Over the last week I have watched in horror and sadness at the scenes unfolding in the USA. I have since been contacted by hundreds of constituents who share those emotions, those who want to know my views on the events of the last week, on the BlackLivesMatter protests and who are asking me to raise it with the Government.
To begin with, I have the deepest sympathy for George Floyd, his family, and his friends. It is never easy to lose someone you love, but for them to be murdered by the police and for it to become a worldwide news story must be horrendous. George Floyd was the victim of police brutality and a systematic racism which has been overlooked for too long and, at times, encouraged by those in power.
While George Floyd’s murder was the spark that set these protests off, it is not the only issue that people are protesting against. People have taken to the streets because a police officer can murder a black man in broad daylight as his colleagues hold them down and the fact that it can go days before he’s arrested for murder without intent. They are angry because this time it was George Floyd, but previously it has been Tamir Rice, or Walter Scott, or Oscar Grant. Events like this have happened time and time again in the USA. This is not the result of a ‘few bad apples’, it is because of a systematic racism that is deeply ingrained in US society, perpetuating state violence against people of colour. The issues at hand require institutional and radical change.
The response in the US, both at federal and state level is utterly inadequate. Everyone has the right to protest, and people should not be forced to march to demand that people of colour are not murdered by arms of the state. The fact that these protestors have seemingly been met with tear gas, rubber and pepper bullets, as well as indiscriminate arrests and violence from police is a further injustice. Sadly, events like this have occurred with alarming regularity in the USA, be it the 1920s or the 2020s. It is never right for the state to violently suppress protestors marching for justice and positive change.
The situation has also been inflamed by the President, whose rhetoric and actions have seemingly been designed to inflame the situation and encourage disproportionate force. He has taken no steps to listen to protestors or to calm the situation. While Donald Trump is not the first President to abdicate their responsibility to tackle this discrimination, I cannot recall a President so keen to condone violence against their own population. In my view, he is utterly unfit for office.
It is important, however, that we do not use the situation in the US to absolve the UK of our own problems with race. We have had similar cases, such as Sean Rigg or Jean Charles de Menezes, that show that we must also strive to be better. The best way to solve these issues is not to ignore them for fear of inflaming tensions, it is to tackle them in a constructive and progressive way.
It is my intention to write to senior figures in Government, asking them to publicly condemn the actions of US police forces and Donald Trump, and call for the US Government, at federal and state level, to tackle the endemic racism in US society. This must occur without caveat or justification.
However, it is important that we as a country, here in the UK, must accept that we also have a responsibility to tackle racism. The Shadow International Trade Secretary, Emily Thornberry, has already written to the Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, calling for the suspension of exports of ‘riot control’ equipment to the US. I wholeheartedly support this demand and I firmly believe that we should not be assisting any country in oppressing and assaulting their population. I will be conveying my support for this to the Government. I also think it is right to call for the full and immediate release of the report into BAME COVID-19 deaths. I will also be raising concerns over the circumstances leading to, and the investigation of, Belly Mujinga’s death.
I would like to reiterate my support for the BlackLivesMatter protests and to encourage those who have been both angered and inspired by the awful events in the US to use that energy to effect change and to keep demanding more until we have a just society. This is not just a problem of individuals, and does not stop with the prosecution of Chauvin and his accomplices, nor will institutionalised racism stop with the end of Donald Trump’s Presidency; it requires systematic change. We must come together as people who want a better, fairer, more equal and anti-racist society. Otherwise we will be fighting the same battles every decade, just as African Americans are still fighting for their right to live.
This is the real purpose of the BlackLivesMatter movement: to reach a point where the value of a black person’s life does not need to be stated, campaigned or fought for. This can be achieved through challenging racism when you see it, voting out politicians who exacerbate or ignore the problem, and even taking to the streets to demand change when people in power do not listen.
To those who say protests do not work, they should look to the last week in America. Derek Chauvin has not only been arrested and charged, so have his accomplices. This is down to the countless people who have braved gas, rubber bullets, beatings and arrest to demand action. I hope that this energy continues, and that one day, people do not have to protest so that black men are not murdered by the police.
Solidarity and support to the BlackLivesMatter movement.