Stephen Lawrence 30 years on and the Casey Review: as Black Londoners, we deserve better

In the wake of the Casey Review, Lucy* and Eden-Rose, two Revolving Doors lived experience members, reflect on where we are 30 years on from the death of Stephen Lawrence.

30 years after the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, and 25 years after the report that called the Met Police institutionally racist, we have another review that now labels the Met as institutionally homophobic and misogynistic, as well as racist. It is clear that far too little has changed since 1993.

We have been through the criminal justice system and experienced repeat contact with the police, both as victims and as people who have committed crimes. Like many other lived experience members at Revolving Doors, these experiences have been driven by our experiences of trauma and mental ill health, and going through the justice system has made this even worse.

We already know from experience that Black people are both under-protected and over-policed. We are more likely to be killed than our White counterparts as well as more likely to be stopped and searched. When an entire community shares these experiences, trust with the police just isn’t there.

We are hesitant to call the police even when we need help because we don’t know how it could backfire on us. When we need the protection that we should be able to expect from the police, we’re not getting it. You don’t want to report a crime when you’ve been wronged that many times, let alone report that a police officer has been racist towards you because you don’t think it’s going to go anywhere.  

Even when you do build up the courage to report a crime against you, often you get a letter saying they are dropping the case. We have received help from the police in the past, but there were many other instances where we were unfairly arrested. For Black people, trauma is a built-in feeling that we just carry with us. We can’t help but be afraid whenever we see a police uniform.

As women who have broken out of the cycle of crisis and crime, we both know that repeatedly coming into contact with the police can make our trauma worse and make people who are already unwell or in need spiral even further into the criminal justice system. The racism, misogyny and homophobia that are part of police culture make it even harder to re-enter society because you feel constantly on the back foot.

Anyone in the revolving door is in a vulnerable situation, whether it stems from homelessness, poverty, domestic abuse or mental health issues. Instead of arresting us when we are in a mental health crisis, the police could divert us out of the criminal justice system. They could signpost us to Liaison and Diversion (whose job is to support vulnerable people), but they often don’t. We can’t help thinking it is because of a culture of writing people off, of racism, sexism and homophobia.

Our belief is that the first crucial step the Met can take is to involve those with lived experience of police contact in shaping every aspect of the reform process. Creating opportunities for those with lived experience to provide input in police training and the way they engage with people can go a long way to increase officers’ understanding of the impact of the behaviours that are normal to them.

We also believe that the people becoming police officers need to be the right ones. We need more women, more Black people, more LGBT+ people; we need more diversity across the board. But if you are going to put more people of colour and LGBT+ people within police ranks, then you need to make it a safe environment for them and make sure they can progress up the hierarchy. I (Eden-Rose) know that having good officers on your case can lead to much better outcomes – recently, I had been racially abused for the second time and the two young officers that came to see me obviously just got it. I felt heard because they seemed interested and committed to my case.

But just getting more diversity isn’t enough – the failed police investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s killers and now the Casey review have laid that out in black and white. The police need to look into how they operate as an institution, not just at individuals – that is what being labelled institutionally racist should lead to. All we can hope for is that the Met and other forces listen, and that this leads to real, lasting change. Stephen Lawrence should have had better, we should have better, and future generations deserve better.

*Lucy is an alias used to protect anonymity.