Today, we salute Doreen Lawrence, the Jamaican-born mother of Stephen Lawrence, who was as she herself rightfully put it, not just a murder victim but “a bright, beautiful young man who any parent of whatever background would have been proud of.”
After 18 years – just as many years as her son spent on this earth, Doreen Lawrence’s long and dogged battle for justice for her son has finally seen some justice as two of his murderers, Gary Dobson and David Norris were convicted today in the United Kingdom.
We are so overwhelmed with emotion at this. Anyone who knows anything about it cannot help but be moved at this case which was one of the most significant of the 20th century in Britain.
Stephen Lawrence’s death and the bungling, incompetence and indifference that delayed justice for him for 18 years, changed the face of Britain. It prompted deep and official soul-searching about policing methods and attitudes in the U.K. The landmark 1999 report on the case which concluded that the Metropolitan Police Force was “institutionally racist” confirmed what many Black Britons had been saying for decades.
The case and the dignity and passionate persistence of Doreen Lawrence and Stephen’s father Neville, brought unlikely allies to their side like the Daily Mail, which campaigned for justice for Stephen for nearly 15 years, starting with their bold, landmark ‘Murderers’ headline on Valentine’s Day 1997. The Daily Mail is rarely ever a friend to islandistas and our descendants but in this they were a steadfast and true friend, keeping Stephen’s memory alive even when it seemed there was no chance of justice ever being served. Their campaigning helped do exactly what Stephen’s murderers didn’t want – kept attention on the case continually, forcing police to re-examine and re-inspect, and eventually find the evidence needed to convict some of them and forcing legislative changes that allowed them to be charged again.
Because make no doubt about it, they wanted Stephen’s memory to fade. Not just his murderers but the police officers who callously bungled the case, who treated Stephen’s best friend Duwayne Brooks who witnessed the horrific murder and was also attacked, with suspicion – the suspicion that as a Black Brit-Caribbean boy, he couldn’t have been up to much good.
Even today, amidst the elation, there were voices even on the liberal Guardian, vainly trumpeting these views – one commenter noting how many young black men die from black-on-black violence and banging on about Operation Trident.
As if that had any relevance at all to Stephen Lawrence. Stephen Lawrence was not one of the ones for whom Operation Trident was created. He was simply an 18 year old student who aspired to be an architect some day. My younger sister is an 18 year old student who aspires to be an architect some day. How could I not be moved?
Doreen Lawrence didn’t allow them. She didn’t allow them to tarnish Stephen’s memory, to cloud it with innuendo and suspicion related to the sins of other children of islandistas. She stood up for the right for each of us to be judged on our own merit and not treated as a homogenous group of criminals.
There is still much to be done as Doreen herself pointed out - on both the micro and macro level (as the London riots last summer indicated). Three or even four more of Stephen’s attackers are still living their lives free. They are allowed to have partners and raise children and grow old and a little saggy in the face and a little grey around the temples. And Stephen never will.
And so, while we celebrate, we cannot rest yet. There is much justice still to be done.