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Because of Stephen

Photo credit: The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust

Photo credit: The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust

Stephen Lawrence Day, on 22 April, celebrates the life and legacy of Stephen Lawrence, who was killed in a racist attack at just 18 years old. The day aims to recognise the part we all play in creating a society that treats everyone with fairness and respect, in which everyone can flourish.

Stephen’s senseless murder had a profound and lasting impact on society and undoubtedly changed policing forever. Whilst there’s more to be done, there has been significant change and progress at Avon and Somerset Police over the past 26 years.

The theme of this first commemorative event is ‘Because of Stephen…’ and we’ve asked spokespeople from across the force along with key partners to consider what’s changed for the better as a result of Stephen’s death.

Because of Stephen… we listen to our communities
Steve Cullen, Assistant Chief Constable Avon and Somerset Police

Stephen Lawrence was a young black man, who was tragically killed in 1993.

The murder, investigation and the Macpherson report have arguably defined this generation of policing. As a PC when the murder happened, a DI when the Macpherson report was published and now an ACC, 20 years on, what happened to Stephen has stayed with me throughout my service.

Stephen had his whole life ahead of him. However we accept that many young people from minority communities represent the most excluded, under represented, most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society.

Our mission to deliver outstanding policing for everyone and this is underpinned by our values of caring, inclusion, learning and courage. We can only deliver our mission if we open ourselves up to those who do not have trust and confidence in policing, listen to our communities, learn from their lived experience and demonstrate real change.

I have seen change over the last 20 years. Because of Stephen we engage with local communities via different channels including Independent Advisory Groups, Police Powers Scrutiny Groups and Hate Crime Review Panels. We encourage people to see policing first hand, whether via ride along Schemes, Citizens Academies or volunteering. We reach out to minority communities via Discovery Workshops and proactively embrace and support cultural events.

But in terms of building trust and confidence we recognise we can do so much more. That is why Stephen’s legacy should and will continue well beyond my service.

Because of Stephen…we recognise the importance of diversity and positive engagement with our communities
Aqil Farooq, Chair of the Black Police Association

The Black Police Association (BPA) were officially recognised as an integral part of the Avon and Somerset Constabulary in 2002 following the recommendations of the Macpherson report, which encourages all forces to value race diversity within their workforce. This gave the BPA a more influential voice to raise concerns and help make changes which would benefit both the police and our communities.

Our primary objective is to ensure that those of a black and minority ethnic background within the service are treated fairly. We want to offer reassurance and encouragement to others from black and minority ethnic backgrounds to consider the police as a good career choice.

We are passionate about engagement. We recognise the value of being there to answer difficult questions and we value the input from communities. Through considered engagement we’re developing greater trust within schools, colleges, workplaces, community centres and places of worship to name but a few. We see strength in difference and this improves with representation within our communities.

Stephen Lawrence died as a result of police organisational failures. Police forces had previously relied upon officers with no understanding of race or culture to police our racially diverse communities. This was a harrowing confirmation that things needed to change.

We need to keep Stephen’s name alive amongst those who are too young to remember him, but will be old enough to one day lead by the changes he has made possible.

Because of Stephen… we can speak out about hate crime and jointly make the world a safer, fairer place
Alex Raikes, SARI

We provide support and advice to victims of hate and promote equality and good relations. SARI is a user led service, which means everyone who contacts us is taken seriously and we do all we can to keep them safe. We make sure that victims’ voices are heard by the police and all other relevant agencies and they get the best outcomes possible.

Stephen’s tragic death demonstrated the need for organisations like SARI, who are a critical friend that influences the police and other relevant agencies to continuously improve their response to hate crime. We also let them know when they get it wrong. It’s our role to educate the wider community, agencies and professionals so they take hate crime seriously and take the right action.

Because of Stephen, we live in a society with more confidence to speak out about hate and challenge things that we know aren’t right.

Because of Stephen… We have influence and hold the police to account
Desmond Brown, Independent Chair for the Lammy Review Group

It has now been 25 years since Marlon Thomas and his family’s lives changed forever as a result of a brutal racist attack in Bristol, and it has been 20 years since the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry highlighted the differential treatment of black and minority ethnic groups in the criminal justice system.

Although there has been 20 years of debate and government initiatives, we have not been successful in narrowing the gap; the Lammy Review (2017) and the Cabinet Office Race Audit (2017) continue to highlight that black and minority ethnic people experience over-surveillance and are under-protected within all stages of our criminal justice system.

This is not being said to diminish the efforts of Avon and Somerset Police, Bristol City Council or other criminal justice partners; these organisations have and continue to seek solutions to the disproportionalities that black and minority ethnic groups face. However, history teaches us that if we are to truly address the ongoing disproportionalities in our criminal justice system, only a relentless and courageous focus on discrimination – both personal and institutional – is needed to narrow the gap.

The debate about racism in our criminal justice system needs to include a way of addressing the broader structural inequalities that exist in our society. Inequalities in education, employment, health and housing all form a backdrop to the way in which race influences criminal justice.

So on this first Stephen Lawrence Day, I will be quietly reflecting on those who have suffered and those who continue to suffer injustice within the criminal justice system and how we can make things better.