Only now the world is saying ‘enough is enough’ to racism.
It has taken a truly tragic video of a police officer murdering an unarmed black man in Minnesota, over a $20 counterfeit note, for people to wake up.
His name was George Floyd.
He was a 46-year-old ‘gentle giant’ and a father to six-year-old Gianna Floyd.
He had moved to Minneapolis to find work and took on two jobs as he tried to turn his life around.
He couldn’t breathe.
His pleas were ignored by officer Derek Chauvin who knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes as he suffocated – but the world was listening, and the world watched in horror and outrage, as the video of his murder went viral on social media.
The sheer brutality of this incident, which is one of many, has ignited anger across America and the world, with countries uniting in protest, calling for justice and equality. For now, the spotlight is on America. But should we not also be looking closer to home? When the UK looks in the mirror, is it not America staring back?
In the fight against racism, the UK is also speaking out about George Floyd’s death, but we need to look at the violence happening on our own doorstep too.
According to INQUEST there have been 1741 deaths in police custody or otherwise following contact with the police in England & Wales since 1990.
Analysis of their casework and monitoring exposed the following facts:
- The proportion of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) deaths in custody where restraint is a feature is over two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody
- The proportion of BAME deaths in custody where use of force is a feature is over two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody
- The proportion of BAME deaths in custody where mental health-related issues are a feature is nearly two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody
The charity stated: “BAME people die disproportionately as a result of use of force or restraint by the police, raising serious questions of institutional racism as a contributory factor in their deaths.”
As released in the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) 2018/19 annual statistics on deaths during or following police contact in England and Wales, deaths in police custody compared to percentage of the population show that Black people are more than twice as likely to die in police custody.
Those are the facts and figures, but I also want to draw attention to the victims – and these are only just some of the names we need to learn about:
Mzee Mohammed, 18 years old, who had autism, Asperger’s and ADHD, died in custody in Liverpool in 2016.
Sheku Bayoh, 33 years old, a trainee gas engineer and father-of-two, died in Scottish police custody in 2015.
Leon Briggs, 39 years old, died in hospital after being restrained and detained at Luton police station in 2013.
Mark Duggan, 29 years old, a father and aspiring firefighter, was shot and killed by police in Tottenham in 2011.
David Victor Emmanuel (aka Smiley Culture), 48 years old, a reggae singer and DJ, ‘stabbed himself’ with a kitchen knife during a police raid on his Surrey home in 2011.
Jimmy Mubenga, 46 years old, a husband and father, died after being restrained by three guards from G4S on a BA flight in 2010.
Sean Rigg, 40 years old, a mentor and musician died in Brixton police station after prolonged restraint by police in 2008.
Brian Douglas, 33 years old, a boxing promoter, struck with a police baton and refused medical treatment and held in Kennington police station in 1996.
Joy Gardner, 40 years old, mother of two and a mature student, died in her Crouch End home after being bound with 13 feet of tape and a belt by officers in 1993.
Leon Patterson, 31 years old, suffering depression, died in police custody in Manchester in 1992
It is heart-breaking to see so many victims die at the hands of the people who take an oath to protect us, with many families still fighting for justice.
What we are seeing in the UK is the same violent scene with a different backdrop. The UK is not innocent. And this is only the violence that people of colour face in the hands of the institutionally racist criminal justice system.
Let’s talk about the systemic racism which filters through the fabric of our society – Covid-19, Grenfell, the Windrush Scandal, Stop and Search, housing, education, employment, healthcare. I don’t know where to start…but I know I will not stop speaking out.
With racial inequality being brought to the fore and tensions running high, as well as the pandemic and economic repression driving people of colour further into poverty and danger, we should be asking when – or rather what – will spark the UK into further action?
We are supporting US activists but sitting on the brink of a crisis ourselves, and it only takes one more act of police brutality to tip protests into riots and expose the institutional racism that is embedded across our nation.
The biggest question we should be asking ourselves now is ‘are we ready’?
It is not enough to watch and support from a far hoping these issues will bypass us. Like the pandemic, we should be learning and preparing – using that as a catalyst for change today. To rest on our laurels, will be the biggest mistake the UK could make.
We should be having uncomfortable conversations with our friends, family and colleagues; speaking out and bringing inequalities to light; educating ourselves so that we can understand and influence meaningful change; opening up dialogue and listening; supporting and funding charities, organisations, activists and people in power advocating change; rejecting racism and utilising privilege. Most of all we must look inward and reflect on our own journey.
Right now, in this moment in time, I feel hope. We have the ears of people who are willing to listen and ready to learn and that is an opportunity not to be missed.
So, my challenge to you: start taking individual responsibility to rebuild the society we wanted to see yesterday.
Will you join me?