Women Who Inspire: Baroness Doreen Lawrence

This week’s chosen inspirational woman is Baroness Doreen Lawrence. Lawrence’s son Stephen Lawrence was killed in a brutal act of racism in 1993. She received an OBE in 2003 for her tireless campaigning against racist crimes.

 

Lawrence was born in Jamaica but moved to England at the age of nine. She worked in a bank and then raised her three children, Stephen, Stuart and Georgina.

On the 22nd April 1993, Lawrence’s eighteen-year-old son Stephen was brutally murdered by a youth gang in London. The reaction of the police was unacceptable and didn’t give Stephen or his family the justice they deserved.

When the police entered the crime scene they did not give Stephen first aid, leaving him face-down. Stephen’s friend Duwayne Brooks who was on the scene was not asked by police about where the gang had run after the attack had taken place. The witnesses were not asked for over a week to complete an e-fit. Worryingly, the suspects, even though they had been named by over 20 people within 48 hours of the murder, were not arrested for two weeks, meaning forensic investigations which could have proved vital were not able to be completed. A bloodstained tissue that was also found near where the murder took place was not recovered from the scene, losing a key piece of evidence for the investigation.

On the 4th May, Lawrence and her family stated in a press conference they believed the police were doing an inadequate job of investigating her son’s murder. She met with Nelson Mandela days later to discuss this. Here followed years of back-and-forth investigations and trials which eventually resulted in the 2011 trial of Gary Dobson and David Norris that led to them being found guilty in 2012. However, there are three other men: Neil Acourt, Jamie Acourt and Luke Knight, who have been accused of killing Stephen, although they have not since been charged.

 

The police apologised for the way the investigation was handled in July 1998; however, clearly the length of time that was needed for Stephen Lawrence’s family to be given justice, and the question of whether the prosecution of two out of the five suspects has sufficiently brought Stephen and his family closure, is unacceptable and only shows society’s intrinsically prejudicial treatment of people of colour.

Lawrence has spent 25 years campaigning for the legacy of her son to be used in a positive light to go against the racial issues which are undoubtedly still prevalent today. The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust was founded by Lawrence in 1998. The Trust has a centre based in South London named the Stephen Lawrence Centre which provides programmes which work towards affecting social change and creating a fairer, more equal society for everyone. She has also written a book: ‘And Still I Rise: Seeking Justice for Stephen’.

What we can learn from Lawrence is to speak up against fundamental societal injustices and take action, even when it might be hardest. She said in a Guardian interview: “I could have closed my door and shut myself away, but that is not me, and my children were not brought up that way.” Lawrence is now a public figure for fighting racial or any kind of discrimination. Recently she was interviewed regarding the Grenfell Tower, arguing the way the events unfolded was different to what it could have been because of institutional racism and classism. Lawrence has recently been appointed a Baroness in 2013 and has decided to step out of the limelight to focus on her family and herself after campaigning for so long.

I admire you Doreen, for your courage when faced with adversity, for your strength when faced with destruction and for your compassion when faced with hatred.