society. Any steps that we take and any changes that we instigate in pursuit of that goal can help to make a big difference.  

Neil Chakraborti is a Professor in Criminology, Head of School at the School of Criminology and Director of the Centre for Hate Studies.

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