Stephen Lawrence's murder was simply and solely and unequivocally motivated by racism. It was the deepest tragedy for his family, and their treatment by the police and their own conduct of the investigation was an affront to whole of the black community. Nobody has been convicted of this awful crime. That also is an affront both to the Lawrence family and the community at large.
Within 24 hours of Stephen's murder on April 23, 1993, police had the names of five suspects. Astonishingly, no arrests were made for two weeks, allowing the suspects to destroy evidence, concoct alibis, and intimidate witnesses. The murder, its investigation, and the subsequent public inquiry comprise the most important series of events in the recent history of British race relations.
The Lawrences were determined to gain justice. They made charges privately against the five suspects. A new policeman in charge handed over evidence. This included a video of the five suspects holding knives and pretending to kill black people. The video was taken secretly in 1994. The trial took place in 1996.
Duwayne Brooks had identified two of the suspects in a line-up. But at the trial, a policeman said that Duwayne told him that he wasn't so sure. The judge thought Duwayne was muddled and his identification was not accepted. The suspects were acquitted.
The next year, an inquest was held to find out exactly how Stephen had died. The suspects refused to answer any questions and this angered a lot of people. The Daily Mail published pictures of the five under the headline 'MURDERERS'. The government decided to hold a public inquiry into the murder and the police investigation.
The report of The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry by Sir William Macpherson was published on 24 February 1999. Presenting it to Parliament, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, stated: 'The Macpherson report challenges us all, not just the police service'. He expressed the determination 'to tackle discrimination wherever it is found' and emphasised that the report 'places a responsibility on each of us. We must make racial equality a reality'. The Prime Minister also declared his commitment to 'drive home a programme for change'.
In order to evaluate the evidence and the arguments they had heard, the Inquiry developed a definition of institutional racism.
The Macpherson report defines institutional racism as:
The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.
Cases brought under the Race Relations Act 1976 already provide examples of both direct and indirect discrimination on racial grounds, often arising out of unintentional prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness or stereotyping.
The Inquiry found that institutional racism played a part in the flawed investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, notably in the treatment of the Lawrence family and Duwayne Brooks, the surviving victim; in the failure of officers to recognise the murder as a `racially motivated crime'; and in the lack of urgency and commitment in some areas of the investigation.
The Inquiry accepted the CRE's submission that institutional racism exists not only in the MPS and other police services but also in other institutions. The report reflects the CRE's submissions to the Inquiry in stating:
It is incumbent on every institution to examine their policies and the outcome of their policies and practices to guard against disadvantaging any section of our communities. ... There must be an unequivocal acceptance of the problem of institutional racism and its nature before it can be addressed, as it needs to be, in full partnership with members of minority ethnic communities.
Stephen was buried in Jamaica, and his parents have both received OBEs in recognition for all their efforts in trying to get justice for Stephen, and continuing to campaign against racism.