As another attempt to bring the killers of a now iconic figure in modern British history begins, I am thinking back to the time I first heard about the death of Stephen Lawrence. I was in university back in 1993 when I caught a news clip on his death. When I saw his face, I remember distinctly thinking – ‘he looks like any of these other black guys here in my university; in fact he looks like any of the boys I went to school with back in the Caribbean.’ As details of his murder came to light, it was unimaginable and still is today – to me anyway – that he was killed because he was black. Of course over the years, we went on to know that it was not only his killers, but also those paid to protect and bring such killers to justice, that thought his skin colour, and therefore his life, was really not worth much at all. For those of us in the UK, we know how the drama unfolded over the years. There were the lows of the breakdown of his parents’ marriage, the failed private prosecution case, a failed trial and a public enquiry leading to the McPherson report. There were the highs of Mr and Mrs Lawrence being awarded OBEs for their relentless efforts in getting justice for Stephen, his friend Dwayne Brooks being awarded damages from the police service for their failures againsthim as a victim of the same attack, the recognition of institutional racism, the annual Stephen Lawrence Prize established by the Royal Institute of Architects, the play ‘The Colour of Justice’, based on the infamous trial, the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, and the fact that the investigation into the killing of a black boy in 21st century Britain deserves as much time and effort as the death of any other boy.
As I follow the current prosecution case against 2 of the 5 originally accused from the sidelines, I am filled with sadness, disbelief, and dare I say it some hope. I feel sadness because I think of a promise unfulfilled; Stephen would have been 37, one year and 2 months younger than I this year, and for all intents and purposes with the family background he came from, he could have been that architect he dreamt of becoming, maybe with a family, maybe a local boy done good, or maybe none of these things, but he would have been alive.
I sit in disbelief as I hear about the shoddiness of the policing and investigative procedures at the time, but also at the argument that the defence team is putting forward to keep these thugs from serving time. I mean, the Daily Mail has already openly labelled the accused as murderers on 2 occasions over the past 18 years, with no one arguing with them, and you know, for a right-leaning publication to do such a thing – it has to be true! However, I allow hope to creep in because I really believe that justice must eventually prevail, and that good must triumph over bad; if it doesn’t happen this time, at least let it be a step closer to laying this issue to rest, allowing us to appreciate the legacy that Stephen left behind with a little less anguish than we and his family must feel now.