Time for Action - Black Lives Matter. Why the Movement is Needed in the UK and the USA
As we are all more than aware, normal life has taken a bit of a break (let's be real - a lot of a break) as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The whole world has at some point come to a halt, and we have been given unasked-for time.
Something that hasn't taken a break during the Covid lockdown?
I want to discuss the importance of the current Black Lives Matter movement, and highlight to my readers the systemic racism that pervades both modern America and Britain. Please read to the end, because no matter how difficult, this is something that needs to be heard.
However, I do want to provide a warning that I will be discussing some things that may be triggering to some readers. This post is primarily targeted at White and non-Black people of colour (POC) who want to learn more about what's going on in the world at the moment and the injustices faced by Black people. The last thing I want to do is cause anyone further harm. If you feel like this topic will trigger you - please stop reading now.
George Floyd and Police Brutality in the US
We have all by now heard about the death of George Floyd at the hands of a White police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. While we were all focused on the coronavirus pandemic, happily (or unhappily) taking a break from reality, police brutality and systemic racism was persevering at full force.
As a result of Floyd's tragic, unnecessary death, a new wave of protests and online awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement has rippled around the world. However, this is not a new issue. A Black man dying at the hands of racist police has unfortunately been a reality for many years.
To see the scope of police brutality I would guide you to the website 'Mapping Police Violence' which through clear infographics highlights the truth (the facts) about police violence, as well as mapping all police killings in the US in 2019. The data indicates that Black people are 3 times more likely to be killed by police than White people. Where you live starkly determines how likely you are to be killed by police, however there is no correlation between where you live and actual crime rates. 99% of police killings have not resulted in officers being charged.
According to NAACP "African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of Whites." In addition, prison populations are racially disproportionate to the general population - and this is not because White people commit fewer crimes. For example, despite using drugs at similar rates, African Americans are far more likely to be arrested for drug use.
With all of these facts in mind, how can we expect Black people to walk the streets and feel safe, when the ones meant to keep them safe are the ones threatening their lives?
A Timeline of Racism, Unjust Deaths, and Police Brutality in the USA
I have created a non-exhaustive timeline of events from the past few years, from the start of the Black Lives Matter movement to today, clearly highlighting that nothing is changing and more needs to be done to make a real difference to Black lives. Although George Floyd's death has kick started the recent protests, similar events have been going on for years.
July 13 2013 - The Black Lives Matter movement was founded when a man called Trayvon Martin was murdered and the man who killed him got off scot-free. Starting off as a hashtag and "an online community to help combat anti-Black racism across the globe", the movement later became an organisation with the continual aim to fight for Black rights, lives and dignity.
17 July 2014 - Eric Garner. Choked to death while under arrest in New York. The incident was filmed, leading to protests across the US. The officer was never prosecuted.
9 August 2014 - Michael Brown. Shot 6 times by a police officer in Missouri. He was unarmed.
22 November 2014 - Tamir Rice. 12 years old, shot dead in Ohio because he was holding a fake gun.
4 April 2015 - Walter Scott. Shot in the back 5 times, having been pulled over for an issue with his car.
23 February 2020 - Ahmaud Arbery. Aged 25, he was shot whilst out jogging, after being pursued and confronted by men in the neighbourhood.
13 March 2020 - Breonna Taylor. Shot 8 times, whilst sleeping, by officers who were searching for a man who was already in custody. She was just 26. People have been protesting both for justice for a life lost unnecessarily due to police brutality and recklessness, but also to put a stop to no-knock warrants and to ensure officers wear body cameras when carrying out search warrants. Additionally, people want to raise awareness to Black female lives being lost to institutionalised racism as well as male.
25 May 2020 - George Floyd. George was killed by a police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. It has taken various petitions and protesting to get the officer (and the other 3 who stood by and watched) arrested and charged. A video of George's arrest and death was captured and went viral - sparking the current Black Lives Matter protests.
To claim that the system is not racist is devaluing all of these lives, and denying them dignity.
A Timeline of Racism, Unjust Deaths, and Police Brutality in the UK
Now, having spoken on the US, us Brits must not be complacent. The Prime Minister may think that we are not a racist country but let's just go over some events in Britain that parallel the ones I have just mentioned in America.
7 May 1995 - Brian Douglas. During his arrest, Brian was struck by a baton, and fell ill in his cell. He was taken to hospital over 14 hours later. He died from haemorrhages and a fractured skull.
4 August 2011 - Mark Duggan. Shot and killed by police on 4 August 2011. His death led to protests and riots across England. Although Mark Duggan was being followed by police for possession of a gun, he had thrown the gun over a fence when he was shot twice by the officers. There are continuing investigations into exactly when Mark threw the gun, whether the officer saw him throw it away and so whether the shots were 'justified'.
4 November 2013 - Leon Briggs. Died after being detained and restrained at Luton police station.
11 February 2016 - Sarah Reed. In 2012 Sarah was assaulted by police (read here). She suffered with severe mental health problems, and later died in prison in 2016, after officers ignored her mother's warnings. The inquest found that her neglect and a delay in psychiatric support in prison contributed to her death.
22 July 2017 - Rashan Charles. Died under police restraint, as they apparently saw him put something in his mouth and tried to help him. The more Rashan struggled, the more force was used, ultimately resulting in his death. The death was recorded as 'accidental'.
27 June 2019 - Shukri Abdi, a 12-year old Somalian refugee, was found drowned in a river in Manchester. She was a victim of bullying at her school, and 5 classmates were 'witnesses' to her death, with one reported as having threatened to kill her if she didn't get into the river. The police shut down the case early in February, and the school refused to look into the bullying allegations, but the case has now been reopened, and there is a petition to have her bullying investigated (thanks to Black Lives Matter action).
5 April 2020 - Belly Mujinga. Belly, a railway worker, was spat at by a man claiming to have coronavirus, and later died from the disease on 5 April. The case was closed last week with no link being found. Belly's family are no longer seeking prosecution, but "are still campaigning to secure protection and support for those working at GTR (Govia Thameslink Railway)". www.change.org/justiceforbellymujinga
Here in the UK, 48% of under-18s in custody are from BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) backgrounds. Moreover, Black people make up just 3% of the population of England and Wales but make up 12% of the prison population.
As you can see from my UK timeline, it is not simply police brutality that is a problem, but bias within the justice system, and a continual systematic dismissal of racially-charged deaths. The same goes for the US.
How can we expect anything better, how can we expect real change to Black lives, when these people are running our countries:
The lack of BAME faces in these images is disturbing, (as is the lack of female faces). How on earth do we expect our countries to continue to be more integrated, equal and safe for everyone if the people at the top, making the decisions, are elite, White males? If someone can explain how that works to me, without saying it's more about 'diversity of thought', then I'd love to hear it.
I am not claiming that including more Black people in these cabinets will immediately make the world a better place or eradicate racism, I am saying that we cannot even begin to make the necessary changes without letting those voices be heard at the top.
Taking The Knee
You may have seen thousands of people 'taking the knee', i.e. kneeling, in respect of George Floyd - an act of solidarity, as well as paying respect to his death. However, taking the knee is a phrase steeped in history, particularly in sporting history, usually to pay respect to a passed team member (read this article for more information on the phrase).
In 2016, kneeling became a symbol of protest against police brutality after Colin Kaepernick (photographed above), American footballer, did so during the national anthem. Colin faced a lot of backlash for his actions, from people believing he was 'disrespecting the American flag'. Trump, calling Colin a 'son of a bitch', even resorted to making it illegal for any player, coach etc. to not stand during the national anthem (how much more evidence do you need of Trump's insanity, seriously?) Colin Kaepernick said:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color... To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Unfortunately, it is clear that nobody (or not enough) listened, as the same issues are still rife 4 years on. However, taking the knee has now become a universal symbol of solidarity with Black lives.
Racist Bias in the Media
Bias in the media - be that news outlets on TV, online, or in print, or even social media (twitter, facebook, instagram) - has always been a problem. I want to focus on recent media for a second, and demonstrate how without being overt, it is racially biased. I will just use a couple examples but there are many more and more obvious ones at that - just remember to keep your eyes fully open.
Let's have a look at the Guardian, a centre-left newspaper.
After the May Bank holiday, they released images of packed British beaches. The heading?
'UK crowds enjoy May sunshine as lockdown eases'.
The images make it clear that people were unable to (or simply chose not to, whatever your angle...) social distance, despite warnings from the government to do so. However, they are described as 'enjoying' themselves.
On the other hand, when talking about the protests in relation to lockdown, people were 'defying warnings'.
'Thousands defy warnings to join anti-racism protests'
Sure, the protest made it impossible in many cases to social distance, but every single person in the photo is wearing a mask, unlike the people out and about for the May bank holiday. Are the people fighting for justice worse than those frolicking in the sun? Both disobeying the 2m distance rule, but treated differently for doing so.
Let's now quickly compare these articles taken from BBC News.
'Coronavirus: Are protests legal amid lockdown?'
'Coronavirus: 'Busy but manageable' at England's beauty spots'.
I realise that this is subtle, but by implying that those at the Black Lives Matter protests were breaking the law, but those flocking to beautiful England beaches and *not* socially distancing are 'manageable' and free to enjoy it, the media is subtly controlling how we view the situation: White people can enjoy the sunshine without being punished, but Black people are breaking the law by going out and protesting for their lives. White people are innocent, and Black people are criminals. However covert, it is biases like these that perpetuate systemic racism and are emblematic of White privilege.
Even more extreme is the comparison in treatment of the anti-lockdown protesters in the US with the anti-racism protesters. Admittedly, that can mainly be put down to Trump's own stupidity and racism which is a topic of discussion in itself... While Trump thought the White anti-lockdown protesters were 'great people' for attacking a journalist, he considered the George Floyd protesters so violent that army intervention was necessary.
To articulate this issue a little better I'll let Hasan Patel's twitter do the talking:
How Social Media Stunts Like Blackout Tuesday Are Muting Black Voices
Blackout Tuesday had the good intentions of muting normal social media procedure to make room for Black voices and Black Lives Matter content. It was a social media protest against systemic racism and White supremacy.
If you didn't hear about Blackout Tuesday, it was organised by Atlantic records, an American record label. It started off as a demonstration of solidarity on the part of the music industry, who have profited greatly from black art, but it quickly went global. Millions of businesses and people took part to show their solidarity, to take a day's break from promoting their work and instead boost Black voices, art and work.
However, that intentional pause ultimately just served to fill online space with a black-hole of an empty gesture - actually muting Black Lives Matter content. 28.9 million posts were made with the #BlackOutTuesday but only 21 million with the #BlackLivesMatter, indicating the day ended up being simply another social media stunt/trend. While many use platforms like Instagram to educate themselves on racism, the day made finding any important content and information near to impossible.
What needs to be learned from Blackout Tuesday is that what is really needed from brands (companies, influencers and others) online and in real life is authenticity and an active approach to combatting racism internally as well as externally. Posting a black square in solidarity is not equal to being anti-racist in practise.
If you found some of this post difficult to read - just think for a second what it's like experiencing racism every single day.
In the UK, ethnic minorities recording racial discrimination increased by 13% (from 58 to 71) just after the Brexit vote. People are experiencing more racism both on social media and in their day-to-day lives. As I said before, we in the UK must not become complacent, no matter how much Boris Johnson tries to convince us that Britain is not racist (just take the far-right protesters yesterday as a clear example of how much more needs to be done).
Let us also not forget:
The 2018 Windrush Scandal, which targeted Afro-Caribbean immigrants in particular, wrongly detained/deported hundreds of people, stripped them of their rights. Most have still not been properly compensated.
The fact British tax payers had been paying their 'debts' to slave-owners up until 2015 - that's £20 million (today equivalent to £17bn) to pay off slave owners, paid out of our pockets. 'Compensating' the for their loss of HUMAN PROPERTY.
That those who lost their home when Grenfell burned down in a preventable fire have still not been re-homed, and the government have missed their deadline to remove all flammable cladding (meaning 60,000 people are still living in unsafe housing). It is 3 years this Sunday since Grenfell burned down and 70+ people (working class minorities) died in the fire caused by cladding they had been trying to draw attention to for months.
Racism towards Black people did not end when slavery did. Racism is still very much ingrained in our systems, in our government, and in society. And there is so much more that I have not even touched on in this blog post and so so much more that I need to learn.
I will leave some helpful links, resources, and more below that you can use if you would like to learn more, or help the movement in any way. Thanks for reading.
Until next time,
Helpful Links (Charities, Organisations and Key Websites)
Google document by Black Ballad UK of Black and POC-led organisations
Black Lives Matter carrd (links to petitions, donations and more)
The Black Curriculum (Black History education for all in the UK)
Grassroots Law Project (group of grassroots organisations aiming to transform policing and justice in America)
Gal-Dem (an online organisation sharing stories and experiences of women and non-binary POC)
Helpful Links (Inspiring Black Women on Instagram)
Rachel Ricketts- Spiritual educator
Layla F. Saad - Author of Me and White Supremacy
Munroe Bergdorf - Model and trans activist
Leanne Pero - Founder of Black Women Rising, a charity run for and by Black women with cancer
Rachel Cargle - Writer and educator