Hate Violence – The Stephen Lawrence Case Essay Examples
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Hate violence has emerged as a popular topic in public debates as well as a contentious and nuanced sociological concept imbued with political underpinnings. Violence that stems from hatred, prejudice, and/or bias based on religion, gender, race, and sexual orientation has indeed spawned a highly politicized dialogue that calls for institutional measures to curb such acts through legislation(Hutton, 2009, p.2). Hate crimes often serve as banners for further democratic reforms within open societies, which often result in the transformation of the political and social milieu of the nation in which they occur. One of the most poignant and publicized hate crimes in the history of the modern United Kingdom was the murder of young Stephen Lawrence in 1993. A gifted and educated British citizen of Jamaican descent, Lawrence was slaughtered by a group of his peers in a public place in Eastern London merely due to their intolerance towards his non-normative appearance. Indeed, deep-seated racism fueled the highly public slaughter of Lawrence due to his subaltern status within a political system predicated on white hegemony. The Lawrence case has been investigated by various legal and political agents, including Sir William MacPherson, a High Court judge in the late 1990s, as well as by scholars examining what motivates people to murder innocents in public venues. The investigation lasted for almost two decades, and it was not until 2012 that the perpetrators were rendered guilty and incarcerated for their actions. This case sheds light on the underpinnings, motives, and consequences of hate crimes, and it justifies several psychological, social and cultural theories associated with them. This research will explore the nuances hate violence through the case of Stephen Lawrence, as hate crime violence can only be fully understood through qualitative as well as quantitative data. The motives of perpetrators, largely political in nature, as well as the consequences of committing the highly public and violent murder of Lawrence must be taken into consideration. Ultimately, the evolution of the MacPherson Report documenting the murder reflects the institutional racism that fueled the police to prevent justice from being served.
On April 22, 1993, a gang of white teenagers stabbed Stephen Lawrence to death in an unprovoked attack as he waited with his friend Duwayne Brooks at a bus stop in Eltham, London. The suspects were identified the following day when an anonymous letter with the names of the perpetrators written on it was found in a telephone box. The police set up surveillance of their homes shortly thereafter, but the suspects were not arrested for months, which frustrated Lawrence’s family. Between May 7 and June 23, 1993, police arrested Jamie and Neil Acourt, Gary Dobson, David Norris, and Luke Knight. Although two of the suspects, Neil Acort and Luke Knight, were charged with the murder after Brooks identified them as part of the gang that killed his friend, the police concluded that the identification process was not reliable. Due to the inertia of the investigation, Lawrence’s parents launched a private prosecution in September 1994 against Luke Knight, Neil Acourt, and Gary Dobson, whom all denied the charges. Police surveillance recorded over Dobson’s abode records both him and Norris deploying violence, racist, and vitriolic language. Although the murder trial against Acourt, Knight and Dobson commenced in April 1996, all three are acquitted because the judge ruled that the identification evidence of the suspects was not admissible. Newspapers and discourses circulated that charged the police with omitting important evidence and dismissing significant opportunities to seek justice in this cause as a result of institutional racism. Public pressures forced the police to issue a formal, public apology to the Lawrence family for the litany of failures that had transpired in the investigation. In February 1999 the Macpherson report was published and accused the Metropolitan police of overt institutional racism throughout the proceedings. It included proposals to eradicate such racism and better race relations in order to root out discrimination. In September 2002, both Norris and Acourt are sentenced to two years in prison for their racially motivated attack of an off-duty police officer in the same area in 2001. This history of racism detected in the suspects ultimately resulted in a guilty verdict in 2012. Recently, former police officers have admitted to being involved in illegal activities in order to smear the Lawrence family and impede in the investigation into the murder. Former officers went undercover in order to thwart the family’s campaign for justice for Stephen. Some admit to disseminating false information in order to use it against people who criticized the police for racism.
The demographics of a community and other contingencies often belie hate crimes that take place within it. In the case of Stephen Lawrence, the very environment of the community of Eltham in Southeast London is quite telling. Although it has undergone significant changes over the past twenty years, Eltham remains a generally affluent and quiet neighborhood. From the undertaken field trip to the spot of the murder, it may be inferred that it did not happened in an abandoned or gloomy location. On the opposite side, there are plenty of upper-middle class residences in the area, with several shops and public entities in close proximity to the nearest station. Eltham is in the proximity of Well Hall Road and Rochester Road, streets that are now familiar to all those who are interested in the case. happens to be a predominantly white area. Few minorities were spotted closer to the station and could not be identified as local residents. The racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence is not the only hate crime that has taken place in this area. Eltham has a rich history of hate crimes, although not all have ended in the public slaughter of the victim. In October 2014, over a quarter of the 244 violence crimes reported in the area were hate crimes. Reports indicate that the vast majority of these crimes were racially motivated and perpetrated by whites against subalterns (Crime Statistics, 2014). Considering the history of racism in Eltham, it is not surprising that Sir William MacPherson described the police force as racist, a salient notion embraced by the public at large (MacPherson, 1999, Ch.2). Even after the riots of 2011, several major politicians refuse to recognize the matter of hate crimes and tend to depict the incidents as behavioral and not motivated by race (The Telegraph, 2011).
Present statistics and historical trends
Hate crimes have occurred numerous times throughout the history of the United Kingdom. From the moment it annexed the Celtic outskirts of the British isles during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the United Kingdom expanded all over the world to become the most populous, culturally, and ethnically diverse state in the world. The diverse populations enveloped by the United Kingdom planted the seeds of hostility amongst various groups. Throughout the twentieth century, as the presence of immigrants and offspring of colonial residents migrated to the metropolis, the demographic composition became much more complex and diverse. Today, the country has become truly cosmopolitan, with the percentage of the traditional residents not exceeding 85%, and Christians representing less than 60% of all citizens (Office for National Statistics, 2014). Hate crimes, especially those fueled by racial sentiments, remain a matter of increasing concern and social significance, as over 135,000 of such crimes have been committed in England and Wales alone last year, with a five per cent increase from 2013 (Home Office, 2014).
Theories of crimes and hate crimes
Alternatively, there is a biological explanation for crimes that renders certain types of people predisposed to criminality. Hereditary genetic conditions, hormone levels, suppression or enhancement of basic, primordial instincts of individuals or selected groups may lead to aggression in its purest, often unmotivated and unprovoked? identified as criminal by both the public and the government, may be developed by an individual, consciously or subconsciously, throughout various phases of her or his lifetime as a result of copying, mimicking or cognitive learning.
Psychological origins of crimes involve various complexes and mental conditions (not necessarily negative in the first place) that happen to evolve in a socially unfavorable direction and result in a lack of adequate understanding of social rules and taboos by an individual.
All the factors mentioned above are reflected in a sociological theory of crimes (Rock, 2002, p. 54), which, in a manner of speaking, represents an emanation of the egg and chicken dilemma. While certain forms of negative behavior have higher chances of survival and bolstering in less successful social groups, it is also correct that persons with deviant and hazardous behavior (originated due to various personal reasons) are more likely to find themselves in a rougher environment.
Social inequality may be also represented at a geographic scale, as certain areas may be more affluent or, on the other hand, more prone to poverty due to historical reasons. Economic inequality is gradually becoming one of the most prominent engines of crimes expansion (Shelby, 2003, p.183).
Now it is possible to superimpose these theories, or concepts of crime, on the topic of hate crimes in general, and the case of Stephen Lawrence, in particular.
Speaking of the biological reasoning behind hate crimes, it is obvious that the latter are being usually accompanied by an outburst of primal rage and willingness to cause harm to the victim, normally without any objective excuse for her or his side. Although terrifying from the ethical point of view, hate crimes represent a way of blowing off steam for aggressive individuals, and being different from the group of origin of the offenders merely acts as another point of attraction, be it a different age, gender, race, faith or social status. This point of view is confirmed by the mentioned above case, as the group of peers of the victim were all of the same race (white), similar or same age and committed the crime of stabbing the victim in an aggressive, irrepressible manner.
The developmental theory may be attributed to both the participants of the attack and the witnesses, including the friend of Stephen Lawrence, that fled from the scene. While the attackers were acting according to their instincts, the witnesses, including the one who fled, were basing their line of conduct on the stereotypes that happened to be predominant at that time – the main witness fled the scene so as not to be attacked instead of taking the stand for a friend, the beholders have not originally identified the attack on a minority citizen as a matter of equal importance, were the victim white. Such patterns of behavior were infused by them through years of daily routine.
Speaking of the psychological reasoning behind the accident, the rush attack against a sole unprotected person may be perceived as an inferiority complex coupled with sadism, both enhanced by a group structure of the attackers and a desire to prove their worth and status within the group. The fact that the victim bled to death soon after the accident proves the lack of compassion of the witnesses, which is also a popular psychological condition.
Geographical explanation lies within the most obvious area – the victim was considered an unwanted stranger in the area, where the minorities never represented a significant share of residents. The principle of territorial division is as old as the humankind itself, and it also corresponds to the very basic instincts of the intolerant mob.
Although there was no immediate economic reasoning behind this particular crime, it may be assumed that the victim might have also represented immigrants in general, who were having an increasing impact on the national economy of the United Kingdom at that time.
All the factors, mentioned above, may be as well attributed to most hate crimes, yet their proportions within the motivation of the offenders may vary. In depressive or struggling areas the immigrants or those who look like ones may be attacked due to the dumping on the labor market. In culturally diverse neighborhoods the people of different tastes in cuisine, music and appearance may be ostracized due to the general hostility towards their lifestyle by the overly conservative and rigid community. Religious zeal on both sides may also provoke tensions and hate crimes.
It would not be quite right to say that the case of Stephen Lawrence has changed the British society for good. While there were just slightly over four thousand hate crimes registered in the country in 1985 (Chakraborti, 2009, p.25), their quantity has been steadily growing year by year, making it over 135 thousand last year. While it may be explained by various reasons, both of structural (aging of the majority population, poverty, economic downslide) and precedential (civil unrests, e.g. in 2011) reasons, it is also true that several generations have already been brought up in the atmosphere of mutual intolerance. The factors that once provoked the tensions might have become obsolete years, if not decades, ago, while the old grudge nevertheless preserved and become a part of system of values of various radical groups and communities. The saddest thing is that this negative racial bias has also infiltrated the official institutions. The case of Stephen Lawrence clearly demonstrated the unwillingness of the prosecution and the police force to perform a proper investigation of the murder and detain the suspects merely because the latter happened to be of the white race and hid behind the lack of witness evidence (Ellison, 2014, p.4). It may be said with a high degree of certainty that such attitude might have changed over time due to the efforts of various social activists and conscientious public officials, yet there is still a considerable gap between individual efforts and precedents on the one hand and public understanding and acceptance, on the other. The gargantuan leap in the number of hate crimes since the middle of the 1980-ies does not necessarily signify an increase of the assaults, it may very well stand for the number of the registered cases, i.e. the police are now obliged to put such precedents on paper.
The issue of hate crimes remains incredibly significant for the British society. There are many domestic and international challenges with the context of modernity, and the nation needs to stay united to survive. Eradicating structural and institutional discrimination must remain a priority within the domestic agenda in order to deter such heinous crimes motivated by prejudice to transpire.
Crime Statistics, 2014. Crime Statistics in Eltham, London. Web. Retrieved from http://www.crime-statistics.co.uk/postcode/SE96UB
Home Office, 2010.Racist Incidents, England and Wales, 2008/2009. Web. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/racist-incidents-england-and-wales-2009-to-2010
Home Office, 2014. Hate Crimes, England and Wales, 2013/2014. Web. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/hate-crimes-england-and-wales-2013-to-2014
Chakraborti, N. et. al, 2009. Impact, Causes and Responses.Sage
Ministry of Justice, 2009. Theories of the Causes of Crime. Strategic Policy Brief.
MacPherson, W., Sir., 1999. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. Secretary of State.
Ellison, M., 2014. The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review. Crown.
Office for National Statistics, 2014. UK Population profile. Web. Retrieved from http://ons.gov.uk/ons/taxonomy/index.html?nscl=Population
Rock, P., 2002. Sociological Theories of Crime. Oxford University Press.
Bennetto, J., 2009. Police and Racism: What has been achieved 10 years after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report? Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Shelby, T., 2003. Ideology, Racism and Critical Social Theory. The Philosophical Forum, Vol. 24, No.2 pp.135-188
Hutton, E., 2009. Bias Motivation in Crime: A Theoretical Examination. Internet Journal of Criminology, pp. 1-18.
Felson, R., 2009. Violence, Crime and Violent Crime. International Journal of Conflict and Violence, No. 3, Vol.1, pp. 23-39.
The Telegraph, 2011. UK Riots: David Cameron’s Statement in Full. Web. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/8693134/UK-riots-David-Camerons-statement-in-full.html
Stephen Lawrence murder: A timeline. (2014, March 1). Retrieved January 17, 2015, from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-26465916
What Motivates Hate Offenders? (2014). Retrieved January 18, 2015, from http://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/hate-crime/pages/motivation.aspx
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