Arch of moral universe.....bends towards justice
Speaking on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, President Barack Obama declared:"Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.
It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice...."
Today, as the murderers of Stephen Lawrence are convicted of that gruesome and cowardly act, let us pause to reflect on this.
And let us remember that the arc of some cold justice that the Lawrence family may be feeling today did not bend because there is an immutable force in the world that seeks out injustice and shapes society in the right direction.
Let us remember that even those who we charge with protecting society and bringing the unjust to book colluded to produce a rotten system where the most corrupt elements of the human soul can fester unapologetically.
Gatekeepers' reluctance to acknowledge the blindingly obvious
Let us remember the reluctance of the gatekeepers of the system to acknowledge the blindingly obvious, to accept the inevitable and stop justifying the unconscionable.
And please let us remember that we have reached where we are today due to the efforts of the Lawrence family and the many who stood with and by them in grief and in solidarity - through the legal wrangles, the semantic chicanery about institutional racism, the cartoonish blunders borne either of deliberateness or incompetence – to join hands to force the arc of our moral universe towards some semblance of justice for Stephen.
The actual sentence those wicked people receive does not matter too much today.
There may yet be appeals, which will reopen this painful matter. Even if there isn't, a 100 year life sentence followed by a double execution would not bring back what Mr & Mrs Lawrence would want above all – to have had their son with them for the past 18 years, to have watched him grow into a fine young man, to have marked the critical moments of his life with him and to now being comforted by him as they enter their golden years.
Justice will be served by refusing to accept injustice
Yet, today let us remember. Let us remember the way the world was in 1993, and reflect on how it is today. Let us remember how tenuous the gains of the past 18 years have really been, as witnessed by the number of people who are still killed in custody every year, and how many of our public institutions remain adamant that they are not institutionally racist, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Let us not be blinded by the whiplash of the bending of this arc to presume for one moment that this sentence is indicative of a new age of social justice and public accountability.
Because it isn't. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of the steel of human will, forged in the furnaces of adversity and determined righteousness, to shape the will of society to recognise the need for dignity of all her children regardless of colour, creed or kinship.
That is how justice shall be served – by refusing to accept injustice in any way, shape or form.
So today we acclaim the verdict but we do not rejoice. We acknowledge small changes but we do not, - we cannot - take these for granted. We offer thanks for Stephen's life and how his death has changed the lives of millions of others around the world for the better; even as we pray for his family in their renewed pain of this moment.
Today, those of us who can will heed the words of Dr King again and rededicate ourselves to bending the arc of the moral universes around us firmly, doggedly and purposefully towards an inexorable of justice.
Stephen Lawrence, Rest in Peace. VIVA STEPHEN LAWRENCE!
By Olu Alake
Artwork - Stephen Lawurence image by Dee Constantine-Simms -
Note: Stephen Lawrence lived for 18 years, 7 months and 9 days. It has taken 18 years, 8 months and 12 days for the guilty verdict.
About the author
Olu Alake is president of the educational charity 100 Black Men of London.
He has a background in equalities and human rights, heritage, the arts and sits on the board of Tiata Fahodzi African Theatre Company.