This is Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem about the racist murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993. When written in 1999, the identity of the killers was regarded as an ‘open secret’ though no convictions had been made due to police failings. The end of the poem is addressed to Paul Condon who was then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service. A public inquiry into the investigation of the case had recently found the MET to be institutionally racist. The inquiry took place the same year as the Windrush 50th anniversary celebrations, prompting critics to highlight ‘the gap between the idealising impulses of national celebrations and the actual experiences of the black community’.
This handwritten manuscript of ‘What Stephen Lawrence Has Taught Us’ was donated by Zephaniah to the British Library in 2016. To accompany the donation, Zephaniah was recorded talking about Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the poem, as well as his own experiences of racism and involvement in anti-racism campaigning. He said of the work:
I hope that it kind of goes down as a document noting something that was very important. Stephen Lawrence was killed in April 1993, but I think for a long time to come we will still be struggling positively and negatively with the legacy of this horrific murder. [His story] stands out, and it stands out because his family just didn’t give up.