Tag Archives: black lives matter

Reactions to the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer

Liberal Democrats have been commenting on the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer.

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Observations of an expat: The Trial

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Derek Chauvin, three other police officers, the rest of American policemen, law enforcement generally, the legal system, racism and racial justice are on trial in a Minneapolis courtroom.

First, the sketchy facts of the case. African-American George Floyd was arrested after allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Officer George Chauvin held him to the ground by pressing his knee against his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. By the time the ambulance arrived, George Floyd was dead.

Chauvin is charged with manslaughter, second degree murder and third degree murder. He faces the possibility of 40 years in prison.

George Floyd’s last words—“I can’t breathe”—sparked the worst race riots in American society and spilled over into 69 countries around the world. “Black Lives Matter” became the chant of an estimated 26 million protesters across the US. Ninety-three percent were classified as peaceful. But the ones that weren’t caused an estimated $2 billion in damage.

The Black Lives Matter riots were were seen by African-Americans as the culmination of centuries of brutal, legalised racism by American law enforcement. It started with slavery and extended through the Jim Crow era of indiscriminate lynchings and continued past the civil rights era.

African-Americans have fought back. The 4 April 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr by Earl Ray sparked off what was dubbed the “Holy Week Riots” In 110 American cities. In 1992 four Los Angeles policemen were acquitted over using “excessive force” in the beating of African-American Rodney King. The riots that followed left 2,383 arrested, 12,000 injured and 63 dead as well as causing $1billion worth of damage.

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In the wake of the BLM movement, Police and Crime Commissioners need to be leaders in building the relationship with minority communities

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Here’s how they can do it:

On May 25th, George Floyd was brutally murdered by American Police Officers, sparking protests in the USA that then spread across the world, including to here in the United Kingdom where protesters highlighted racial disparities in stop and search statistics and UK complicity in the slave trade.

In 2012, the first Police and Crime Commissioners were elected across England and Wales with responsibility for producing a crime plan, managing the police budget and most importantly, bringing a directly accountable figurehead to policing here in England and Wales. It is the latter point which makes the 2021 set of Police and Crime Commissioner elections that are being held in the shadow of the Black Lives Matter movement, so important.

When the Black Lives Matter protests in the UK begun, they highlighted above all else, a deep-rooted anger about the very real inequality of treatment that minority communities have faced when it comes to criminal justice issues. It is because of this inequality of treatment, that minority communities rightly need to feel they can trust the police again.

This anger is exacerbated by stop and search statistics that show BAME communities being disproportionately targeted, undermining those communities’ trust in the police. Whilst at the same time, hate crimes are consistently rising. This has created a situation where a mutual trust between the Police and minority communities is vital part of the challenge of tackling the number of hate crimes.

As Police and Crime Commissioner have been since 2012, the publicly accountable faces of policing in England and Wales, the responsibility of building the trust between minority communities and the police falls to them to show leadership on.

As one of the candidates for Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner in Essex. I have set out a three-step plan to begin the work of tackling racial injustice in the criminal justice system. These steps are by no means the finished article, but they encompass the crucial first steps of listening, acting on concerns and being proactive on known inequalities.

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The teaching of colonial history

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I have been championing the teaching of black and colonial history in schools for as long as I can remember and was a member of the task force set up in 2012 under Baroness Meral Ece on Race Equality in Education and Employment. Through learning about the impact and legacy of colonialism, we can forge a modern British identity, bridge past divisions as well as better inform Britain’s dealings with the rest of the world.

I had previously held a benign view of the Commonwealth legacy.  Today Singapore students rank in the top 3 places on OECD’s PISA league tables for schools, while 16 and 18 year olds still subscribe to the Cambridge board examinations. It meant I could, when aged 18, move with ease to London to study law.

The legacy of empire is controversial but the spread and use of the English language as the lingua franca is undoubtedly a positive.  The introduction of maritime trade links, development of ports and rail infrastructure are other commendable outcomes. There is also a “Commonwealth advantage” where countries with similar legal systems, professional training and a common language are better able to trade with each other across continents.

On the flip side (as the Black Lives Matter movement has brought into sharp focus), the slave trade promoted across the Atlantic between the 16th and 19th centuries has led to entrenched racism and inequalities. Though other colonial powers were involved, the British had played a key role in transporting 12.5 million Africans to plantations in the Americas, with some 2 million dying en route.  When the slave trade finally ended, it was the slave owners who were compensated, not the victims and their families.

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Observations of an expat: Marxist BLM

I was recently sent an article by the American columnist Charles Davenport in which he warned of anti-American Marxist infiltration of Black Lives Matter.

To be fair to Mr Davenport, he prefaced his criticism of BLM with a stiff condemnation of the death of George Floyd and racial discrimination in general.

But then he goes on to quote their leaders out of context and describe Black Lives Matter as

… an anti-American, often violent, collection of Marxists. Their contempt for capitalism is brazen, as is their disdain for law and order.

He is right and wrong. But more importantly, Mr Davenport fails to ask the all-important question: Why?

It is absolutely true that there are Marxists who support BLM. Some of them are in leadership positions. They are in a tiny minority. A recent opinion poll by the Pew Research Centre showed that 67 percent of the American population support Black Lives Matter. There is no way that 67 percent of Americans are Marxists.

Furthermore, there is an ongoing debate within the ivy-clad towers as to whether Marxism is more or less democratic. In fact, when Marx and Engels wrote their “Communist Manifesto” In1848 they implored the workers to revolt in order to establish a more democratic system that represented the rights of the wider working class rather than the narrow establishment of the day. The “dictatorship of the proletariat” was added later and probably owes more to Lenin than Marx.

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ACAB? Defund The Police? How should we respond to Black Lives Matter?

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The Black Lives Matter movement has been making headlines since the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. Protests started in America but have made there way over here and are happening up and down the UK. But, despite promoting equality, Black Lives Matter hasn’t been universally praised.

Along with a desire to expose injustice and systemic racism, Black Lives Matter organisations have laid out a policy platform aimed at defunding, and potentially abolishing, the police force and dismantling capitalism. These are bold and controversial ideas which have led to some people arguing against the movement as a whole. Should liberally minded people write off the hashtags of #ACAB and #Defund? Or are there policy ideas we can work with to reach the free fair and open society we’re fighting for?

Keir Starmer told BBC Breakfast that the idea of defunding the police is nonsense and he doesn’t support it. This was met with a wave of criticism from Labour supporters and Black Lives Matter protestors. I agree with their criticism of his response and think Starmer, like many others, has misinterpreted the phrase and not looked past the hyperbole. The Lib Dems and others should learn from this when they’re asked about the idea. Abolitionist policies clearly won’t carry much support right now, the police do amazing jobs in many areas, but the concept behind “defund” isn’t discrediting the police and needs a more nuanced look.

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Taking on persistent discrimination and racism

As we reflect with horror on the murder of George Floyd we must now consider what can be done to address the racism and structural discrimination that continue to affect the lives of members of our BAME communities. The strength of feeling and the protests internationally during the four weeks since George Floyd’s murder have provided a call to action and a stark reminder of racial discrimination.  This comes in the wake of research identifying the greater vulnerabilities of BAME communities to Covid-19.  Racism that has persisted stubbornly for years has been brought to the fore by the Black Lives Matter protests and counter-protests last weekend.

We need to acknowledge the mistakes made in the past and we need to implement effective measures to tackle racism in our society today. I listened to Ed Davey in the House of Commons ask the Prime Minister about the discrimination behind suspicion-less stop and search.  If you are a black person you are 47 times more likely than a white person to be subject to stop and search.

The Government must move further and faster to redress institutional racism in the criminal justice system and many other parts of our society.

The Liberal Democrats have joined with BAME communities in calling for a government-wide race equality strategy, so Boris Johnson’s Commission on Racial Inequality is a welcome first step. It shows that the Black Lives Matter campaign has had an impact which is to the credit of everyone who has raised their voice against racial injustice over the last month.

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Black Lives Matter: What can white people do to help?

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The last few weeks have probably resulted in people having uncomfortable conversations with friends or family because of the issues surrounding Black Lives Matter.

I should add I’m no expert and I have been learning too, but I did expect better from elected officials representing the Party to show empathy and clarity with their communications.

Earlier this month, Katharine Macy, the Accessibility, Diversity and Standards Officer for the Young Liberals, scheduled a call to discuss diversity.  Meraj Khan, the BAME representative on the diversity committee, Pushkin Defyer, the BAME Officer on Young Liberals Executive and I, as the Vice Chair for the Racial Diversity Campaign, were all asked to participate. We discussed Black Lives Matter, candidacy, and how to encourage more diverse members to get involved with activities the Young Liberals were organising. During the call, we decided to create a document of materials detailing things members could do to educate themselves on Black Lives Matter.

Here’s the document for you to view, credit goes to Katharine Macy for creating the document with ideas from Pushkin and myself. I would like to add this document isn’t perfect, it’s more a starter guide to learn and understand that Black Lives Matter.

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Black Lives Matter; a new enlightenment?

In Lib Dem circles there has been much talk of the need for ‘better education’ as a necessary (but not sufficient) path to more enlightened social and governmental attitudes when it comes to race, perceptions of a colonial past, and ‘neo-colonial’ thinking.

This is very positive; but education enlightening students about what, precisely?

My proposition is that there are three areas where education will benefit from a bit of ‘light shedding’. Those are, in chronological order, the histories of BAME communities in the UK; colonial histories related to those parts of the world to which many communities in the UK are connected; and importantly, relevant global pre-colonial histories.

First, there are many surprising histories of BAME communities in the UK.

For example, in areas of East London such as Canning Town, there are many people descendant from Caribbean-origin soldiers and others returning from world wars on behalf of the British, that were given passage back to the UK but faced difficulties obtaining passage back to their home countries such as Jamaica and Trinidad.

The Windrush generation is another example, that should be better understood.

These histories, when explored, make the poor treatment of such communities by the British state all the more hard to accept.

Second, colonialism, theory and practice, has a special place in liberal-democratic thinking. Liberal-democratic ideas were forged hundreds of years ago in opposition to the European pro-colonial mercantilist view that the quantity of wealth in the world was fixed, and that one country could only become ‘rich’ at the expense of another. This gave a rationale for subjugation, war and slavery.

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This is a key moment in history – we must support all the oppressed and victimised

I have felt numb over the past few weeks, shocked that police could act in the way they did in the United States, but then worried as the Black Lives Matter debate took hold in the United Kingdom. Not worried about the protests – it is our democratic right to protest and question, even during a pandemic. But I was worried about what this would mean for the wider equality debate.

I am an openly homosexual white man, I state that because I am well aware of my privilege, my social scorecard only reducing when people realise that I am more effeminate and then gay. I have known ignorance and bigotry for most of my adult life, and, yes, it does still exist within our Liberal Democrat party.

I grew up with Section 28 wrapped around my neck, preventing holistic age-appropriate sexual education to take place, but, more importantly, protection from educators in my school environment. I felt constantly worried and sometimes terrified about going into school, with my teachers unable to discuss the root of my feelings. I remained ‘closeted’ until I went to university in 1999. However, I still struggled and only embraced myself after I turned 20. I am proud of who I am and what I am – something that still, to this day, many in the LGBT-plus community struggle with.

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Why electoral reform and Black Lives Matter go together

In a fair, free and open society, we would expect the makeup of our parliament and councils to reflect the demographic makeup of the area in which they serve, however this is not always the case. When some groups are over-represented, and others not, this can be symptomatic of systemic inequality, a potentially vicious cycle where an under-representation of voices from those the victims of this inequality means solutions to address it are not championed and prioritised.

By design, First Past The Post is designed to amplify many small majorities into a large majority on a representative body. By and large, many consider this feature to be unfair, but analysed through the lens of a system which already causes inequality, it also means the amplification of inequality such that those who either benefit by, or at least not penalised by, such a system are then over-represented on our electoral bodies.

This flaw of First Past The Post is one that’s not easy to rectify. When looking through a lens of gender, the mechanism of the All Women Shortlist was created to address this inequality, and by one mechanism it appears to have been effective – certainly within our parliamentary party, women have not only achieved parity, but have exceeded it! And in parliament as a whole, female representation has continued to rise. But the All Women Shortlist also has many critics, and puts into tension an individual freedom by suppressing a free and open selection process from all suitable candidates, with the systemic freedom of removing hidden barriers to entry for all genders.

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On statues being pulled down and our response

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What should we do with people who tear down public statues? Apply restorative justice techniques.

As Liberal Democrats, I hope we all agree that the statue of Edward Colston should have been removed from its location a long time ago: it represented a very public promotion of someone whose wealth was built from vile acts.

In the back of our minds should be another question – what if a different statue had been pulled down? One where we didn’t quite agree whether it should still be there or not? Where the rights and wrongs of the person’s life weren’t as clear cut? Or where we didn’t feel there was a clear consensus?

More plainly: should we support those committing these acts being prosecuted or not?

We either take the punitive approach – a crime is a crime; or we allow it to pass, with the risk that mob rule ensues on any viewpoint that can get enough people together.

I don’t think we should take either view: we should apply a restorative justice approach to these acts.

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My heart leapt for joy when I saw that statue chucked into Bristol harbour

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Sunday’s event in Bristol was exceptional.

I am not going to be mealy-mouthed about it.

My heart leapt for joy when I saw that damned statue unceremoniously chucked into the harbour.

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“Indefensible for statue to be standing in Bristol in 2020” – Lib Dems speak out on Colston

Leading Liberal Democrats have been speaking out on the controversy surrounding Sunday’s public removal of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol.

Wera Hobhouse, who is MP for neighbouring Bath, wrote on her website:

…it was indefensible for the statue to be standing in Bristol in 2020. Protestors literally took things into their own hands and toppled the statue. This was a symbolic act.

History is dynamic. It is not fixed. Yesterday was part of the history of race relations, not only here in the South West, but for our nation as a whole.

We must face up to, accept and learn from all aspects of our nation’s history. Not only the parts of our history that we are proud of, but the parts of our history that are corrupt and that we are ashamed of.

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The Bristol Liberal Democrats’ view on the Colston statue toppling

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On their website, Bristol Lib Dems have published an article titled “Calling time on Colston statue”. With their permission, we reproduce it here in full below:

Lib Dem candidate and equal rights activist Tara Murray said:

I want people to see beyond this statue being taken down by protesters. This statue was a symbol of how Bristol as a city still venerated a slave merchant that ruined tens of thousands of African lives and made his money off the backs of these slaves to step up the financial and aristocratic ladder of his time. The actions during his lifetime should’ve been rebuked and for a city with such vigour, multiculturalism and diversity it made no sense for us to still have him at the heart of our city. The people felt they needed to do something as there was a lot of uncertainty around this topic. The history will not be lost with him being removed, what happened is ingrained in the history of the slave trade and of the city but the removal of the statue signifies us as a community ending the acceptance of these matters and growing forward as a community. This act has now added a new chapter on the history of Bristol and will hopefully educate all that don’t know and will help more people understand the comparisons from late 17th century racism and racism in today’s world.

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Daily View 2×2: 8 June 2020

2 big stories

Black Lives Matter. A simple statement that probably ought not to be necessary, but is. The demonstrations in our bigger towns and cities will have drawn most of the coverage, but the picture is from that well-known radical heartland of Bury St Edmunds, where a demonstration took place yesterday afternoon. Perhaps it is a sign of promise that, even in a community like this, where the non-white population is small, hundreds of people felt moved to express their anger at the injustice of a society which treats black people …

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Daily View 2×2: 4 June 2020

2 big stories

Alok Sharma is awaiting the outcome of his COVID-19 test, having caused the suspension of business in the Commons yesterday after showing signs of ill health whilst at the dispatch box. Perhaps the message will finally get through to Jacob Rees-Mogg that his caricature of parliamentary democracy should come to an end? Or are his intentions sinister rather than ill-advised?

One of the less immediately apparent impacts of the pandemic is a crisis in local government finance, with many councils now dependent to varying degrees on income from commercial property assets and commercial services. The crisis in the …

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