From Stephen Lawrence to George Floyd

September 14, 2020

By Michelle Nelson QC.

On 31 July 1997, the then Home Secretary Jack Straw, ordered a public inquiry ‘Into The Matters Arising From the Death of Stephen Lawrence’, who was murdered in 1993.  The 350-page MacPherson report concluded that the investigation into his death had been “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership”. It made seventy recommendations designed to show “zero tolerance” to racism and aimed at transforming attitudes towards race relations and improving accountability within the police force. The recommendations were also aimed at other agencies, the civil service, NHS, and judiciary, asking them to respond to change.

The  global demonstrations, conversations and debate about the over and often heavy handed policing of Black and ethnic minorities in the wake of George Floyd’s death in May this year exposed the fact that their unequal treatment, the mark of systemic racism, has still to be contended with. It demonstrates that in over 20 years, institutionally at least, there has been little real change.

There is an inaccurate and troubling assumption that inequality and racism is not as significant a problem here in the UK as it is in the US. The effect of inequality, perpetrated consciously or unconsciously, is the same. The significant overrepresentation of Black and ethnic minorities and ‘other marginalised groups in the criminal justice system and the harsher sentences imposed[1]; their disproportionate representation in deaths in police custody[2]; and their underrepresentation as a result of  bias and discrimination in the work force[3] is not explained by their having a sense of being victims. So many of the contributions of Black and ethnic minorities have gone unwritten, unremarked upon and unrewarded.

A persistent consequence of being ‘other’, is played out in the casually offensive remark, the negative stereotyping, the full-scale onslaught of abuse, the bullying or harassment and at times, violence.  Never knowing when or how this will materialise or from where it will come – a friend, a colleague, a neighbour or an organ of the state.  What is certain is that it will come and quite possibly in all those ways and from all those sources. So the lives of Black and ethnic minorities are shaped. The cost of continued inequality is the destruction of hopes, dreams and ambitions; but also in the wasting of talent- an unmeasured cost to society[4].

We can no longer afford to educate young people on how “best” to build a life in an unequal society. There is again an opportunity to build a better legacy for future generations and to get it right. By pledging to be part of SHIFT25, you pledge to contribute to this fundamental shift by 2025 and to a future where there is really is equality of opportunity.

Join SHIFT25 and be part of the change.

[1] The Lammy Review. Sept 2017
[2] Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody. January 2017
[3] The McGregor-Smith Review,  ‘The Time For Talking Is Now Over. Now Is The Time To Act. Race in the Workplace. February 2017.
[4] The potential benefit to the UK economy from full representation of BME individuals across the labour market is estimated to be £24 billion a year. 1.3% OF GDP. The McGregor-Smith Review at p7.


[pt_view id=”e945899fgd”]