As the 30th anniversary of the death of Stephen Lawrence approaches, I remember being phoned by a community education worker based on the Ferrier Estate, near Eltham. It was 9.30am the morning after his murder; I was employed by Greenwich Borough’s Community Education Service, and he called to inform me that another Black boy had been murdered. At the time we were still reeling from the racist murder of the 15 year old Rolan Adams 18 months earlier; he and his younger brother had been set on by a group of up to 15 white youth in Thamesmead.
I also remember attending Stephen’s funeral and although I did not know Stephen or his family, I along with several hundred mourners stood outside the packed church before one of our youth workers pulled me into the back of the church. I cried as I stood against the church wall and listened to the moving service and paid my respects by walking past Stephen’s open coffin. The images from that day will remain etched in my mind forever and will be brought into even sharper focus when I attend his memorial service later this month.
The subsequent mistreatment of Stephen’s family added mountains of salt to deep injury; however, these mounting wounds did not deter them from their determined fight for justice for their son. Some naively thought that Sir William McPherson’s institutionally racist finding of the Metropolitan Police’s handling of Stephen’s murder would be a turning point for the service; I even got involved in delivering diversity inclusion and equality training for the North Yorkshire Constabulary back then. I am lost for words (unusual, I know!), in response to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley’s reaction to Baroness Louise Casey’s recent report which was to refer to her same finding some 20+ years after McPherson as, ‘politicised’ and ‘ambiguous’.
Available evidence suggests that the impact of racism is extremely bad for one’s mental and physical health; challenging institutionally racist institutions can kill you; just look at South Africa’s apartheid history. Sir Mark’s refusal to use the term institutional racism is to hide from what members of our community have known and experienced for decades. Sir Mark had an opportunity to hold his hands up and come clean; instead, in 2023 he appears to represent a deeply stuck system with powerful and stuck leadership.
We have invited him to an emergency conversation about the findings of the Casey report. It is time for him to face some of the stark realities of Black and racially minoritised lives he is mandated to serve and who currently make up over 46% of London’s population.
We invite Sir Mark, members of his senior team, our community groups and organisations, regional stakeholders, and allies to join us in this necessary debate.
More details on this can be found here