A reflection for Stephen Lawrence Day

Bevan Powell, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advisor to the Methodist Church in Britain, reflects on Stephen Lawrence Day.

Stephen Lawrence Day is a national day of commemoration, held on April 22 each year to remember the life and legacy of Stephen, teenage son of Doreen and Neville Lawrence, a Methodist family.  He was 18 years old when murdered in a racially motivated attack in 1993, in south east London. Stephen Lawrence Day is a chance to recommit ourselves to the fight for racial justice. For me it’s a time to pause, reflect, taking time to assess societal progress in terms of race relations, not from government statistics or inquiries but from my own framework of lived experience and that of those who look like me and share a similar cultural context.  For the Methodist Church it’s an opportunity to engage fully with our strategy for Justice, Dignity and Solidarity, it’s an opportunity to consider how we might walk with Micah and live the realities of being a justice seeking church. It’s an opportunity for each of us to consider the role we might play in bringing about a truly inclusive Church.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8
Stephen’s murder and the aftermath of a failed police investigation into his death, resonated deeply within the experiences of African and African Caribbean communities, a sense of over policed and under protected. These unhealed wounds continue to scar the landscape of race relations and race equality in Britain today. As a founding member of the National Black Police Association and a serving member of the Metropolitan Police Service, the Lawrence’s have never been too far from my consciousness, having worked closely with both Stephen’s parents, Baroness Lawrence and Neville, organising fundraising events and giving evidence to  the McPherson public inquiry into the death of Stephen.

During my testimony to the Inquiry, it was my Christian faith that empowered me with the courage to provide evidence against a formidable, £3 billion a year Metropolitan Police Service. Added motivation came from knowing that my two colleagues alongside me, Leroy Logan and Paul Wilson shared the same strength of faith and a deep rooted desire for change and justice.  We outlined the Met’s ineffectiveness in terms of race relations both internally and in the delivery of its services to the public, and crucially provided a definition of Institutional Racism.

The Stephen Lawrence Report led to a number of reforms within the Metropolitan Police Service and other public bodies. These reforms led to a more proactive approach to investigating racist crimes, including the detection of hate crime. The introduction of family liaison officers, responsible for ensuring that victim’s families were kept informed about the progress of investigations and provided with appropriate support. Change also included a new system for reporting racist incidents and  a requirement for all officers to undergo diversity training. A range of measures aimed at increasing diversity was also implemented, positive action recruitment campaigns and the creation of new career development opportunities for officers from underrepresented groups.

The significant challenges and change undertaken by the Met at the time of the Inquiry, provides significant lessons for us as a Church as we continue on our journey to becoming fully inclusive.

However, the recent Casey review into the Metropolitan Police Service, sadly, highlighted failings which I thought had been resolved, demonstrates the dangers of complacency and the consequence of shifting our attention away from the real and ongoing challenges of discrimination and inequality in our society today.

Now as Equality, Diversity and Inclusion advisor to the Methodist Church in Britain, things have come full circle as I reflect on the life of Stephen and one of the most influential people in race equality, his mother, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, who has helped to transform race equality in our country and brought significant change to the Met and other public bodies.

The Lawrences were catapulted into the public gaze, not through choice but through an unceasing desire to bring about justice for their son, Stephen. As Methodists we are called to challenge injustice and to see God in each person we encounter.

Justice for Stephen is about all of us, every one of us, in society having justice. There are still too many young people who do not have a sense of hope, who just don’t get the chance to live their dreams. I want all our children and young people to feel inspired, be confident and have hope in their own future. We are building hope but there is more to do.

Baroness Lawrence

Bevan Powell
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advisor