Had he not been murdered, Stephen Lawrence would now be 46, tragically he died at the age of 18 on 21st April 1993. Few people in our nation have met Stephen Lawrence but all of us have had changes made in our areas as a consequence of his death. Today we can celebrate or at least acknowledge his murder as today is the Stephen Lawrence Day. I am very proud of the extent to which Sussex Police have for nearly 20 years set out to try to listen and learn from people from a range of settings and backgrounds as they seek to do their work in the most effective way. The call by William Macpherson for Police Forces and other public sector agencies to take advice from people who represent their community was made in 1999 as one of his recommendations. His report on the murder and inadequate approach by the Metropolitan Police was very significant. Sadly despite the hard work carried out by a number of Police Forces including Sussex there are still many elements that require this approach. As was expressed yesterday in the House of Lords, sadly there is still Institutional Racism existing across our nation. The following text came from the speeches under the title of Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities that took place on the 20th of April in the House of Commons and then on 21st of April 2021 in the House of Lords. A statement was made in both settings which included the very clear sentence.
Let me be clear: the report does not deny that institutional racism exists in the UK.
Yesterday in the House of Lords two people spoke as part of the debate and mentioned Stephen Lawrence by name. First Elizabeth Berridge
First, dealing with the theme of the noble Baroness’s speech regarding structural racism, the report commends and stands by the Macpherson definition of institutional racism. As we stand here, the day before Stephen Lawrence Day, I think it is important to recognise that. It has stood the test of time.
The second reference came from Brian Paddick who was a member of the Metropolitan Police from 1976 to 2002.
My Lords, the report cites the evidence that you are six times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police if you are black than if you are white; that the vast majority of stop and searches are for drugs, not weapons; and that as a result class B drug offences amount to nearly half of prosecutions of all ethnic minority groups. This evidence gives rise to the perception, which the report fails to mention or address, that the police are there to target black people, not protect them. As the Minister mentioned, Stephen Lawrence Day is tomorrow. A witness to the Macpherson inquiry into his tragic death 20 years ago said that the black community felt overpoliced and underprotected. What has changed? How can progress be made if black people do not have confidence in the report?
As Brian Paddick stated, there are some real concerns about the report but as I wrote here a few days ago, if MPs were willing to connect with their communities and particularly people in all communities, the impact of racism could then be transferred to Parliament with an opportunity for the recent report to be updated. Let us hope that will happen very soon. In the meantime it is vital that people in Sussex are aware that there is very strong Stop and Search Committee that is chaired by Dr Anusree Biswas Sasidharan and as part of the Equality and Diversity Board in Sussex Police, Inspector Jay Mendis-Gunasekeran is responsible for the Race Equality Network. There is always going to be more work that can be carried out but the current position is much stronger than was the case 20 years ago and we can be pleased for the great deal of progress that has been made.