I’m sure health and safety officials would have a lot to say – I doubt anyone completed a risk assessment form. But the toppling of the Edward Colston statue looked peaceful. And remarkably well organised. I wasn’t there, but I’ve seen no reports that anyone got hurt. No looting, no arson. No riot. I have seen reports that the police handled the matter with great tact and sensitivity – well done Avon & Somerset Constabulary.
Edward Colston oversaw the kidnap and enslavement of around 84,000 people, including 12,000 children. 19,000 died in the crossings from Africa to the Americas. Their bodies were dumped into the water, unmarked, unrecorded. For years campaigners have tried to get a plaque on the statue to state this truth. Richard Eddy, a local Tory councillor objected to the idea of a new plaque, and said he would not condemn anyone who vandalised it. The protesters who pulled it down are now being criticised for taking non-violent direct action.
So what’s the criticism based on? It’s that “they” didn’t play by “our” rules. The correct, establishment, way to commit vandalism is with lawyers and a cheque book. And do it properly. Underfund and privatise the NHS. Oppose laws that require landlords to maintain houses fit for human habitation. Slash and burn your way through the economy, so literally millions of people need foodbanks. Reverse eco legislation for housing. Strangle our public services with austerity while letting tax dodgers get away scot-free. Legalise fracking. Pump megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Do the vandalism properly, and you might get rewarded in the honours list.
Black lives Matter
Why is it that when someone supports #BlackLivesMatter, someone replies, “All lives matter!”
If someone told you, “I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer,” you wouldn’t reply, “Well some people get prostate cancer!”
The protests in America are the confluence of three recent killings of black citizens by US Law Enforcement Officers.
On 25th February this year, 25-year-old electrician Ahmaud Arbery was out jogging as usual. Two men in a pickup truck drew guns on him. One shot him in the chest with a shotgun, Mr Arbery tried to grab the gun, and was shot twice more and killed.
Police did not arrest the killers. They relied on the killers’ evidence, and who said they “had a gut feeling” he must have been a burglar. The prosecutor’s office advised it was self-defence because Arbery had refused to lie down on the ground when challenged. One of the killers previously worked as an investigator in the prosecutor’s office. Later video evidence and a witness reports show the killers standing over Mr Arbery’s dying body saying “Fucking n**ger.”
On the 13th of March, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was shot dead while sleeping in her apartment. Police suspected there were drugs in her house, and without announcing themselves, tried to smash down her door in a dawn raid. Her boyfriend thought it was a home invasion, grabbed a gun, and shot at the door. The police fired 20 shots. Eight bullets hit Ms Taylor, killing her immediately. The police found no drugs. She was an emergency medical technician, a cross between an ambulance driver and a paramedic. She was also African-American. No charges were brought against her killers at the time.
On 25th May, 46-year-old George Floyd bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 note. It’s unknown if he knew it was a forgery. Police arrested & cuffed him, and made him lie face down in the street. Police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Mr Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes. Mr Floyd begged for his life, telling officers “I can’t breathe,” at least sixteen times before he was killed. Initial police reports claimed he was resisting arrest. Video footage from multiple eye witnesses show Mr Floyd was calm and not resisting.
For each of these three killings there are hundreds of unreported beatings and abuses of power.
This week I saw a Newcastle City Council Facebook post in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. It attracted hundreds of comments. Many criticised the council’s stance, saying “what about Lee Rigby?” Lee Rigby was a 25-year-old soldier in the Royal Fusiliers, who supported Help for Heroes. In 2013 he was run down then brutally murdered by two men on his way back to barracks. It was a deliberate and premeditated attack.
Unarmed police were first at the scene, then armed police. When the killers charged at them, police opened fire, wounding them. The killers were charged, prosecuted, and sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum sentence of 45 years.
Lee Rigby’s life mattered. The authorities behaved as if it did, and acted swiftly to uphold the law. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd died because those in authority didn’t believe black lives matter. It’s about power, intertwined with a long, long history of racism. When the authorities who are supposed to protect you are the same people who are killing you, people are right to be angry. They are right to protest. In the coverage of the protests, black CNN reporter Omar Jimenez was arrested by police officers live on television, despite asking the police where he should move. Just one block away, the police told white CNN reporter Josh Campbell, “Ok, you’re good.”
So if you hear someone say, “All lives matter,” ask them to think for a moment. Imagine you’re black. You’ve lived with racism all your life. You see racist graffiti every day. The authorities treat you with suspicion. You have to try that bit harder to succeed. You see black people being killed by white police. And then when you post, “Black lives matter,” someone says “All lives matter!” How would you feel?
Published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 8.6.20