A watershed moment in attitudes towards racism – remembering Stephen Lawrence

A guest blog from Sandra Charles (pictured on right of image), UNISON South East deputy regional convenor

In just a few days time (22 April) we will mark the 30th anniversary of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993.

It is widely acknowledged that the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the subsequent family-oriented campaign and public outcry, triggered a sea change in attitudes over race in the UK.

Sir William Macpherson’s Inquiry examined the circumstances of Stephen’s murder on April 22 1993, as well as the litany of police failures with the subsequent investigation, and led to an overhauling Britain’s race relations legislation that some say created the strongest battery of anti-discrimination powers and policies in Western Europe.

Speaking at the time, the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said that he hoped this horrific tragedy would prove “a watershed in attitudes towards racism. I want it to act as a catalyst for permanent and irrevocable change, not just across our public services, but across the whole of society.”

He continued, “We must make equality a reality…The pervasive, open racism of the fifties and sixties, the pernicious, sniggering racism of the seventies, eighties and nineties is gone.”

However, despite these optimistic words, the work to achieve an end to racism isn’t over. Worryingly, since Stephen’s murder, we have seen more racially motivated and hate filled murders on our streets – such as that of Labour politician Jo Cox – and yet still there is no comprehensive policy to deal with such horrible acts and violence.

Official reports continue to show increases to violent and horrendous race hate crimes, which remain among the highest volume category of crimes reported to the police. Not only does this have impact on the communities targeted by such hate, but it is also divisive and defeats all work and efforts of engaging in community cohesion.

On the 30th anniversary of Stephen’s racist murder we need to continue fighting for greater equality and a more inclusive world. This is also a time for reflective learning and to celebrate the incredible contribution of Black people towards society in the UK.

Stephen Lawrence day 2023