On May 25th 2020, unarmed George Floyd was fatally restrained by white police officers summounting to murder charges being served to both arresting officers. The public outcry from this act has surpassed any relevance to the original crime and now we have the Black Lives Matter movement spread across all facets of society across the world. But what are the aims of the movement and have too many people jumped on the coat-tails of the hashtag to justify their own actions and diluted the message
The major backlash from the public after the incident was aimed at how the police in the US treat black people when attending callouts. This focussed the public demand to be that the police need to be held accountable for, and improve their actions. In 2018, there were 686,665 full-time law enforcement officers employed in the United States, protecting and serving 327 million people (roughly 1 officer per 475 people). The UK had 66.3m people served by 122,405 officers (roughly 1 officer per 540 people).
If we look at the statistics from the UK; of those arrested, 79% were white and 85% of those who died in custody were white. Meanwhile, 9% of people arrested were black (which is disproportionally high) and 8% of those who died in custody were black. So, from 2009-2019, a white individual who was arrested was about 25% more likely to die in custody than a black individual who had been arrested.
So, going by these statistics, the call from the BLM campaign and their affiliates to defund the US police forces sounds counterintuitive. Personally, I advocate increasing the police budget and number of officers so they might have the time to be able to handle callouts in a more professional manner as well as increasing the budgets for training on safe restraining methods to avoid the George Floyd incident reoccurring. Is defunding the police a smart strategy to allow further rioting and looting seen in the US?
So like the weather, we here in the UK started to see the same outcry and demands as those campaigning in the US for us to review our race relation policies. Ultimately this led to us reviewing the period in British History which led to the enslavement and transportation of the African people to America. All UK children learn about this as part of their secondary school education since 2008. Interestingly, this move to delve further into the history of slavery meant that other figures like Sir Winston Churchill, Hitler, Gandhi and Stalin were removed from the core curriculum for 11-14 year olds.
This renewed retrospective of the UK’s involvement has led to the gang-toppling of statues of prominent slave traders erected many years ago and calls for many hundreds of statues throughout the UK to be assessed for removal. The most famous of statues in the UK are on that list – Sir Winston Churchill, Admiral Nelson and Francis Drake were all cited as offensive by the BLM movement and this caused a backlash of anger from a group calling themselves “patriots” and promising to protect what they class as their proud history.
Personally, I think that by removing statues and effigies of the British Empire would not undo their actions and would not change history. If they were racist or bigots, this was because the society of the time was too. Judging historical figure’s morals by the yardstick of today’s liberal, democratic society is not fair on them as they were reflective of the society they lived in. Instead we should still be able to reflect on the positive effects that these people had on the country we now live in. Would this country have an NHS and a benefits system able to help out the less-fortunate in society had we not had the British Empire, slavery and trade links? No, we simply would be a poor island nation reliant on mainland Europe. So it is slightly hypocritical to tear-down these statues whilst still enjoying the bridges, roads, buildings and the civilised, democratic society we have now but was built on the back of this economic boom generated by the trade.
So if we can only judge a human based on their views and actions against the culture they lived in; is the aim of BLM to fundamentally change the culture we live in so that there is no racist influence on the children born into society now? If so, maybe now is the time to announce this as a goal.
One phrase I have heard a lot of in this debate over the last 4 weeks was claims of “institutional racism”. This boils down to mean that an institution (company, club, group etc) has policies in place that actively block the inclusion/employment of people based on their race. This is illegal in the UK and was revisited in 2010 with the publication of The Equality Act. This made it illegal for any institutional racism to occur in the UK so I find it tough to acknowledge this as a UK issue in modern Britain.
Since the restart of Premier League Football, we have seen them adopt the BLM message and spread it worldwide through logos and players ‘taking a knee’. But what is the point? The message has changed into a fight against racism and discrimination of all types, which I believe is a much better message than a lot of the rhetoric coming from BLM, Antifa and Black Pride groups during recent protests. If the BLM movement and their affiliates were to adopt that message, I feel the backlash against their campaigning would diminish. Using a colour to highlight the point is riling to some sections of society who are proud of their colour and history, no matter how it looks to today’s society.
So currently we are working to stop racism, but when we scratch the surface we see that there is still a huge societal and institutional disparity of genders… This shows that we have a long way to go to get to a world where everyone is truly equal, but the solution is “see something, say something, sorted“.
This should be the new normal for everyone (yes you too!). So the next time you see or hear something that is prejudiced on race, gender or religion, SAY SOMETHING! (even if it is your gran!) This will enact the changes in our society, not only by us as adults telling other adults that their view is wrong, but that act will show our children and youths that they too need to stand up to bigotry of any kind.
If racism is learnt, then let’s teach anti-racism instead.