Stephen Lawrence was the third teenager from an ethnic minority to be stabbed to death in the borough in just over two years. All the killings involved groups of white youths.
Stephen, 18, and a schoolfriend were attacked by a group of four to six youths as they waited for a bus late at night in Eltham, south-east London. Police said racial abuse had been shouted just before the stabbing.
Stephen lived in Woolwich Common and was studying for A-levels at Blackheath Bluecoat school. He wanted to be an architect. His family and friends said yesterday that he always avoided trouble. 'He wasn't into fighting one bit; he would avoid it,' his father Neville said.
There had been three near-fatal racial stabbings of black people in the borough this year before Stephen's murder late on Thursday. The Metropolitan Police staff a permanent racial attack incident room at Plumstead.
Yesterday as Stephen's friends spoke of seeking out the killers for revenge, Chief Superintendent John Philpott of the Metropolitan Police in Plumstead said: 'We would ask young people to be sensible . . . we have a racist problem in this area but we aim to tackle it.' Police patrols were being stepped up, he added.
Rolan Adams was killed in nearby Thamesmead in February 1991 and buried on his 16th birthday. Stephen took part in campaigns to raise money for his family and to protest against racial attacks. In July last year, Rohit Duggal, a 16-year-old Asian, was stabbed to death in Well Hall Road - the same Eltham street where Stephen was knifed. Two youths are serving terms of life imprisonment.
The Greenwich Action Committee Against Racist Attacks and the Commission for Racial Equality yesterday called for a meeting with the Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Paul Condon.
Dev Barrah, the committee's co-ordinator, said bad housing and high unemployment had made the area a breeding ground for racism. The British National Party has set up its headquarters in nearby Welling and campaigns and recruits in the area. He called for the party to be expelled.
Stephen, who was on his way home from visiting his uncle, tried to make an escape but collapsed, bleeding heavily, after running a short distance. Surgeons failed to resuscitate him at the nearby Brook Hospital - one of two stab wounds had severed an artery. 'It appears that it is a racial murder by the remarks that were made,' said Detective Chief Inspector Bill Ilsley, who heads the murder inquiry. He appealed for a man and a woman who got off a No 286 bus just before the attack to contact the police.