There had already been a series of racist murders in south east London when Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death in Well Hall Road over two decades ago.
One 15 year old, Rolan Adams, was murdered two years earlier in February 1991. Another 15 year old, Rohit Duggal, was stabbed to death on the very same road where Stephen was murdered a year before.
Yet it’s the case of Stephen Lawrence that still dominates British politics two decades later.
For many at the time his murder was a sign that something had to change or young black people were not safe to walk their own streets.
But police inaction and their refusal to pursue the culprits, who were well known locally, provoked the Lawrence family to begin their campaign.
The campaign went on to involve thousands of working class people. It even won the support of Nelson Mandela on a visit to Britain.
The Lawrences couldn’t have foreseen that their basic demands for justice could not be delivered without first breaking open decades of criminal corruption and racism at the heart of the police.
This is why the police did everything to stop them.
They sent spies into the campaign because they were panicking about how it was gaining strength.
Police officers were with the family all the time. But they wanted to snoop on activists who were organising to support them.
Police anxiety was revealed in a Special Branch briefing note on the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry on 21 April 1998.
It said, “The black press are keen to connect the racial nature of the attack and police actions in order to support their view that the Metropolitan Police Service is irredeemably racist.
“The left, meanwhile, see the episode is further evidence of the corrupt nature of the capitalist state and the police as bourgeois lackeys.”
It continued that the case had provided the media of “revolutionary socialists” with a “stick to beat the establishment”.
But it isn’t just revolutionary socialists who are angry at the establishment’s role.
The case has made millions of ordinary people question a system that allowed such an injustice to take place.
The Special Branch briefing also predicted that Stephen Lawrence will be taken to people’s hearts “as an emotive symbol of all that is corrupt and cynical in the capitalist system”.
They were right. Stephen Lawrence has been taken into the hearts of everyone who wants justice—for him and everyone else who has suffered at the hands of this rotten, racist system.
Until justice is won the case of Stephen Lawrence will continue to haunt the British establishment.