Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager, was stabbed to death at a south east London bus stop in April 1993 by a racist gang. David Norris and Stephen Dobson were found guilty of his murder this week.
Stephen’s killing and his family’s fight for justice has shaped the battle against racism for a generation.
The murder itself was horrific and simply described. Eyewitnesses to the murder told the trial that they saw a group attack Stephen after shouting at him across a street.
The gang walked away “quite casually” before Stephen collapsed and bled to death. One bystander who saw what happened said to another: “Looks like he got it because he was black.”
One of the gang shouted “What, what, nigger?” at Stephen and his friend Duwayne Brooks before running at them.
The police reaction to the killing was shocking.
The Met failed to arrest the murder suspects—saying there was a “wall of silence” in the area.
But in reality detectives received 39 tip-offs during the two days after the murder. The vast majority named all or some of Neil Acourt, Jamie Acourt, Gary Dobson, Luke Knight and David Norris as the gang members involved.
But the police seemed more interested in investigating Stephen, Duwayne Brooks—and the Lawrence family itself.
The police also allowed suspects to dispose of clothes and other items even though they were under close surveillance.
The first tests examining the possible transfer of fibres between garments recovered from the suspects and the clothes and hands of Stephen Lawrence were not carried out until June 1994—over a year after the murder.
This was not just incompetent bungling but corrupt racism. But in 2007 a review of the case discovered new evidence. Textile fibres, blood and hair linked to Stephen had been found on clothes seized from the defendants in 1993.
Prosecutor Mark Ellison QC said during the 2011 trial, referring to Dobson and Norris, that this “does prove that these two men are guilty of murdering Stephen Lawrence”.
Two fragments of hair matching Stephen’s hair were found in a paper bag containing a pair of jeans belonging to Norris.
Seven fibres matching those from Stephen’s clothes were found on a blue sweatshirt belonging to Norris.
That led to the conviction. But the rest of the gang that killed Stephen didn’t even face trial.
Socialist Worker was right to call the killers the scum of the earth in 1998.
The battle to find the killers of Stephen Lawrence has put a spotlight on the police and state institutions.
The verdict in the Lawrence trial will produce much hand wringing from the establishment. But attention also needs to be paid to the
systematic racism that fuelled the killers.
The Macpherson Inquiry, launched nearly five years after Stephen’s murder, exposed what the majority of ordinary people knew—that the Metropolitan Police is institutionally racist.
But we need to go further and recognise that the racist scapegoating peddled by the government and the media produces rats like Stephen’s murderers.
And that needs tackling to prevent another case like this one.