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Stephen Lawrence Friday, 19 February, 1999, 17:26 GMT
Racial violence: The ugly facts
Late one night last November, Sanjay heard a noise outside the front of his house. A circle of rowdy teenagers were on the lawn. They were throwing small stones at the door and window of his house where he lives with his mother and two sisters.

Stephen Lawrence case: Timeline of events
"Go back to your own country," one shouted. "Get out and don't come back."

The other things they said were too awful to repeat, said 20-year-old Sanjay - not his real name.

Sanjay lives in a council house in Greenwich, south-east London, just a few miles from where Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993. While most racial incidents don't end in murder there are dozens like this every week.

Sir Herman Ouseley, chairman CRE
Sir Herman Ouseley, chairman CRE
"A lot of people spend a lot of their lives living under a state of siege," said Sir Herman Ouseley, the chairman of the Britain's Commission of Racial Equality. "It's terrorism really."

"Terrorism" like this is why Stephen's murder, and police bungling of the subsequent investigation, have had so much resonance. Whether it is stones thrown at a house or a physical attack, many poor, ethnic minorities feel they are fighting a losing battle against racial violence.

In a series of interviews with BBC News Online, anti-racism campaigners said they feel that neither the police nor the government takes racism seriously.

How bad is it?

"Part of the problem is that racial abuse is seen as a low-level crime. But abuse can become incitement and it can become fatal," said Sir Herman Ouseley. "If [the police] consistently take action, this will show both victims and the perpetrators that something will be done."

The figures on racial attacks vary. Anti-racism campaigners in Greenwich, where Sanjay lives, say they have received a steady stream of reports - about 1,000 racial incidents annually - since 1991. The Home Office's latest figures show that there were 13,878 racial incidents in Britain in 1997-98, up 6% from 1996-97.

Are things getting worse? The police call the rise in the number of complaints a victory. More reporting shows that victims increasingly trust the police to address the problem.

But a recent survey by the Guardian newspaper shows that may not be the case.

One in four of the public believe the police are racist. One in three believes institutional racism is rife. Whatever the personal intentions of the officers involved, the way the police operate leads to discrimination against Black and Asian people.

Moving ahead

The statistics can be spun to suit either case but both sides agree there are far more racial attacks and harassment than the figures record. A momentum is building to wipe out this sort of behaviour altogether.

The Stephen Lawrence case has been a catalyst for change.

In August last year, the Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, Peter Moorhouse, said a culture of racism within the Met police was partly to blame for the failure to prosecute Stephen Lawrence's killers.

Just three months later, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester acknowledged that his force was infected by institutional racism.

"This is a defining moment," says Sir Herman. "You can't write laws that make people behave differently but you can encourage people through leadership by setting the tone. This is an opportunity we shouldn't miss."

Links to more Stephen Lawrence stories are at the foot of the page.

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