Lawrence 'lynching' verdict brings justice, but far too late

Jan 4, 2012

If there is something positive to come out of the Lawrence case, it is what it taught Britain about race

MORE than 18 years after black teenager Stephen Lawrence was killed in South London, two men involved in the killing have been convicted of the racist murder. The verdict was seen as justice at last by commentators, but it was tempered by concerns about why it had taken so long. The case has prompted much soul searching about racism within the police, the justice system, and British society as a whole. In the end, that might be the only positive to come out of the tragedy.
Some justice, but late and incomplete

If it had happened in the American Deep South it would have been called a lynching, said an editorial in The Times. Stephen Lawrence was murdered for no other reason than the colour of his skin and the subsequent investigation was carried out by a police force that was "incompetent, insensitive and hobbled by is own racial assumptions". No wonder this case "alienated and discouraged Britain's ethnic minorities".
There has been some justice at last, but tempered, adds the Times. At least five men were involved in killing Lawrence – "and three of them are still free".   
Almost two decades passed between the killing of Stephen Lawrence and the conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris, says an editorial in The Independent. Since then there have been profound changes in British society, police practices and judicial enquiries, but Lawrence "remains an emblem for much of what was - and to an extent ­ still is - wrong with Britain".   
But justice is not complete, adds the Independent. One or more killers have eluded the law. And beyond this case, it becomes clear "how much remains to be done in the matter of race and prejudice in Britain".   
Justice system not vindicated

Eighteen years – the same span of years lived by Lawrence before his murder in 1993 – is far two long for justice to be denied in any criminal case, says an editorial in The Guardian. The turning of the tide in the Lawrence case clearly owes more to Stephen Lawrence's parents than to anyone else. While changes have been made to forensic and legal processes, this is no cause for complacency. "The verdicts have not purged English criminal justice of its failures."
Race should be irrelevant

Stephen Lawrence's parents should never have had to wait so long for justice, says an editorial in The Daily Telegraph. Whether they did so because their son was black is "a question that will hang over the Metropolitan Police forever". The police still struggle with how to conduct themselves in areas with ethnic minorities. But it was diligent police work in the end that brought a guilty verdict for two of Stephen's attackers. For this the Met should be congratulated. "When the police do their job properly, issues of race awareness should be irrelevant".
Courageous headlines

Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, asks readers to forgive the paper for claiming some credit. He is referring to the bold decision taken back in 1997 to publish the names and photographs of five men – including Dobson and Norris - under the front page headline 'MURDERERS – If we are wrong let them sue us'.

While the press may be on trial at the Leveson inquiry, yesterday was a glorious day for British newspapers, says Dacre, "proving that the power of journalism, courageous headlines and relentless campaigning can act as a huge force for good in society and make a major difference to countless lives".
A big step forward

If there was something positive to come out of this tragedy, it is what it taught us about race, says Brian Cathcart in The Independent. Never before had the British people really shared the grief and the grievance of a black family. Britain finally had to face up to racism - not simply the crude kind perpetrated by "bad apples", but the fact that ethnic minorities could be disadvantaged in subtler ways, by collective thoughtlessness and denial. "Of course everything did not change overnight - just look at the race imbalance in stop-and-search figures - but the race debate took a big step forward."

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