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Social Justice

Doreen Lawrence says the UK justice system ‘degrades’ the Black community

“Within the black community we suffer from this every day,” says Doreen Lawrence, who has campaigned for police reform since her son’s murder in 1993

Baroness Doreen Lawrence has spoken of her anger at the continuing lack of justice for the Black community in the UK almost 30 years after the murder of her son, Stephen, in a racist attack which shocked the country.

Speaking to The Big Issue, Doreen Lawrence revealed the toll that fighting for justice has taken on her – and the words she wishes she’d said to her son. 

“When something this dreadful happens, you expect the authorities to be so outraged they’ll do everything they can to support you,” said Lawrence, in an interview with Jane Graham for the weekly Letter To My Younger Self feature.

“When you realise it’s completely the opposite – well, we talk about fight or flight. My instinct was to fight.”

Doreen Lawrence was thrust into the spotlight in 1993 following the murder of her son, Stephen, in South East London. She went on to campaign for justice for victims of racist violence and reforms to the police and criminal justice system.

As time has passed, Doreen Lawrence has reflected on how much of an impact the ongoing fight for justice has had on her.

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“Within the Black community, we suffer from this every day,” she said. “Still the authorities – the police, the justice system, the courts – they behave as if to say we don’t have feelings, we should be treated in a way which degrades us.

“That’s what I’m beginning to get really angry about now. I should have had time to grieve properly for my son and support my other two children.”

In an unusually personal interview, Lawrence tells of her private grief over important things she never got to tell her son.

“It’s only after that you realise there were things you should have said but you didn’t. Looking back, I feel I took him for granted, thinking he’d always be here. But he’s not.”

Looking back, she says, despite never wanting to be in the public eye, she coped as well as could be expected. “I think when Stephen died I did as well as I could at the time,” she said.

A public inquiry in 1998 concluded that the original investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder was incompetent. It also labelled the Met Police force “institutionally racist”.

Five men were arrested over the murder, with two finally convicted in 2012.

Throughout, Lawrence has been at the forefront of the fight for justice. In 2003 Doreen Lawrence was awarded an OBE and in 2013, became a life peer – sitting on the Labour benches in the House of Lords.

The wide-ranging interview includes Lawrence reflecting on her childhood in Jamaica and moving to London to join her mother aged nine, as well as her joy at becoming a grandmother. Lawrence also explains why she is so proud of her son’s legacy.

“The thing that makes me proudest is knowing Stephen’s name means so much now,” she says. “Things in his name have changed so much in law, and his name has such respect. And he deserved that. He was somebody who valued people. He valued life.

“And so if his name is able to change things and bring respect for a lot of young people and help them achieve things, whatever they set their hearts on, that does make me proud.”

Baroness Doreen Lawrence’s BBC Maestro course on Finding The Inner Strength is available now.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence’s full Letter To My Younger Self will be published in The Big Issue, on the streets from November 21.

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