The conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris (for the murder of Stephen Lawrence at a London bus stop in 1993) is welcome news. “Justice Delayed” of course but its a comforting thought that tomorrow they are likely to be sentenced to maybe twenty years in prison tomorrow……yet if they had been convicted say a year after Mr Lawrence’s murder, they would probably be out of prison now.
Now Gary Dobson (36) and David Norris (35) are unlikely to be released until they are old men in their late 50s. Thats a long time to reflect on their heinous crime of stabbing…along with others…Stephen Lawrence a black man to death on a London street.
In some ways the killing of Stephen Lawrence seems short time ago. It is one of those crimes which will will never fade from the memory. The reaction of London police……….slow to investigate…and investigating badly…….probably changed British Society. The murder of a black youth by several white youths was of course always regarded as a heinous crime…but seemingly the police…….and the broader public ….regarded it as an occupational hazard of living in inner city London. Except the crime happened in the leafier suburban part of West London. The black victim Stephen Lawrence was a decent young man and many people (white as well as black) identified with his grieving and articulate parents. And all decent white people would have been revolted at the five arrogant, spoiled young white men who the Police could not bring to Justice.
Secretly recorded footage of the five suspects and the disgusting, foul mouthed racism and their arrogant demeanour at a subsequent Public Inquiry into the murder and police investigation alienated them from all decent white people.
I think it was a turning point in Race Relations. It was not about White versus Black. It was Good versus Evil. Private prosecutions mounted by the Lawrence Family had little effect, except to a lead to a radical change in the British Law……and abolishing (in certain circumstances) the convention of Double Jeopardy. It is now possible to try a suspect for a crime for which he has been already deemed “Not Guilty”.
New developments in DNA Forensics has allowed Dobson and Norris to be re-tried and while it is correct to criticise the Police for their original investigation, credit is due for their second investigation which has led to the conviction of Dobson and Norris. The reality is of course that other people should have sat alongside them in the dock.
The trial changed public perception of racially motivated crime and led to the Police re-thinking their own attitude. The Police were stung by criticism at the Inquiry that the force was “institutionally racist”……..that perceptions and prejudice was so deeply part of policing culture……that even the police themselves were blind to it. And I think this is a fair point. The old Norn Iron police force ….the discredited “Royal” Ulster Constabulary was institutionally sectarian that it was ineffective. Which is why the consignment of the RUC to the waste paper bin of History is welcome.
It allowed a new Police “service” (PSNI) to emerge which is shorn not just of that baggage but the brutish, “laddish” canteen culture which made women officers uncomfortable.
I thin the phrase “institutional racism” is a constant reminder that we can in an unthinking way adopt a form of casual stereotyping even while trying to maintain an anti-racist attitude. The best of us struggle with the “new” language of Diversity because it is constantly evolving.