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By Herman Ousley

Friday, 10 May 2013.

A lot has changed in Britain in the 20 years since Stephen Lawrence was murdered. Most importantly, we as a society are now more comfortable talking about race. It wasn’t long ago that we were inhibited and in self-denial when addressing the issue, but not anymore.
 
We’re now far more used to living in a culturally diverse society, but that doesn’t mean we’ve solved the problem of racism completely. Unfortunately there will always be people who are worse off than others and will look to find anyone to blame for setbacks in their own life.
 
That is how prejudices get played out in a hateful way. The good thing is that people are now prepared to challenge prejudices rather than just put their heads down and ignore them. Since Stephen’s murder there has gradually been a greater focus on the issue of racism, why we treat people badly because of the colour of their skin and how we can deal with it.
 
Doreen and Neville Lawrence have played a big part in the positive strides that have been made over recent years. They have met people in schools, colleges, youth clubs and trade unions to raise awareness of their story because they genuinely believe they were treated appallingly due to the colour of their skin.

Despite facing adversity and opposition along the way, the Lawrence’s have been resilient in their fight for change and in doing so have inspired countless others to stand up against prejudice and discrimination.
 
Their campaign has reached out to thousands of people from all sections of society. Imaginations have been captured because of two people striving hard as decent individuals while there were five guys or more strutting around unpunished for the murder of their son.
 
Sport, too, is changing for the better. I started a campaign back in 1993 because I was so incensed with what was happening to football. The death of Stephen Lawrence spurred me on to do all I could to make a difference in race relations, and contributed to the founding of Kick It Out later that same year. We drew strength from the same community - one that was scared and hurting but not prepared to let these mindless acts of hatred define our society.  
 
Growing up, I used to go to Millwall with my white school friends and they would protect me. I never felt threatened but I never felt secure. I remember one occasion in 1989 when I was at a game against Chelsea and there was a massive punch-up. There was blood everywhere and smashed seats, and I thought: I can’t stand this anymore.

We approached professional clubs and said: ‘We have a problem. Do you agree and do you want to join us?’. Today, I’m proud to see the clubs such as Millwall and Charlton Athletic recognise and remember the death of Stephen through their extensive community work in race relations.

This work is echoed by clubs across the country, inspired to make a change in their own communities by the equally tragic deaths of Jimmy Mizen, Anthony Walker, Kiyan Prince, Rob Knox and others. It’s been a long hard slog but we are getting there gradually and I think these are momentous days in terms of what The Football Association and other organisations within the game are trying to do.
 
We still have prejudice, but it’s encouraging to see the recent public outrage at clips of racist incidents that have been posted on YouTube. We as a society are now standing up to the ever diminishing minority that continues to act in this appalling way.
 
Public and formal education are our two biggest weapons in dealing with prejudice well. Doreen and Neville Lawrence were not prepared to put up with it. They did not give up. An improvement in our society is their legacy.

When it comes to race hate crimes, we are in a better place than 20 years ago, not that it has been eradicated, but there is greater understanding about prejudice, bigotry and hatred and about what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. Much credit is due to Doreen and Neville Lawrence in their tireless struggle to get justice for Stephen.

In particular, Doreen has left no stone unturned in drawing attention to the failings in the criminal justice system, the collective failure of institutions in providing equal and fair treatment for all people, whatever their background, and for the backsliding of some leading politicians, who fail to honour their obligations and promises in this regard.

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry presided over by Lord Macpherson and subsequent report, commissioned by former Home Secretary, Rt Hon Jack Straw, MP, was pivotal in pinpointing the contributory factor of institutional racism and discrimination, which threw down a challenge, not only to the Crown Prosecution service and the Police Service, but shone a bright light to expose the failings of all public services.

Since then we had much remedial action, including Race Equality Schemes, Equality Impact Statements and statutory duties imposed on Public Bodies to address inequalities and promote good relations.

However, over the past six years there has been a process of rolling back on the gains made. Doreen Lawrence has been bold in drawing attention publicly about this trend, which is enabling a return to some of the hateful activities of the past, with the increase in prejudice, ignorance and hatred, in spite of all the voluntary efforts being made by many voluntary organisations...those that still survive despite the culling due to grants withdrawal.

Football has been making its contribution and continues to do so. The campaign to "Kick Racism out of Football" started in August of the same year in which Stephen was killed. Local clubs such as Millwall and Charlton had already been trying to tackle the scourge of race hatred and violence associated with the game.

Lord Herman Ouseley is the Chair of Kick It Out. The organisation recently joined the Stephen Lawrence Foundation, Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT) and the Centre for Research in Race and Education (CRRE) in commemorating the 20 year anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s death.

 

 

 

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