On the 22nd April 1993 Stephen Lawrence, an eighteen year old boy, who as it happened was black, was stabbed twice by a large kitchen knife in what was subsequently described as a "swift, merciless and vicious attack". His murder, by a group of young white men on a street in south-east London, was to cause shock waves that continue to reverberate throughout British society, the criminal justice system and the Lawrence family.
Doreen Lawrence’s hard hitting autobiography should in truth be a seminal text for all criminal lawyers. The story of Stephen Lawrence is one we all know far too well. His name is now synonymous with race crime, arrogance and police incompetence. The fact that no one was ever convicted of the crime is a tragedy for justice and society in Britain. The irony of course is that we all know who killed Stephen. The Daily Mail even went to the unprecedented step of naming the murderers and suggesting that they should sue if they were innocent. To date they have not accepted this offer. Tragically, however, the Police failed to do their job to such an extent that Sir William Macpherson’s Report in 1999 was to conclude that the Metropolitan Police had been “institutionally racist”.
But Doreen Lawrence’s story is more than just a fight for justice. It is a raw, honest and at times almost intrusive look into her life.
“The second life that ended was the life I thought was mine. Since my son Stephen was killed with such arrogance and contempt I’ve had a different life, one that I can hardly recognise as my own.”
Doreen Lawrence talks openly of the breakdown of her relationship with her husband Neville after the death of Stephen; of her early loveless childhood in Jamaica and of her struggle for justice. For many she is a civil rights heroine. She took on the police and the establishment and to many she appears victorious. But in truth this book shows that Doreen is simply a mother trying to find justice for her son and a form of closure for herself. She is remarkably candid in her dislike of her new life: her constant struggle to balance a high profile campaign with a hatred of being termed “public property”.
“Many a time I have felt like giving up. There were days, weeks or months when I felt I’d had enough, that I was bashing me head against a brick wall, that no one was listening or taking any notice.”3
Whilst this is clearly not a literary masterpiece it is a heart-wrenching and honest account of her struggle against extraordinary odds to find some form of justice. Her candid bitterness and emotion run through the book, and in parts the book appears without natural balance. But Doreen Lawrence is a remarkable woman. Her courage, energy and dynamism are without recourse. Justice has thus far eluded her in her fight, but in her struggle she has undoubtedly made a difference to race relations and policing in this country. For Doreen Lawrence one feels that this is small comfort whilst her son’s murderers continue to walk free.
And Still I Rise – Seeking Justice for Stephen by Doreen Lawrence with Margaret Busby is published by Faber and Faber £16.99 hardback ISBN: 0-571-22754-6. Available in all good bookshops.