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Stephen Lawrence’s mother speaks out: ‘Black people still on outside’

This article is over 19 years, 10 months old
Nothing has changed. That is the damning verdict of Doreen Lawrence three years after the Macpherson report. That report was into the police handling of the 1993 racist murder of Doreen's son, black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
Issue 1789

Nothing has changed. That is the damning verdict of Doreen Lawrence three years after the Macpherson report. That report was into the police handling of the 1993 racist murder of Doreen’s son, black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

The report exposed institutional racism throughout the police. It was supposed to signal a new chapter in the fight against racism in Britain, with promises from politicians and police that things would change. But Doreen Lawrence said last Saturday, ‘We as black people are still on the outside looking in. ‘That has not changed since the report came out.’

She was speaking at a 300-strong conference on fighting institutional racism in London. It was organised by the National Assembly Against Racism. People at the conference were shocked by Doreen Lawrence’s revelation that ‘I am bringing somebody here to protect my safety because of the racist hate mail that is being sent to this conference.’

And they heard her argue, ‘Since the report was published I’ve been to many meetings and been told that the recommendations are being implemented. I can’t say that I’ve noticed any vast improvements. There are people who are just biding their time. It didn’t take long before police officers began to blame the Lawrence report for stopping officers from doing their job. How long are the police going to use this as an excuse?’

Many people in the audience were attending their first anti-racist conference. A number of people there voiced their alarm at the attempts by politicians to repackage racism in the wake of the riots last year in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham.

Among the speakers who addressed the conference were mayor of London Ken Livingstone and Labour Euro MP Claude Moraes. Ravi Chand, chair of the Black Police Association, highlighted the orchestrated backlash in the police force in the wake of the Macpherson report. He spelt out how black and ethnic minority officers are singled out, bullied and disciplined.

Ravi Chand said, ‘If that’s how they treat fellow officers, how do they treat the public? Most victims of racist crime are told by the Crown Prosecution Service that they do not have enough evidence to prosecute. In one case two weeks ago a black family called the police when their door was being kicked in by racists. Members of the family were beaten up. The police didn’t turn up-the scene of crime team didn’t turn up for three days.’

Sheila Sylvester, the mother of Roger Sylvester, also gave a chilling reminder of how black people can be treated when they come in contact with the police. Roger Sylvester died in police custody in Tottenham in north London in January 1999.

Three years after Roger’s death his family are still demanding full disclosure of the details surrounding it, the suspension of the eight officers involved and a public inquiry. Everyone at the conference was united in their opposition to the New Labour government’s latest proposals on asylum, immigration and citizenship.

A speaker who attacked the home secretary, David Blunkett, for making speeches which racists have cheered won the warmest applause of the day. Nick Hardwick from the Refugee Council also won loud applause when he condemned the government’s detention and imprisonment of refugees.

And with less than ten weeks to go before the local council elections in England, appeals were made by Anti Nazi League activists. They had been out campaigning in Oldham, one of the towns where the Nazi BNP won worrying votes at last year’s general election. The Nazis are hoping to build, and to win votes in the council elections on 2 May.

The anti-Nazi activists stressed the urgency of getting increased numbers of people out on the streets in Oldham, and in Bradford, Burnley and elsewhere, to ensure the BNP is effectively challenged.


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