Baroness Doreen Lawrence, who had to fight for 18 years to see justice done after her son Stephen was murdered by racists, has said a Government-commissioned report that claimed the UK “no longer had a system rigged against minorities” is “giving racists the green light”.
Her solicitor Imran Khan QC added that the report was “shocking” and “not worth the paper it is written on”.
Baroness Lawrence and Mr Khan were speaking last night at a public event organised by De Montfort University Leicester’s (DMU) Stephen Lawrence Research Centre.
The event had been planned in advance to discuss Leicester’s plans to mark the national Stephen Lawrence Day on April 22, but conversation quickly turned to the report published on Wednesday morning by The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED), which had been set up following the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.
Baroness Lawrence and Mr Khan fought for 18 years to get a conviction against two of Stephen’s murderers and a subsequent independent inquiry by former High Court judge Sir William Macpherson concluded the police investigation into the killing had been “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership”.
Baroness Lawrence, a former Chancellor of De Montfort University, told the virtual audience of around 150 people last night: “When I first heard about the report my first thought was it has pushed [the fight against] racism back 20 years or more.
“I think if you were to speak to somebody whose employer speaks to them in a certain way, where do you go with that now?
“If a person is up for promotion and has been denied that, where does he go with that now?
“You know, all these things we’ve been working for and showing that structural racism exists – we talk about the pandemic when you look at how many of our people have died, all the nurses, the doctors, the frontline staff, of COVID, and to have this report denying that those people have suffered...they are denying that the likes of my son was murdered through racism and the fact that it took 18 years to get justice for him. The report is denying all those issues.
“Those people who marched for Black Lives Matter? It’s denying all of that. The George Floyd stuff? It’s denied all of that. So those who sit behind this report (saying) that racism doesn’t exist or it no longer exists need to speak to the young boys who are stopped and searched constantly on the street. They need to speak to those young people.
“They [the report authors] are not in touch with reality basically. That’s what it boils down to. When you are privileged you do not have those experiences.
“My son was murdered because of racism and you cannot forget that. Once you start covering it up it is giving the green light to racists. You imagine what’s going to happen come tomorrow. What’s going to happen on our streets with our young people? You are giving racists the green light.”
Mr Khan said: “I was shocked. I was absolutely shocked. It’s unbelievable. One of the panel members of the Lawrence Inquiry coined the phrase ‘a reality spectrum’ because when we were talking about racism in the inquiry around the time that Stephen was murdered there was one reality of those who experienced racism and there was another reality of the [police] officers and the institutions.
“So, what this panel member said was that you have got to cross that reality spectrum. That’s what reminds me of today.
“These authors of the report are living in a completely different reality to those who are going about their business and on the same day that I am looking at the trial in the States [of the officer accused of murdering George Floyd], you are having this.
“What reality do the authors occupy when they see the statistics of stop and search and they see the statistics of the number of black people within the prison system or the disproportionate number of people who are getting convictions and so on?
“The data completely undermines that report and you wonder whether it’s the sort of thing that we got immediately after the Lawrence Inquiry - in fact, during the Lawrence Inquiry – of police officers saying ‘there is no institutional racism’ and then, after that, they said ‘well there was, so now we have changed it’.
“And that gives, unfortunately, those who wish to peddle racism the opportunity now. They have been given the green card to say ‘I am not being racist. Racism does not exist’.
“So, I am afraid, as Doreen rightly says, it has put back the issue of tackling discrimination and racism 20-odd years. We are back to square one. Disappointing is an understatement.
“It is shocking and, to not put too blunt a point on this, it is not worth the paper it is written on. It is not the reality of Britain today. It really isn’t.
“And this report, I hope, will not see the light of day and it will be put into a cupboard and people will forget about it and we need to tackle that (which) we know exists.
“I have client upon client who complains about racism left, right and centre. Nobody has spoken to me about that. I wonder who they have spoken to about that and what this is out to achieve?
“Is this government seeking to a draw a line under issues of racism because they don’t want to deal with it?
“Because to deal with racism is difficult. It requires changes to be made and this government does not want to do it. Individuals and institutions don’t want to do it. So, we are in for a really rough ride.
“I am angry about it. I am not supposed to show that in my professional career, but it is offensive.”
De Montfort University’s Stephen Lawrence Research Centre was opened in 2018 with the aim of starting conversations that will shape and influence how we think about race and social justice. Baroness Lawrence is the centre’s Founding Patron.
You can watch the DMU Stephen Lawrence Research Centre event here
You can read more about the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre here.
Posted on Thursday 1 April 2021