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Some progress has been made, but more needs to be done...

STRUGGLE: Neville Lawrence

THE SHOCK, anger and sadness over the murder of Stephen Lawrence is just as intense today among many black Britons as back in April 1993, when he was killed.

The 18-year-old was waiting at a bus stop when he was attacked and stabbed in the chest and arm. He ran several metres across Well Hall Road, in Eltham, south London, before he collapsed and died. Five white male teenagers were arrested but not convicted following the subsequently trial.

Two of the suspects, David Norris and Gary Dobson, went on trial again for the murder in November 2011, based on new forensic evidence.

Last week, Dobson was given a life sentence with a minimum of 15 years and two months, and David Norris was also given a life sentence with a minimum of 14 years and three months.

The pair were sentenced at London’s Old Bailey under guidelines in place at the time of the attack, and as juveniles because both had been under 18.

The judge, Mr Justice Treacy, described the crime as a "murder which scarred the conscience of the nation."

PAIN: Doreen Lawrence

Dobson, 36, and Norris, 35, were the first to be convicted over the fatal attack on Stephen by a group of white youths near a bus stop in Eltham on April 22, 1993.

Speaking outside court, Stephen Lawrence's mother Doreen said the minimum terms imposed "may be quite low", but she recognised "the judge's hands were tied" and thanked him for his sentencing remarks which acknowledged the stress the family had suffered for 18 years.

"It's the beginning of starting a new life," she said.

Stephen's father, Neville, said: “This is only one step in a long, long journey.”
He thanked the police, the judge and the jury, and called on the pair to “give up” the other people involved in his son's murder.

The Macpherson inquiry into the police investigation of Stephen’s death was scathing. Its report, published in February 1999, found there were several aspects of the case that were mishandled by officers, such as the unsympathetic way they dealt with the Lawrence family and their refusal to accept that Stephen’s murder was racially motivated. And it went on to describe the Metropolitan Police as ‘institutionally racist’.

The report recommended a series of groundbreaking measures that would subject the police to greater public control and extend the number of offences classified as racist. They included the introduction of performance indicators to monitor the handling of racist incidents, training of family and witness liaison officers, racial awareness training, guidelines for stop and search procedures, and targets for the recruitment of ethnic minority officers.

At the time, the Macpherson report was described by a number of commentators as a watershed in UK race relations; the most important document since the Scarman report which followed the 1981 Brixton riots. Many hoped it would mean that no black family would ever again have to suffer what the Lawrences went through.

But, 13 years after the report’s publication, has it measured up to the claims? Has Macpherson made a difference to the lives of black Britons?

Claudia Webbe of the Operation Trident Independent Advisory Group thinks not.

Webbe feels that the disproportionate numbers of black men dying in police custody, heavy-handed stop and search tactics, and the seemingly discriminatory way that anti-terrorism laws have been used have long since washed away the bright-eyed optimism that greeted the Macpherson report, and has dulled any hope that things will change for black people anytime soon.

“There were some advances at the time but it now appears that all of that seems to have rolled back,” she said. “There are issues that have not gone away, have not improved and have not changed for black communities in decades. You are still four or five times likely to be stopped and searched if you are black as compared to your white counterpart. You are still more likely to die in police custody.

FIGHT: Dawn Butler with artist Pollyanna Pickering

“Black communities are still two to three times more likely to be unemployed than white people. Black men, in particular, are still more likely to be detained in mental health institutions, and there are clearly more black young men in prison than there are in university. Things have changed on the surface but it doesn’t look like much has advanced since Macpherson.”

Suresh Grover, director of The Monitoring Group and a former Stephen Lawrence Campaign for Justice manager, also feels the Macpherson report has had little impact.

He said: “I think that race has been put on a national agenda but over the last two years we have seen as many racial attacks as we did in the 1990s. We have also seen fewer resources dedicated to people who are working to support victims of racism. Although the Lawrence case is a beacon for race relations I am afraid the future looks a bit bleaker than it should.”

However, Gary Trowsdale, managing director of the Damilola Taylor Trust, struck a more hopeful note. He said: “I think most people from white backgrounds felt a deep sense of shame in the way Stephen’s death came about and the appalling miscarriage of justice that followed. Have lessons been learned? I hope so personally and I think the great respect people from all communities have towards Doreen for the fantastic legacy she has provided for Stephen with her charity work has built a lot of bridges.

“We work with a lot of young people across London of all shapes, sizes and colours, and the common denominator is their positivity towards one another. I hope we will shortly arrive at a place where our young leaders have guided us towards; where colour or religion is just not an issue. We are all equal in the eyes of God, after all.”

IMPROVEMENTS: Lord Herman Ouseley

Leading anti-racism campaigner Lord Herman Ouseley, former chief executive of the now defunct Commission for Racial Equality, believes that race relations have improved but says that the Macpherson report was just one of many factors that helped.

He said: “Race relations were quite bad in 1993. Race relations in 2011 are better. If you are asking if things have got better since Stephen Lawrence was murdered nearly 20 years ago – yes. But not just because of this case. The case made a contribution but not by itself. A lot of other people were involved in trying to make this country fairer for people from different backgrounds.”

Former Brent South MP Dawn Butler also believes that race relations since Macpherson have improved.

“In the initial stages it made people very aware of institutional racism,” she said.

Butler added: “I don’t think it is as prevalent now but there is still racism that needs to be fought in many institutions.”

But Merlin Emmanuel, nephew of reggae singer Smiley Culture, who died following a police raid on his home in March last year, believes that any changes in race relations have been superficial.

“On the outside it appears that people are more tolerant but I think that deep down many people really are of the same mentality,” he said. “They still have the prejudices that they had 20 odd years ago. They have just become a lot more polite about it.”

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