In this video, anti-racist activists in Britain talk about the movement that has erupted in response to the murder of George Floyd. Graham Campbell, Kwasi Agyemang-Prempeh, Jas Blackwell-Pal, Jaice Titus and Dalbir Dhillon talk about underlying racism and economic factors, the relationship with the coronavirus pandemic and the importance of collective action and organisation alongside political education in tackling structural and systemic racism, not just individuals’ ideas.
According to Inquest ‘there have been 1741 deaths in police custody or otherwise following contact with the police in England & Wales since 1990’. Yet the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody found that ‘there has never been a successful prosecution for manslaughter’ (let alone murder) ‘in such cases, despite unlawful killing verdicts in Coroner’s Inquests’. Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people are disproportionately likely to be the victims of police violence. It is no coincidence that the United Friends and Families Campaign, which campaigns over deaths in police, prison and psychiatric custody, was originally set up by Black families. There is now a public inquiry into the killing of Sheku Bayoh by Scottish police, which led to no prosecutions.
But deaths are just the tip of the iceberg of institutional racism. Black people are disproportionately targeted by stop and search and frequently treated as criminals by default. Not only are law enforcement more likely to use violence and harassment against Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people, they afford them even less protection. No action was taken in the case of Belly Mujinga, a rail worker spat at during the coronavirus pandemic. After public pressure through protests and petitions started mounting, the CPS are now reviewing the evidence. No action was taken when Dalbir Dhillon was subject to racist abuse on the picket line – despite it being on CCTV. Most famously, the Metropolitan police’s failure to properly investigate the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence was due to institutional racism.
George Floyd’s murder came amidst a pandemic which inserted itself into a grotesquely unequal society. Trump’s government has done little while millions of Americans have lost their jobs and many more lack access to healthcare, contributing to a terrible death toll which has disproportionately affected people of colour. The unequal impacts of Covid-19 have been stark in the UK too, where the government has censored discussion of the impacts of racism in official reports.
The right are attacking protesters for risking spreading the coronavirus. Where were the militarised police when armed right-wingers, taking no precautions against infection, entered US state buildings to protest that they couldn’t get a haircut? We must defend our right to protest – nobody should be arrested, as recently happened in London using the coronavirus legislation – simply for attending a demonstration. We have to take safety seriously and remember that Covid-19 is already disproportionately impacting BAME people, so we should take precautions, wear masks, have stewards and practice distancing. Groups are organising to hand out masks to anyone without one, to provide sanitiser or sound systems so that people can hear speeches without crowding together.
As well as showing solidarity with the US, we need to think about the specifics of racism in Britain to develop organisations that fit, rather than copying the US. There are many existing organisations which need more support and participation, campaigning over state racism and violence, from migrant solidarity, against detention centres, police violence and harassment, prisons. People should push for more action by unions and in workplaces, where white workers can be won to fighting racist divisions that undermine their own struggles, which are heightened during the coronavirus crisis.
Repression against US demonstrators has highlighted the export of weapons from Britain for use by the US state against its population. Such weapons are designed for repression. Campaigning against their production and sale, and for workers to be given productive jobs, is an act of solidarity.