“No Woman, No Cry”: A mother’s torturous road to justice

When I did an introductory arts course with the Open University a few years ago, one of the modern arts we analysed was Chris Ofili’s No Woman, No Cry painting. Chris Ofili is also known as the “Elephant Dung Artist,” as he created his work using elephant dung, including one inspired by the grief of the parents of Stephen Lawrence.

I arrived in London on a grey day in May 1996 and Stephen Lawrence was the name I constantly heard during the years I was trying to grips with the British culture. “Who was Stephen Lawrence?” As a foreign student I often wondered who this fine young man was and how his murder rocked the nation. The murder of Stephen Lawrence dominated the press for two decades.

Remember Stephen Lawrence: 20 years on

Remember Stephen Lawrence: 20 years on

Stephen was 18 when he was murdered in a race attack in south-east London. On that fateful night of 22 April in 1993, Stephen was waiting for a bus with his best friend Duwayne Brooks in Eltham at around 10.30pm. Stephen had walked a short distance from the bus stop to see if the bus was on its way. Somehow he was set up by a few white youths and was stabbed twice. Stephen and Duwayne managed to run for about 250 yards before Stephen collapsed, and later died.

'No Woman, No Cry' by Chris Ofili, at Tate Britain

‘No Woman, No Cry’ by Chris Ofili, at Tate Britain

Chris Ofili created No Woman, No Cry while the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence was being held. The picture depicts a weeping black woman and her tears flowed like a river. Inside each tear shed by the woman is a collaged image of Stephen Lawrence’s face. The words ‘R.I.P. Stephen Lawrence’ are just discernible beneath the layers of paint. The figure, representing Stephen’s mother Doreen Lawrence, wears a pendant of elephant dung.

Who is Doreen Lawrence?

I flew back to Singapore last summer on the same night of the grand opening ceremony of the London Olympics. When I watched the opening ceremony on Youtube a few days later, I was astonished to see Doreen Lawrence as one of the eight flag bearers, among other high profile flag bearers, including Ban-ki Moon, the United Nations secretary general and Muhammad Ali, the sportsman who “floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.”

I murmured “Why her?” for a few seconds, but very quickly, I agreed it was absolutely right that Doreen Lawrence was chosen for such a significant event in the British history, for her to tell a worldwide audience what she represented, a mother who fought for justice for her murdered son. She bravely challenged the authority and persevered until justice was achieved 18 years after her son’s death.

Doreen Lawrence did not believe the Metropolitan Police investigation was conducted professionally, citing incompetence and racism as their flaws. Her campaign resulted in the conviction of her son’s murderers. A subsequent inquiry described the London police force as ‘institutionally racist’ and condemned officers for ‘fundamental errors’. You can read about the Stephen Lawrence murder timeline on Telegraph.

I was totally consumed by the Stephen Lawrence case. The strength, perseverance, and the power of love shown by Doreen Lawrence are humbling. Nearly two years ago, I wrote two blog posts in Chinese to inform my Chinese readers about this case: 最伟大的母爱 (The Greatest Love of a Mother) and 妈妈的每一颗泪珠里都是爱 (Mum’s Love in Every Single Drop of Her Tears).

“18 years! What a torturous road for Doreen! She fought for 18 years to get justice for her son.”

“Such was the power of a mother’s love. Doreen, you have my profound respect.”

From 最伟大的母爱 (The Greatest Love of a Mother)  by Janet

I commented on Doreen Lawrence’s dignity. How did an ordinary, physically small woman with no special connections or wealth dare to take on the British police establishment? And she won. She did not resort to violence nor street protests. She won through the course of the British law.

I wrote in my Chinese post in January 2012:

“Through Doreen Lawrence’s incessant fighting, her spirit, and her eyes engulfed with rage and sorrow, she overthrew the British police force, which was almost impenetrable. She made the British white examine themselves. She also enabled the non-white to live with dignity in this land.”
From 最伟大的母爱 (The Greatest Love of a Mother) by Janet

Doreen Lawrence has now been made a Labour peer in the British House of Lords, 20 years after her son Stephen was murdered by racists. She wants to use her House of Lords peerage to “give a voice to ordinary people”.

Doreen Lawrence, Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon.

Doreen Lawrence: given a seat in the House of Lords this year.

My next post:

In my next post, I will write about another legal fight over the truth of a killing. Batang Kali massacre happened in December 1948 in the soil of Malaya during the Malayan Emergency, in which 24 unarmed rubber plantation workers were killed by British troops. 65 years later, the families from Malaysia are still fighting for the truth from the British government. Their fight is astonishingly painful; their journey torturous. However, will the truth ever come out?

6 thoughts on ““No Woman, No Cry”: A mother’s torturous road to justice

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Thank you for reading. It was not an easy topic to write. This case dominated the media for years and it was impossible not to be affected by this tragedy and its outcome.

  1. 国樑 KL

    Incidentally I came across Stephen Lawrence’s case reported in the local newspapers on and off when I was spending a year in London between 1993 and 1994. I was equally touched when come across Doreen Lawrence in London Olympics 2012. 英雄所见略同 (Great minds think alike.) I really admired the big heart of the British in amending the past mistakes. Having said that, I would like to see the case of Batang Kali could come to a decent closure soon. Awaiting.

  2. 国樑 KL

    If we examine the verdicts from the London High Court and the reaction from Malaysia’s British Commissioner Simon Featherstone carefully, I do not think Malaysians had lost their fight. The battle for justice will continue.

    You can read about my view in my posts:

    马来亚的紧急状态时期:峇冬加里屠杀案中案 Batang Kali Massacre (1 of 2)

    峇冬加里屠杀案中案 Batang Kali Massacre – May justice be done through heaven falls (2 of 2)

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Thank you for your two articles, KL. I actually had read them last month. Your posts are the best in presenting key facts with important chronological details, with the latest court hearing information from London.

      I like your view about the winning and losing of the Batang Kali case. After six decades, I feel the major achievement is that the world is now hearing this case, and more people will be involved in this, and the future generation will remember this particular episode in our colonial history. Perhaps, the ultimate truth will come out one day.

      I hope to read more of your research into the case too. Many thanks.


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