STEPHEN LAWRENCE, RACISM IN THE UK, 19 YEARS ON
WRITTEN BY ZITA HOLBOURNE
On Tuesday 3rd of January we saw 2 of the killers guilty of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence sentenced to imprisonment for their crime.
Stephen Lawrence in the words of his mother was a ‘bright, beautiful young man’ in his teens with his whole life ahead of him before he was killed by a racist gang in Eltham, South London in 1993.
Doreen and Neville Lawrence fought an 18 year battle in their quest for justice for their son and whilst this was a positive outcome, it has come 18 years too late and the battle is still not over as at least 3 of those who were part of the gang that murdered Stephen are free.
The poem I wrote on the night of 3rd January, entitled ‘Strange Kind of Justice’, sums up how I feel about it.
In 1998 a public inquiry known as the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry took place as a result of the Lawrence family campaign. This was headed by Sir William MacPherson who concluded that the Metropolitan Police Service was institutionally racist. MacPherson’s report and recommendations led to the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 which placed a duty on public sector bodies to promote race equality through the Public Sector Race Equality Duty. This was followed in 2006 with a duty on Disability and in 2007 on Gender.
Through the public sector equality duties public sector bodies were required to publish race, disability and gender equality schemes and carry out equality impact assessments on any new or changed policies to assess any disproportionate impact of their proposals on race, disability or gender. Trade unions have drawn on the public sector equality duties to challenge the disproportionate impact of job cuts, relocation and discriminatory pay amongst other discriminatory policies. Whilst employers have not been proactive in ensuring they adhere to the duties their very existence has given us a route in which to challenge institutional racism and discriminatory practices and policies collectively.
I commend Doreen and Neville Lawrence for the inspiration, strength, hope and determination they have brought to so many others facing racist attacks and race discrimination – whilst enduring their own prolonged battle, forced to set aside grieving the loss of their son in their quest for justice because they had no choice but to keep on fighting for that justice.
I am proud to have played a small part in supporting the Lawrence’s campaign over many years alongside many other trade union and community anti racist activists. The TUC established the Stephen Lawrence Task Force which was a high profile campaign with the aim of eliminating institutional racism in the workplace.
But I am saddened that it was necessary for the Lawrence family and so many more families to have to dedicate their lives to seeking justice for their loved ones and angry that legislation that came into force in order to prevent the type of institutional racism that was demonstrated by the Metropolitan Police Force following Stephen’s death is still in existence today within not only the police forces but other public sector organisations and institutions.
10 years after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry and MacPherson Report, Dr Richard Stone who was a panel member of the Inquiry produced a review report which exposed the failure of government to implement the vast majority of the original recommendations and other reports evidencing the same were produced by other independent bodies. That the recommendations have not been followed through is a disgrace in itself but once the evidence was produced demonstrating quite clearly that this was the case the government should have put in place an emergency action plan to address the situation. The issues that the recommendations sought to address have not gone away, if anything many of them have got worse and this is why Dr Stone made some new recommendations in his report.
In October 2010 a new Equality Act came into force and in April 2011 the public sector equality duty replaced the race, disability and gender duties. Whilst the duty covers other protected characteristics which is welcomed we have seen a significant weakening of the previous duties. There is no longer a requirement for Equality Schemes to be published or for Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs) to be carried out. Effectively the new law makes it easier for employers to disregard their duty to promote good race relations and take steps to prevent race discrimination occurring in employment or the services they provide. It seems to be that the onus is on lessening the burden on business and increasing the burden and distress racism brings for those on the receiving end.
The promised code of practice of the Public Sector Equality Duty which is even more important because of the watering down of the Duty has yet to be introduced and I am concerned that any delay in introducing this will lead to more public sector organisations failing to take race equality seriously.
Whilst we must fight to defend the equality protection in law that exists and use it to challenge discrimination, not least in respect of the disproportionate impact of cuts on gender, race and disability grounds we must also strive for improvements because we are seeing an increase not a decrease in discrimination in all aspects of our lives including;
· at work in respect of job cuts, pay, pensions, promotion and progression, 1.2 million people are unemployed with 1 in 2 young black people out of work
· in education where the scrapping of EMA means that those from deprived backgrounds cannot afford further education let alone afford the tripled tuition fees of £9000 per annum from the start of the forthcoming academic year, making degree level education a privilege for the wealthy when it should be available equally to all
But the racism we face goes beyond education and the workplace, in the criminal justice system, policing, stop and search, DNA database, service provision with many essential services disappearing due to funding cuts in particular in the voluntary sector, attacks on migrant workers, the Far Right blaming black communities for cuts being made by the Con-Dem coalition, racist hate crime, in sports – not least in football, on our TV screens and disgracefully we saw efforts to detract from the verdict in Stephen Lawrence’s murder trial in the days following. In effect there is no aspect of our lives where racism doesn’t raise its ugly head.
If ever there was a need for robust race equality law, backed up and enforced by the government through the powers held by the Equality and Human Rights Commission which is also facing huge cuts reducing its capacity to deliver on race equality it is now. Access the campaign leaflet ‘What Price Equality’ and the Save the EHRC petition here.
The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust was set up in Stephen’s memory supports young people from deprived backgrounds through bursaries to pursue careers in architecture – which was Stephen’s chosen career and wishes to broaden this approach to include law, finance and media studies.
You can find out more about the Trust and make donations via the Trust’s website: http://stephenlawrence.org.uk/ and call upon you all to initiate any fundraising initiatives you can to further the work of the Trust and to continue Stephen’s legacy.
Doreen Lawrence launched a £2 text campaign this month. You can donate £2 by texting: DLAW02 £2 to 70070.
Progress to me is not measured by what we’ve achieved but what we’ve retained maintained and improved upon and the legacy we are able to create for those who will go after us. A temporary fix does not bring change it simply delays the problem and the time when we have to face it head on.
There’s never been a more important time for workers, service users, communities and families to come together to challenge the discrimination we face in all aspects of our lives. When we divide we fall when we stay together we have strength and unity, two essential ingredients in the struggle for justice, equality and freedom.
Zita Holbourne is co-founder and co-chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, a member of the PCS Union National Executive Committee and of the TUC Race Relations Committee and a performance poet and artist.
PCS NEC statement on Stephen Lawrence
Information about BARAC including how to join our campaign.
Information about Zita’s work as a poet and artist.
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