GARY DOBSON and David Norris, two of the men involved of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence on 22nd April 1993 in Eltham, were last Tuesday found guilty of the murder.
This follows a titanic struggle for justice by the Lawrence family, in particular Stephen’s mother Doreen Lawrence, in the face of police racism and hostility, presuming that Lawrence, being black and young, must also be a criminal.
The family were supported by a huge, spontaneous anti-fascist movement that mushroomed in south London after that murder and a spate of other racist killings, including Rolan Adams and Rohit Duggal, in the area at a time when the neo-Nazi British National Party had set up its headquarters in nearby Welling.
When the police and Crown Prosecution Service failed the Lawrences, the trade union movement funded a private prosecution against three of the five chief suspects.
But this collapsed because the evidence given by Stephen Lawrence’s best friend, Duwayne Brookes, the only eye-witness, was ruled inadmissible because a police officer had put Brookes in a position where he saw the suspects at the police station so that his identification evidence was deemed unreliable.
The suspects were released, believing that under the double jeopardy rules, they could never be charged again. They thought they had got off.
But the family did not give up. In 1997 the new Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw initiated the McPherson Inquiry into the police handling of the case.
What came out shocked the nation: the police contempt towards the bereaved family and suggestions of police corruption. The police force was found to be institutionally racist — meaning that black and ethnic minority people seeking justice usually had a worse outcome than white people in the same situation.
This state of affairs applied to many other institutions of the state and wide ranging changes were introduced to require these institutions to monitor themselves to make sure that black and ethnic minority people received equal treatment.
It did lead to some real changes in policing, particularly in London and especially when Ken Livingstone was mayor of London.
It also led to non-stop whingeing from sections of the bourgeois, covertly racist sections of the press about “political correctness gone mad”. The covert racists have not gone away and the struggles against institutional racism, especially in the police, are fought on shifting sands.
Dev Barrah who led the Race Attack Monitoring Unit of the Greenwich Council for Racial Equality for a couple of decades found that the new senior police officers at Plumstead were good and willing to get to grips with race awareness. And then they moved on.
Others came and the process had to begin all over again. Some senior officers were clearly doing the race awareness work as a box they had to tick on their way to a good career.
Then came the “war on terror”, Islamophobia, the revival of the racist Stop-and-Search policy and Boris Johnson for mayor of London. Relations between the police and black and ethnic minority communities started to decline again — leading to last summer’s riots.
Cressida Dick, Acting Assistant Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, in 2006 had set up a dedicated cold case forensic team to look again at all the evidence in the Lawrence case.
This resulted in last week’s convictions of Dobson, who will serve a minimum of 15 years and two months, and Norris, who will serve a minimum of 14 years and three months.
This has brought some relief for the family — partial justice. Doreen Lawrence made it quite clear she cannot celebrate while her son lies buried and there are still more perpetrators to bring to justice.
There is no new evidence at the moment. But Dobson and Norris will soon realise they could never get parole unless they express genuine remorse and regret — and that must include a full account of what went on that night implicating the other attackers.
Dev Barrah also commented|: “No justice, no peace, what about the other three?”
Gerry Gable, editor of Searchlight anti-fascist magazine, told the New Worker: “It was a great result,” and praised the efforts of Cressida Dick. But he also said it was only a partial victory so far — and that there are “bent coppers” still to be brought to justice.
But the most credit for the success so far has to go to Doreen Lawrence, whose single-minded determination has caused a sea change in policing in Britain. But, as she acknowledged the power of the “Stephen Lawrence legacy” she said: “I would rather have my son back and living his life than any legacy”.
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