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How an 18-year-old murder verdict reflects a racially changed UK

The 1993 murder in London of black teenager Stephen Lawrence revealed systemic racism in Britain, spawning sweeping efforts to root it out.

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Responding to the convictions earlier this month, Trevor Phillips, chair of Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission, said, "Stephen Lawrence's murder was a turning point for Britain. Most people see racial prejudice as a secular sin that is not to be tolerated."

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Of course, that does not mean it's entirely gone. In December, England national football captain John Terry was charged with using racist language against an opponent, although he denies it. Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was banned for eight matches for a similar offense, although both the player and the club insist that he is innocent.

It is a positive sign that these cases were treated seriously, but they also prompted concerns that racism is again on the rise. A British parliamentary committee is being set up to investigate whether more should be done to tackle racism in football. On Jan. 16, British Prime Minister David Cameron urged football clubs to work harder to promote managers and coaches from minority backgrounds.

"Of course many of us will have been concerned by recent events," Mr. Cameron said.

"My message is clear. We will not tolerate racism in Britain. It has no place in our society. And where it exists, we will kick it out."

Many civil organizations remain concerned by police officers' disproportionate use of their power to stop and search citizens, first highlighted by the Macpherson report.

Research by the Open Society Justice Initiative and the London School of Economics found that more than a decade later, blacks are 26 times more likely than whites to be stopped and searched.

"There are places I tell my children and grandchildren not to visit because the police will stop them no matter what they are doing," says Carmen, a Brixton resident who came from Jamaica in the 1960s. She declined to give her last name.

A week after the Lawrence case convictions, the Metropolitan Police announced plans to drastically cut its use of stop-and-search. Officers were told to halve the number by focusing on known criminals – a move that was welcomed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Some of the most dramatic changes are happening at a family level. About half of African-Caribbean British men are in relationships with women of another race, according to several surveys, while 1 in 5 children is characterized as mixed-race. Racism is increasingly a nonissue.

But speaking outside the court where two of her son's killers were convicted, Ms. Lawrence said she could not celebrate; her son was dead and it had taken 18 years to bring the justice he deserved.

"Racism and racist attacks are still happening in this country," she said. "And the police should not use my son's name to say that we can move on."

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