Kate Byng-Hall looks closer at recent peaceful protests in the UK in light of the tragic killing of George Floyd.
Photo by Elio Santo
Peaceful protests have taken place across the UK in response to the killing of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 25th May after a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
The incident has catapulted the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of public consciousness, with thousands of protestors across the country calling for police brutality and systemic racism to be confronted head-on.
Thousands have gathered in Hyde Park and marched to Parliament Square displaying placards stating that “the UK is not innocent”, “black lives matter”, and “no justice, no peace”. Some have even mounted statues and phone boxes to deliver speeches to the crowds using megaphones.
One of those speaking was John Boyega, the London-born actor made famous for his appearance in the Star Wars Saga, who said, “I need you to understand how painful it is to be reminded every day that your race means nothing – and that isn't the case anymore, that was never the case”.
Chief Constables from forces across the country, the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Chief Executive of the College of Policing and the President of the Police Superintendents' Association have made a joint-statement regarding the tragedy, stating that “we stand alongside all those across the globe who are appalled and horrified by the way George Floyd lost his life. Justice and accountability should follow.”
However, police have also expressed concern that protests could cause a spike in the coronavirus infection-rate, as they defy the current government guidelines on social distancing. Organisers of the protests have been seen handing out masks and gloves, but protestors are advised to maintain social distancing, and refrain from attending if in contact with those in high-risk groups.
UK’s Racist Past
This is not the first time the UK has been in uproar as a result of police racism. The debate was kicked into gear by the infamous, unprovoked killing of 18-year-old black man Stephen Lawrence at the hands of a gang of white men in 1993.
Five men were arrested after the killing, but none were convicted. No one was jailed for the atrocity until 2012. This disgusting example of police misconduct led to the ground-breaking 1998 Macpherson Report, which concluded that the Metropolitan Police was “institutionally racist”, and that was why they failed to solve the case at the time. The Report has been dubbed “one of the most important moments in the modern history of criminal justice in Britain”.
Lawrence’s mother, Doreen Lawrence, was made an honorary Baroness in 2013 for her charitable work fighting racist crime and police misconduct, and has this year been named the Labour Party’s new Race Relations Advisor.
“There are still too many young people who do not have a sense of hope, who just don’t get the chance to live their dreams. I want all our children and young people to feel inspired, be confident and have hope in their own future. We are building hope but there is more to do.” – Baroness Lawrence, the mother of Stephen Lawrence
Responses to police racism in the UK have not always been peaceful. In 1995, the Brixton Riots started after a black man, Wayne Douglas, died in police custody under suspicious circumstances. Almost two decades later, riots erupted across North London after another black man, Mark Duggan, was shot by police in Tottenham in 2011.
Both caused violent clashes between protestors and police, including instances of arson and looting similar to what can currently be seen in protests against George Floyd’s killing in America. The UK’s capacity for anger in the face of police racism is no less than the US’s.
The Colour Purple
Protests in the UK this year have been peaceful so far, with organisers emphasising that they want anger about Floyd’s death to be expressed non-violently.
Councils and organisations across the country have been showing support by illuminating buildings with purple light as, according to Rokhsana Fiaz, the Mayor of Newham in London, it is “the colour which has been become synonymous with the struggle against oppression”. Buildings including Newham Town Hall, the Museum of Liverpool, the Library of Birmingham, and Leeds Civic Centre have displayed their solidarity in this way.
You can personally show support and lend your voice to the movement by safely attending demonstrations, donating to charitable causes, and signing petitions to help make a change.
The key message that we should all be taking from shocking tragedies like George Floyd’s death is peace. The police are their enforce peace, not incite violence and hatred. Discrimination is unacceptable in any form, especially if sanctioned by state institutions.
We should be outraged by Floyd’s killing, as well as the consistent mistreatment of black people by the police solely because of their race. Lend support in any way you can, but stay safe during this pandemic, and do not put yourself or anyone else in unnecessary danger of infection.
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