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18 years after racist slaying, fear still stalks London's streets

Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images

Flowers were left at the Stephen Lawrence memorial in the Eltham area of south London on Wednesday.

By Jason Jouavel, NBC News

LONDON -- A plaque near a bus stop in south London marks where murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence took his last few breaths and serves as a grim reminder of one of Britain's most notorious racist crimes. 

The memorial at the site of Lawrence's killing -- which has been described as the U.K's "Rosa Parks moment" -- has been vandalized several times. That strikes me as a sign that deep hatred still exists.


I'm a black south Londoner. And almost two decades after the slaying, I still feel very anxious walking through certain streets in Eltham after dark.

Lawrence, 18, was stabbed to death by a gang of white youths in an unprovoked attack as he waited at the bus stop in Eltham in 1993. The investigation was bungled and despite multiple court appearances by suspects over the years no one was convicted until Tuesday.

Two men have been convicted of the 1993 killing of a black teenager that prompted a change in the law and reforms to Britain's police. ITV News' Simon Israel reports.

At least three people involved in Lawrence's slaying remain at large and to this day a notable lack of local people have come forward with information about what happened.

Duwayne Brooks, who was with Lawrence at the time of the attack, told investigators that they had been racially abused before the stabbing. However, police initially treated Brooks like a suspect -- as opposed to a key witness.

The crime also resulted in a 1999 public inquiry that branded London's Metropolitan Police force as "institutionally racist."

Paul Hackett / Reuters, file

David Norris (rear with blue shirt) runs for cover as he and some of the others suspected of involvement in the killing of Stephen Lawrence are pelted with eggs after leaving a 1999 public Inquiry into police handling of the case in London.

 Stephen's parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, have waged a nearly 19-year battle for justice, which finally paid dividends with this week's murder convictions of Gary Dobson and David Norris.

I've seen the slain teenager's courageous mother several times on the streets of south London as she continues her fight to clean-up the police, strengthen laws and support victims of racially motivated crimes. My immediate impulse is always to just salute her.

'Deep darkness'
Although there was celebration in some quarters over the conviction and sentencing of Dobson and Norris, I have to agree with the Reverend Jesse Jackson. He summed up this week's events as "little light with deep darkness."

It's important to remember that the people who killed Lawrence have been harbored by their community for years and some are still being protected.

Some progress has undoubtedly been made since Lawrence's slaying.

Reuters

Stephen Lawrence was aged 18 when he was stabbed to death near a bus stop in Eltham, south London, in 1993.

However, recruitment drives aimed at attracting more black and Asian officers have failed to make the Metropolitan Police representative of London's ethnic diversity.

A disproportionate number of black people are still stopped and searched by the police. It's something I've been through several times. On one occasion, I was driving to work when I was stopped. The police officer said that I looked "suspicious."

Many young black men in London complain about being prejudged and stereotyped. 

I was astonished when a well-educated acquaintance told me she thought that black people should be stopped because they commit most crimes as we casually discussed last summer's London riots. I wonder whether this is also the view of some police officers.

The police must be commended for pursuing Lawrence's killers for close to two decades. But let's not forget that if the investigating officers had been more rigorous when the crime was committed, the Lawrence family may have had justice much sooner.