More than a week has now passed since George Floyd was murdered in cold blood by a Minneapolis police officer. The video of Derek Chauvin ending the life of Floyd is horrific – the very embodiment of an abuse of power by those who are supposed to serve all, not to oppress – though unfortunately it is not unique.
In recent days, social media has exposed the extraordinary lengths that US city police departments will go to suppress protest, discontent and accountability. It has also spectacularly exposed the poverty of leadership that has gripped American politics.
Above all, like the case of Christian Cooper in New York City, Floyd’s death has laid bare the stark realities that black people cannot expect to be treated fairly by either the US police or the criminal justice system. We in the UK cannot look passively at events in the US, however, but must confront our own realities and our own truths here at home.
It is almost 200 years since Sir Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police. Among the principles of law enforcement laid down was that every officer should “recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect”. Yet such respect can only be earned if every citizen – no matter who they are – is treated fairly and equally.
We recognise that many police officers execute their duties judiciously and responsibly to keep communities safe. Yet we must also acknowledge the fact that, for too many black Britons, the police offer fear, not security. Prejudice, not justice. On too many occasions, the actions and behaviour of our police have fallen far short of the required standard.
The statistics speak for themselves. In 2020, if you are black in England and Wales, you are nine and half times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than if you are white. You are more likely to be involved in an incident in which the police use a firearm or a taser. Black men are 26% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody, despite being 60% more likely to plead not guilty. And despite making up approximately 3% of the general population, black people account for 12% of the total prison population.
It is for these reasons of injustice that we, the Labour BAME Network, unambiguously affirm our support of the Black Lives Matter movements in the US and the UK. We support protests that are peaceful, responsible and inspiring. And we do so proudly as democratic socialists. Our party’s constitution states that we believe in a society “where the rights we enjoy, reflect the duties we owe”.
It must therefore follow that if black people – be they British, American, or from elsewhere – are expected to uphold their duties as citizens to respect and follow the law, they must in turn be assured that they will enjoy the same rights as the rest of the population.
They must be free from harassment in the streets; be treated fairly in our police station and our courts; and have access to legal advice and representation. But talk is cheap. Action defines who we are. So if you are at a loss of how you can help, here are five suggestions:
- Donate your money. In the US, this can be to victims’ families, protesters’ bail funds or black-owned businesses whose outlets have been destroyed by the riots. In the UK, you could support StopWatch, which campaigns for fair and accountable policing, or a whole range of other not-for-profit organisations that support racial equality and justice.
- If you’re black, talk to your white friends about how you are feeling. If you’re white, listen. Embrace this opportunity to engage. If you don’t have a friend of the other race – get one!
- Hold your elected representatives accountable for the actions they take on racial justice. Challenge your MP, your assembly member or your local councillor to demonstrate how they are contributing to progress.
- And if you’re not happy with their answer: organise and mobilise (or at least join a campaign). Not only by protesting in the streets, but by actively participating in our democratic process to make sure that our institutions – our parliaments, our assemblies and our police and crime commissioners – are filled with people committed to delivering practical change.
- Show your support on social media. Various platforms are making the world more connected every day, so consider producing your own content or sharing the content produced by your black friends and acquaintances.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The path is never simple or quick. It takes time. Only by working together as one people can we root out injustice in our society: united we stand, divided we fall.
No speech, statement or article will return Floyd back to his loved ones. Instead, it is now incumbent on a new generation to seize this opportunity to lead and achieve the change and justice we need.