A Statement in 5 parts from the Legal Director of Westkin
George Floyd and Black Lives Matter
Part 1 – A very public lynching
How is it possible to be utterly shocked and completely unsurprised at the same time?
On 25 May 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year old black man, was publicly lynched in the streets of Minneapolis. The police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned Floyd to the ground and shoved his knee down against his neck, suffocating him. A policeman’s knee, rather than a noose, serviced just as well in this lynching.
It took him 8 mins and 46 seconds to die, about as long as it will take you to read this statement to completion or have a shower tonight.
8 minutes and 46 seconds.
It is unclear to me at what point Chauvin would have stopped suffocating Floyd if he hadn’t died.
At what point would he have been stopped?
The answer is that he simply wouldn’t have been.
Because everyone on that video knew that George Floyd was likely to die.
Everybody, knew with certainty, from Chauvin, his partners, the passers-by, and even poor George Floyd himself, that George Floyd was likely to die.
Again, how is it possible to be utterly shocked and completely unsurprised at the same time?
Because this is America and George Floyd was a black man.
Part 2 – ‘In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body’
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sept 2015
Floyd’s death is not a surprise. Michael Brown in Ferguson was not a surprise; Eric Garner in New York was not a surprise; Tamir Rice in Cleveland was not a surprise. The list gets longer, placing a perverse challenge to our memory: how many can I remember?
But the list of names keeps getting longer.
Names which are repeated in the hearts of activists and demonstrators, rich fuel for a fierce belief that tomorrow can only be brighter than today through action and valour.
Names which have been repeated to the point of fetish, mockery, and insult by sneering right-wing commentators.
Fetish, mockery, and insult which provides cover for those who defend the police.
Defend the police when they sodomise Abner Louima (New York), kill Andre Reid by tasering him 10 times while he begged for medical help. (Florida) or murder Keith Lamont Scott who was disabled (South Carolina)
This defence gives cover to those who seek to keep the police powerful, immune and protected.
Power emboldens abuse,
Impunity begets confidence,
Protection leads to entitlement.
Why didn’t Derek Chauvin believe he was doing anything wrong for 8 minutes 46, seconds? Why did he feel so entitled that his moral sense, his human decency, his fear of getting caught, disappeared for 8 minutes 46 seconds?
Because he was given power, impunity, and protection, therefore he was entitled.
So, I watched the video again, and marked Derek Chauvin’s facial expression.
and most of all silent – because nothing needs to be said.
“We are a physical representation of our support for George Floyd. We are a physical representation of our support for Sandra Bland. We are a physical representation of our support for Trayvon Martin. We are a physical representation of our support for Stephen Lawrence” said John Boyega, a Pekham born actor speaking more sense through his heart than a thousand politicos or commentators.
So, I watched the video again, and marked John Boyega’s facial expression.
and most of all exhilarated, – because everything needs to be said.
There is no fence, pick a side.
Part 3- “The racism that killed George Floyd was built in Britain”.
Afua Hirsch May 2020
The legacy of British racism is often overlooked when deaths of black Americans reach our shores, but is not only seen in suspiciously straight colonial borders, or the foreign wars which forced hundreds of thousands from their homes, but it is felt every day by the lives of British BAME communities.
Blacks in Britain are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police.
Since 1990, 183 people from Black and BAME communities have died in police custody but the last successful prosecution of an officer was in 1969.
51 years ago
It isn’t limited to simply criminal justice but to every aspect of life including access to healthcare.
Black families have lower life expectancy than other ethnic groups and this is before the outbreak of the coronavirus.
In response to these statics and this protests the government delayed publishing a report by Public Health England looking into the deaths caused by COVID19.
Whitehall had expressed concerns due to concerns over “the “close proximity to the current situation in America”. When the report was eventually released, key sections on the potential discrimination were removed.
Let’s back that up, we can’t know why we died at such a high rate because if we knew why, we couldn’t be trusted to not riot.
Only a government who only saw their black population as the “other” could truly adopt such warped thinking.
We do know from that report is that found Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are dying at more than twice the rate of white counterparts. The government refused to blame racism or structural inequities embedded in the system.
Even “non-ghetto” migrants will suffer this prejudice, highly qualified doctors from BAME backgrounds are dying without any care being taken as to why. When I think about family members who have become successful, I mourn the fact they cannot escape the colour of their skin.
I want the best for my children, but raising them in the UK? What am I passing on to them? I always thought that I was passing on a rich cultural heritage, the food we eat together, the life events we surround in profound rituals, the jokes we laugh at. What if instead of passing on a rich cultural heritage, what if the things I thought to be proud of in my children were actually a curse? – darker skin and hair, names with deep religious and cultural meaning, days off for religious events and cultural norms.
What if these things I am proud to pass on to my children are things they will resent in the future in the face of white racism?
When I speak to other BAME parents, from otherwise “successful” backgrounds, they share the same fears as me, they fear employers who exclude job applications where there are foreign names or check to see which languages they speak, or even employers who complain that they call a white person in for interview and they turn out to be West Indian with a white name. They fear regulatory bodies who disproportionally strike off lawyers, doctors, and accountants from their roles.
When does the assault on our dreams for our children end?
Part 4 – Should we be encouraging migrants to come to the UK?
Westkin Associates brings migrants to the UK. Inherent in our legal service is a promise that the UK is a welcoming and open place. A promise that is a better place for your family than home. But is it?
The UK media presents migrants as people scrambling to get the promised land and recent US presidents have spoken of America as a shining city on a hill, where people from “shithole” countries want to reach.
But should migrants “just be happy” that they got here, and not complain about British prejudice?
Standards of living might well be lower in certain countries, but a growing body of evidence highlights inequality in outcomes in developed nations kills faster than being happy in countries with supposed low standards of living.
White racism in the UK is taking its cues from America. It is becoming bold, smug, powerful, and entitled. None of this is helped by fear-mongering politicians such as Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, who has compared Muslim women wearing their veil to “letter-boxes” and described Black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.
Migrants come to the UK with aspiration of a better life for themselves and their families, willing to work twice as hard to get by. They come with hopes of making Britain a home for their loved ones. They do not expect to be harassed because they are wearing a hijab; or to be stopped and searched on a routine basis because of their identity.
Part 5 – So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both.
Barack Obama, May 2020
There is a common struggle that ties the lives of Black Americans with all those oppressed, maligned, and marginalised in the UK. It is a struggle for human dignity and acceptance.
I hope the struggle and the protests continue; people may ask what they have achieved. They have achieved in my view one very important thing. They have made white cultural commentators take care with their words, punished them for their casual racism, their inherent belief in their superiority and their attempt to “other” BAME communities.
On the flip side, it has emboldened young people of colour and their white allies, not to be ashamed of their race, their skin, their heritage, not to fall back into respectability politics. Those young people showing valour and courage on the streets of the world’s great cities are paving the way for my children to both succeed in the UK, but succeed in the UK on their own terms, carrying with pride their cultural heritage, their dark skin and their dark hair.
Black lives do matter.
No Peace without Justice.
I encourage those who are motivated by this movement to take this time to educate themselves but also to make their voice heard.
Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates.