The first Stephen Lawrence Memorial Day took place on Easter Monday. 

Stephen never had a chance to finish his education or become the architect he wanted to be. His life was ended on 22 April 1993, 26 years ago, when he suffered a fatal knife attack in an unprovoked, racist attack.

Sadly, too many young people are also meeting the same fate and too many mothers and fathers and families are broken and their chances and opportunities are ended by these murders.

The recognition of racism and institutional racism in 1999, when the Macpherson Report was published, soon reverted to a culture of denial of racism that has pervaded the white British psyche throughout 400 years of colonial history. Within a few years of the Macpherson Report, politicians and journalists such as David Blunkett[1] and Melanie Philips[2] were challenging the concept and reality of institutional racism. The distraction tactic to turn our attention away from systemic racism was the move to create an Institute of Community Cohesion.

This focus on cohesion firmly placed the agenda back in ‘problematic’ Black communities who didn’t integrate. Local authorities and other organisations found it easy to appoint cohesion workers and have cohesion strategies without a hint of irony that at the same time anti-racist organisations and workers were being cut. The NEU believes that our attention to racism and institutional racism must be reinstated.

The NEU is particularly concerned that the disproportionate emphasis on Black young people as perpetrators rather than as victims of knife crime and that the misnomer of ‘Black on Black’ crime is hiding the facts and continuing the narrative of blaming the victims. We need to very careful with the facts and how we discuss knife crime and the words and phrases we use. For example, do we ever say ‘white on white’ crime? Only 27% of knife possession convictions in 2017 were of non-white people.

There is, however, a reality that the proportion of knife crime committed by Black young people and used against Black young people is rising, especially in London. While not excusing the crime, we must ask the difficult questions about the cause of such disaffection and propensity to commit such serious crime. Is it that young Black people are being failed by society because of discrimination in employment, health, housing, the criminal justice system and education? Do they think that they have no prospects? Are their futures so bleak that they care so little for their own life or the lives of others?

We must also ensure that the culture of denial of racism and the ‘hostile environment’ is challenged vigorously through education – which was also proposed by the Macpherson Report. This means we have to understand and ensure all teachers understand the ‘blaming the victim’ and ‘dog whistle politics’ of race and racism, and divide-and-rule tactics emanating from Government.

That means we need all our educators and our curriculum to challenge Islamophobia, hate crime, racism in schools, colleges and universities against teachers and students, and racism outside of schools in wider communities. We must vociferously oppose right-wing organisations and anyone that seeks to glamorise them as working-class heroes.

As we pay tribute to Stephen Lawrence, Dame Doreen Lawrence, Neville Lawrence and their wider family, we also remember and pay respects to all the young people who have died as a result of knife crime. We ask everybody to ensure that we are fighting to save the lives of all our young people, and ensure they have the chances, the opportunities and the support to thrive and flourish. This can only be achieved by focusing on the causes and structural roots of disaffection, disadvantage and racial discrimination. The NEU will launch an anti-racist charter for schools in the next academic year.

Now is the time to redouble our efforts with vigour and determination all recommendations but particularly 67 & 68 of the Macpherson Report:

67. That consideration be given to amendment of the National Curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism, in order better to reflect the needs of a diverse society.

68. That local education authorities and school governors have the duty to create and implement strategies in their schools to prevent and address racism.

[1] “The home secretary, David Blunkett, today signalled a significant shift in government race policy by saying the idea of "institutional racism" – one of the most politically charged expressions of the last decade – had "missed the point".  The Guardian, 14 Jan 2003

[2] In 2000 Melanie Phillips, Sunday Times columnist, alleged that institutional racism for Macpherson is something which ‘mysteriously floats about in structures, not persons, you can be racist without knowing it. Thus what isn’t there is really there.’

In 2019 she said: “I have read the report. I read it when it came out and many times subsequently, and I know that there was not a shred of evidence to support this finding of institutional racism.”  Melanie Phillips 11 Jan 2019