Cities in America have seen protests and riots after the death last month of George Floyd in Minneapolis after a police officer continued to kneel on his neck for over eight minutes. George Floyd’s arrest was witnessed and filmed, with bystanders and George himself begging the officer to release his hold to allow him to breathe.
The situation has brought into focus systemic police brutality, largely aimed at people of colour, although not always the case, as one video of a 75-year-old man being shoved over by Buffalo police proves.
In another agonising video filmed at a protest in Indianapolis, you see a female escape from a restraining officer as he grabs her breast only to have multiple officers attack her and another woman with batons.
It’s election year, the US is still in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, peaceful protests demonstrating for racial equality have been highjacked by a criminal element and rioting and looting has occurred. We are still only five and a bit months into the year 2020, it will go down in history as one of the most devastating years in peacetime.
Institutional racism doesn’t just occur in the USA, Britain has its own examples in the case of murdered 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence by a gang of white youths and in the failed arrest for the deportation of Joy Gardner, both in 1993.
Largely peaceful demonstrations supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement have continued in many other cities around the world. This weekend the NFL has admitted that they were wrong in failing to support Colin Kaepernick and other players when they took the knee during the national anthem in protest at racial inequality.
This week was also the 27th birthday of Breonna Taylor. She died two months ago when a no-knock warrant was served for her home. She was shot eight times. She was an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and wore a uniform.
George Floyd’s death causing more initial media coverage than Breonna’s has many parallels with black women’s lives. Her story is only now in the mainstream media. It’s likely to have remained low-key without the worldwide outrage over the killing of George Floyd which brought police brutality and the deaths of people of colour at the hands of the police to the top of news bulletins.
#SayHerName campaign highlights female victims of state violence. Often women are marginalised because of their colour and gender and never find the justice that they deserve. Breonna Taylor’s story carries the hashtag to highlight her death at the hands of a police force who still have questions to answer about her death.
The Black Lives Matter movement has risen up to fight against the injustice that black people see on a day-to-day basis; pre-judged, stereotyped and criminalised for the colour of their skin. Remember; when someone waves a placard stating ‘Black Lives Matter’, it doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter, it means that all lives can’t matter until black lives matter. Equality should mean being able to walk down the street without the fear of arrest, assault or fear of verbal abuse.
The topic of race has never really left America. Slaves were emancipated after the Civil War in 1865 but continued oppression: Jim Crow laws, segregation, Ku Klux Klan, lynchings and systemic racism have continued to plague its mass throughout the twentieth century and into the next.
As a white British woman, I do feel wholly inadequate at times when vocalising my support for #BlackLivesMatter, but I do feel the need to speak up and offer solidarity to the people of colour who are victimised daily.
I live in cosmopolitan London, a rich melting pot of diverse cultures, my children’s school friends reflected the multi-cultural society we lived in. The Korean families would run the (always popular) Korean food stall at the school fair. My son enjoyed many playdates with his Korean friends. The Indian neighbours would share curries, give me lifts to the school and on occasion pick my daughter up.
I got my black neighbour a shift in the care home I worked in when I needed a night off due to my daughter contracting chickenpox. She came home the next day laughing as one elderly resident said to her, ‘Where are you from? Your English is very good.’ My neighbour replied, ‘Me? I’m from Streatham, love.’ Unconscious racism assuming that because her skin was a rich chocolate brown she wasn’t British.
As I look at these past tumultuous weeks, I can only wish for a peaceful future, a quieter second half of 2020 and above all, that the world heals. The scars of centuries of racism will take longer to heal for our black friends and neighbours but in the months and years to come #BlackLivesMatter should not remain a hashtag, but a philosophy of life, proving that we are all equal.