I was 18 when Stephen Lawrence was murdered, and was at A-level college as he was. The killing, and the subsequent behaviour of the police, led to me going on my first ever march and joining a political party. Just a small, personal, example of how that young man’s life reached people far away who would never know him or his family.
The police today have changed radically, they had to in the face of repeated exposures of prejudice and even corruption, as we were reminded vividly by Doreen Lawrence this week, speaking outside the Old Bailey at the end of a case that should have taken place in 1994 at the latest. Instead, the police investigated Stephen himself for being a suspected gang member. He was black, after all.
Mr Justice Treacy, who presided over the trial, showed how much change had taken place when he talked about the “shame” of past police behaviour, but commended the recent police investigation that led eventually to the trial. But he also saw fit to call Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll, who has been looking after the case in recent years, before him to urge him not to give up on finding evidence to convict the others known to have been involved in the murder.
And Mrs Lawrence also called on the police not to use her son’s name as an illustration that all of the dark practices it shone a light on, had somehow gone away. They haven’t, she said.
So what does this mean for Shepherd’s Bush, one of the most ethnically diverse areas of London? Regular readers will know that I have spent a lot of valuable time with the local Safer Neighbourhood Team who police our streets since the murder on Lakeside Road in May 2011. In doing so I’ve witnessed first hand how officers have handled potentially explosive situations with dignity and respect. This included one group of young black men who were reported by their neighbours as breaking into a car. We ran to the scene and sure enough found a group of young black men standing outside a car, with its door hanging open.
The only problem was that it belonged to one of them and he was showing off his new seat covers to his mates. As the net curtains on a well to do W12 Street twitched up and down the road it was quite clear to everyone what the big elephant in the room was and the young lads were quite understandably not best impressed. The officer leading the team treated them throughout with respect and within minutes they were comparing local kebab houses, and visibly relaxed.
One small incident which on its own doesn’t mean a great deal – but it did to those young lads, and probably to the less experienced officers who watched and hopefully learned from it.
Yesterday, however, the Borough Commander Lucy D’Orsi, who I have a great deal of respect for both as a woman who’s worked her way to the top in what is still a very masculine profession and also someone who clearly gets what it means to actually talk to people effectively, held a session on Twitter. So, given the news of the week, I asked her what the police could learn from the Lawrence case to apply in policing one of the most ethnically diverse areas of London.
Her response was a dismissive one, as you can see above. The logical conclusion of what she said was that no lessons have been learned because the case remains open. Thankfully that is not actually true. Two hours later, and I would imagine having had a word with her press people, she sent me another message which you can see below. As a response to Lawrence it was pretty cack-handed.
I don’t for a minute doubt that Ms D’Orsi does regard the lessons of the Lawrence case as being of vital importance, she and her officers demonstrate that by their actions on a regular basis. But I would just sound a warning about how the good work of her officers could be undermined by a few ill-chosen words.