Today, April 22nd, 2021, marks 28 years since Stephen Lawrence was murdered in an unprovoked, racist attack in south London. He was 18 years old.
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 28 years.
Our Chief Constable Andy Marsh has set us on a journey to become the most inclusive police force in the country. There are a number of things we are doing as we work towards this ambition, and the anniversary of Stephen’s death gives us an opportunity to reflect on where we have been and where we are going when it comes to acknowledging the disproportionality faced by many people from ethnic minority backgrounds in all aspects of society, including the criminal justice system.
This Stephen Lawrence Day, we are embracing the themes of doing good, getting creative and sharing learning – the three aims of the #ChallengeAccepted campaign which honours Stephen’s legacy.
The Black Police Association (BPA) was officially recognised as an integral part of Avon and Somerset Constabulary in 2002 following recommendations in the Macpherson Report, which encouraged all police forces to value race and diversity within their organisation.
The BPA’s primary objective is to ensure that those from a black or minority ethnic background within the service, are treated fairly. The BPA offers reassurance and encouragement to others from black and minority ethnic backgrounds to consider the police as a career of choice.
Sergeant Aqil Farooq, Chair of the Avon and Somerset Police’s BPA said: “The principles of the findings in the Macpherson report run through the heart of our association. It’s all about equality and fairness and to understand this, we need to continue building the foundations of trust and confidence for all – both in and out of policing. Only when we have achieved this key objective will we have a true understanding of the value of shared learning, which brings about the desired good professional practice.”
Our proactive youth engagement work is one of the ways we are building relationships with young people, which in turn helps us to understand the issues which particularly affect them.
PC Kris Withers, Avon and Somerset Police’s Youth Strategy Officer has been working with Bristol creative college Boomsatsuma on a project run by KickOff@3 which aims to inspire young people to find creative ways to acknowledge Stephen Lawrence’s legacy.
PC Withers said: “I recently spoke to students at the college and explored Stephen’s story with them, and I hope this will lead on to some really interesting conversations around racism. Whilst I believe some of the students were aware of Stephen’s story, many, as I understand it, didn’t know how his murder and the subsequent Macpherson Report led to some huge changes in policing and society more widely.
“What’s interesting and in some ways rather sad, is that the issues raised by Stephen’s murder and the Macpherson Report are still as relevant and urgent today as they were 28 years ago.
“What I hope resonated with the students I spoke with was the way in which Stephen’s future was just wiped out in an instant. All of Stephen’s promise, ambition and hopes were stolen from him and his family – the students were able to put themselves in his shoes and feel that loss.
“The work we are doing with Boomsatsuma and other schools and colleges across Avon and Somerset helps us to build relationships with young people, so that we work alongside them in the way we tackle the issues they face when it comes to crime, being safe and protecting themselves.”
Lyndsay Davies, Project Manager at Boomsatsuma said: “For the last 6 weeks Boomsatsuma students have been exploring the Stephen Lawrence story and the issues raised by it. With conversations with Avon and Somerset Police, a look at the campaign they’re supporting to raise awareness about Stephen Lawrence Day, and discussions with the Stephen Lawrence Documentary Producer, it has been an excellent opportunity for students and staff to consider how Stephen’s story can offer learning, inspire awareness, and open important dialogues about an incredibly pertinent issue that impacts us all.”
One of our core values is that we are a learning organisation and this is especially important as we work towards our ambition of becoming the most inclusive police force in the country.
Chief Constable Andy Marsh said: “The murder of Stephen Lawrence, the subsequent inquiry and the recommendations arising from it are a seminal and lasting moment from the time I have served in policing. Much has been done to improve policing since Stephen was murdered but of course much more remains to be done in both policing and broader society.
“Certainly our values of caring, learning, courageous and inclusive were developed by taking into account all we have experienced in the past and using this to inform the organisation we strive to be in the future. That is reinforced by our vision of ‘outstanding policing for everyone’ and the use of the word respect in our mission of ‘serve, respect and protect’.
“In Avon and Somerset, as part of the Lammy Review, we are working alongside other partners in the criminal justice system to explore, understand and address any disproportionality that people from ethnic minority backgrounds, particularly young black men and boys, may face. This includes a thorough examination of the way we use our stop and search powers.
“The findings from this review process are likely to throw up some uncomfortable data but we have to be prepared to face this and learn from it so that we can take our diverse communities with us.
“Being inclusive isn’t just a catchphrase or an attempt to be ‘woke’. We are working every day to make things fairer, more open and transparent, and to help shape the service to be more representative of the communities we serve. Whether that’s becoming the first police force in the country to achieve accreditation for the National Equality Standard, or recruiting a diverse Outreach Worker team to change and challenge our recruitment processes, we have not done enough yet and we won’t stop trying until we get there.
“Stephen’s legacy is not only a reminder of the seriousness of hate crime and racism but it is a lasting rallying call for equality, fairness and justice. The awful circumstances of Stephen’s murder have had a huge impact upon my career and I am sure will continue to do so for future generations of police officers and police staff.”