A Black teen's murder sparked a crisis over racism in British policing. Thirty years on, little has changed

The father of Stephen Lawrence, a young man killed in a racist attack, imagines what his son's life could have been like if he had not been killed.

A Black teen's murder sparked a crisis over racism in British policing. Thirty years on, little has changed

London CNN

Neville Lawrence imagines himself walking around London, looking at the buildings that his son Stephen would have worked on if he had lived long enough. He came the closest to this dream by building a tiny model.

He did his work-experience with an architect, and he made a model of the building in Deptford. Every time I see that building in Deptford, it makes me think of him.' Lawrence told CNN. He was referring to the neighborhood located in southeast London. He still gets emotional when he talks about Stephen, even though it's been over 30 years.

Stephen Lawrence, who was 18 at the time of his murder, was killed in an attack based on race on April 22, 1992. The murder of Stephen Lawrence and the failure by the London Metropolitan Police Service (LMP) to investigate the crime properly sparked national outrage. The national outcry culminated with a landmark inquiry which concluded that the force was racist.

But despite decades' worth of promises, reviews, and reforms, the new government report, published just four weeks prior to the 30th anniversary, came to the same conclusion. The Met remains institutionally racist.

Raju Bhatt is a civil rights lawyer who has spent his entire career representing people who have made claims against police for wrongful conduct. He said that nothing in the Baroness Casey Review was a surprise.

He said: 'Our clients see a machine that doesn't listen to them. As a result, we fail to address cultural issues, such as the culture of impunity that arises when officers are confident that they will not be held accountable - that their managers, no matter what they do, will support them or at least look the other way.'

Mark Rowley, the Met Police chief, has acknowledged that there are'systemic problems' in the force. However, he has not used the term 'institutional'.

Bhatt saw the Casey Report as the latest in a series of familiar events that began in 1981, when he graduated university.

In the summer of 2010, racial tensions in Britain reached a boiling point, and violent clashes broke out between mainly Black protesters, and police in South London's Brixton district, and elsewhere. Bhatt was a volunteer in the community, helping those who were arrested at the time of protests.

A government investigation into the riots, and the police response, concluded that there was a 'urgent requirement for changes in law enforcement and training as well as the recruitment of ethnic minorities to the police force. The report also revealed that there were 'evidences of harassment by policemen of minorities'.

Stephen Lawrence, 12 years after Brixton riots, was killed. Five White teenagers were implicated in his murder at a southeast London bus stop within days. Five White teens were arrested but no one was prosecuted.

The investigation was only launched after years of campaigning from the Lawrence family, and with the support of Nelson Mandela and national media. In 1997, an inquest found that Lawrence was killed unlawfully in a racial attack committed by five white teenagers.

The Met handled the case poorly, and a wave of protests forced then-Government to commission a probe into it. In 1999, the inquiry concluded that the investigation was hampered by 'professional incompetence', 'institutional racism', and 'failure of leadership' on the part of senior officers.

Macpherson Report, a review of the police force, included 70 recommendations to increase public trust. The recommendations included hiring more Black and minority ethnic officers in order to ensure that the police force reflects the community it serves. They also recommended taking steps to address disparities in how police power is used against minorities and developing guidelines for investigating and tackling racist crimes.

The Macpherson Report was damning but, like the Brixton Riots Review, it failed in its goal of reforming the Met Police.

There are more than a few "bad apples"

Leslie Thomas, a Black British man born in the 70s and 1980s, says he has experienced racism by police. He recalls being racially profiled, stopped and searched several times by police officers in the past. This included when he had his wife and child in the back seat of his car.

I was 14 years old, in my school uniform and coming home from the school when a police vehicle pulled up beside me. He said that four officers jumped out and told him, "you look suspicious".

Thomas, like Bhatt is an attorney who has represented people for decades in cases against police and other authorities. Thomas, like Bhatt has little hope that the new report will bring about any significant changes.

Here's the deal. You cannot hit a goal unless you acknowledge it. Thomas stated that the Metropolitan Police has said "oh, we'd like to be more inclusive", but they have refused to admit through their leadership they have a racism problem.

He added, 'If there were only a few bad apple, you wouldn't have expected, as we've seen, repetitions after repetitions, generation after generation'.

CNN has yet to receive a response from the Met. Rowley, in a speech to the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee, refused to call the Met Police "institutionally" racist. She said that the term 'institutionalized' was ambiguous and political.

Rowley stated in a press release that the Casey Report'must act as a catalyst for reform of police' and "needs meaningful change." Rowley said: "I want us all to be antiracist, antimisogynist, and antihomophobic." In fact, I would like us to be against all forms of discrimination.

Thomas is a specialist in representing the families of those who have died while in police custody, a problem that disproportionately impacts people of color.

According to Inquest's statistics, Black people are seven times as likely to die in custody than White people. This includes deaths in prison, immigration detention and mental health settings.

Stephen Lawrence's legacy, 30 years on

04:54 CNN

Thomas represented the Rigg family, whose son Sean died in 2008 following a mental crisis and being pinned in an arrest by police. The Rigg family fought on despite an initial investigation conducted by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, a police watchdog at the time.

In 2012, a jury at an inquest found that Rigg had died from cardiac arrest following being restrained for eight minutes in a prone posture. They also said that the length and level of restraint employed by the police were 'unsuitable and unnecessary'. This'more than minimly' contributed towards his death.

The police watchdog reviewed the case in light of its findings. A police misconduct panel in 2019 cleared five officers in relation to Rigg’s death of gross misconduct. A police misconduct panel cleared five officers of gross misconduct in connection with Rigg's death in 2019.

Marcia Rigg is still fighting. She and her family spent years watching CCTV recordings of Sean's final moments to try and piece together what happened. It's been a long and traumatic process that has not yet brought her the justice she seeks for her brother.

It took four years for us to have an inquest. We, my family and especially my brother Wade had to investigate ourselves to see our loved ones being treated that way by police officers who should have been helping us. It's shocking, and it makes you angry', she told CNN.

Rigg still fears the police. 'I don't like the sirens, I don't like the uniforms.

Rigg was re-traumatized by the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis on May 20, 2020. Floyd, like Sean, was also held in a prone posture by police. Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes before being found guilty of his murder.

It also made her more determined to fight. "When George Floyd was murdered, and everyone witnessed it, British politicians were on the side (of the people) (saying) this couldn't happen. She said: "They need to look at their own backyard."

Lack of Will to Address Wrongdoing

Deborah Coles is the executive director of Inquest. She said that the struggle of the Lawrences to obtain justice for their loved one's mirrors the experience of almost everyone with whom she has worked.

She added that the "cultures of denial, defensiveness, and delay" within government agencies as well as the victim blaming, and the tendency to demean the victim's community and family, contribute to the suffering of families in these cases.

She told CNN that successive governments and police chiefs had dismissed the seriousness of the problem. We've always maintained that the issue is that people tend to view deaths in custody as isolated incidents rather than a systemic and enduring problem. This is a problem that affects all police forces.

In 2021, the UK's largest force of police commissioned an independent investigation after a serving Metropolitan Police Officer was convicted for the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard (a 33-year old London woman). The Casey report, which was released in 2021, found that the Met Police Department is not only institutionally racist but also misogynistic sexist homophobic.

According to another parliamentary report, published last year: Black people were nine and a half times more likely than Whites to be stopped and questioned, even though most'stop and question' actions did not result in further action.

In 2022, only 17% officers identified themselves as nonwhite, despite the fact that the city they patrol is far more diverse.

This is a higher figure than the 3% recorded in the early 2000s but it is still far below the target and does not reflect the communities that the police serve.

We see critical reviews, inquiries and inquest findings. Coroner's reports are also common. There is a wealth of life-saving advice, but there are also some very important structural changes that need to be made. Coles stated that despite the fact that these recommendations are not being implemented, they still exist.

She added that Inquest and many other organizations have called for a new monitoring mechanism to ensure the correct responses are being taken.

Find peace

The Lawrence family, along with their supporters, are continuing to fight for justice as they mark the 30th Anniversary of Stephen's murder.

Gary Dobson, and David Norris, two of the five attackers, were not convicted until 2012, nearly 19 years after the murder. A change in the law allowed for a new trial in cases when new evidence was found.

The other three people who are alleged to have been involved in the murder have yet to be brought before the law.

Neville Lawrence is determined to continue fighting, even though he says that the Casey Report has once again made it clear that his family is alone in this.

He said: 'If justice is what you seek, then you must fight for it. No one else will do it in the right way.

Lawrence, who had been consumed with grief and anger for years, decided to return to Jamaica where his son was buried. He told CNN, 'I accept that I have to leave here in order to find some peace.'

I couldn't bury my child here due to the vandalism. He said that the plaque (memorial), where Stephen fell, was vandalized so many times, they put a security camera there to prevent people from going and desecrating it. Imagine what they would do if Stephen were here.