“I Can’t Breathe.”

[WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS DESCRIPTIONS OF RACIAL VIOLENCE WHICH SOME MAY FIND UPSETTING]

“I can’t breathe”.

You’ve probably heard those words a thousand times over the last week or so. These are the last words of George Floyd, a man who was murdered on the 25th of May 2020 in Minnesota, due to the use of unreasonable force of police officer Derek Chauvin. His colleagues, Thomas Lane, J.A. Kueng and Tou Thao, looked on and did nothing, as Chauvin knelt on George’s neck for 9 minutes until he stopped breathing. This took place in broad daylight as George lay face down in handcuffs, while horrified civilians tried to intervene and filmed the altercation. He did not remove his knee, despite George’s ongoing pleas for help and not even when emergency services arrived to treat him.

George Floyd was just your average man, who had been stopped by police for allegedly using a forged $20 bill. This is something many of us have probably done without knowing, but we didn’t have to pay for this error with our lives.

While George Floyd’s death has been the catalyst which has sparked debates, protests and petitions all over the world, this is just the latest in a series of brutal attacks on the black community by police in the US. To name just a few

  • Ahmaud Arbery was shot by two men in South Georgia simply for going jogging in their neighbourhood;
  • Breonna Taylor was shot by police in Louisville as she slept in her own apartment; and
  • Michael Brown was shot by police in Missouri for allegedly stealing a box of cigars.

While the petitions and protests across the world have finally led to all four of the police officers in the George Floyd case being charged (and Chauvin’s charge being upgraded from third to second degree murder), we are far from having a prosectution served and in most cases with less media coverage, the police would not have been charged at all. Derek Chauvin himself has numerous allegations of police brutality on his record, but he has never faced legal action (other than a letter of reprimand after internal police proceedings) and he has never even been removed from his post, despite the fact that he is clearly unfit to serve.

It is clear that the only reason these officers have faced justice in this case, is due to the pressure from the public. If no one had been there to witness and video this murder, George Floyd would have been another black man killed, with zero repercussions for his killer.

In the last few days, I have also seen skewed media coverage of violent protests, riots and looting, while peaceful protests have gone under the radar, simply because this footage does not fit the narrative some media outlets are trying to put forward. It seems that even the coverage of the outrage has been manipulated to make the protesters seem unhinged and aggressive, while many in positions of power have remained silent on the terrible irony of President Trump’s continued use of excessive force on protesters.

I have watched in horror as the details of the George Floyd case have emerged and, like many of you, I have felt very powerless as to what we can do to help (particularly in the middle of a pandemic that has confined us to our homes). But the truth is, even from the UK, there are plenty of things we can be doing.

Petitions to Sign

Protests to Attend

  • London – June 6th (Parliament Square) and June 7th (US Embassy)
  • Birmingham – June 4th (Victoria Square)
  • Bristol – June 5th (College Green)
  • Manchester – June 6th (Picadilly Gardens) and June 7th (St. Peter’s Square)
  • Leicester – June 6th (Clock Tower)
  • Ipswich – June 6th (Town Hall)
  • Sheffield – June 6th (Devonshire Green)
  • Nottingham – June 7th (Market Square)

Details of all UK dates and times can be found here.

Remember, we are still in the midst of a pandemic, so be safe and think carefully before you do decide to attend. You can find more information about tips for keeping yourself safe and prepared in a protest in the infographic below.

Pleasenotethat some protests have now moved online due to the very valid fears around mass gatherings and the spread of coronavirus.

Donations

Read, Watch and Follow

It’s really easy not to examine ourselves and how we may actually benefit from systemic racism. It is not enough anymore not to be racist – we have to seek to be anti-racist and part of that means educating ourselves on things which may make us uncomfortable to start with.

Thankfully, there are thousands of resources which make it easy to start your journey. I have highlighted some of these below, but feel free to leave a comment below if you’ve read or seen something which might help someone else.

Write 

While all of this may be happening in the USA right now, the UK is not innocent. Whether we like to admit it or not (because it’s certainly not taught in schools), the UK is built on the spoils of colonialism, a slave trade we barely hear associated with our soil and white privilege. Racism is engrained into the fabric of our society and, just because we live in a multiculural society, it doesn’t mean that our society is free of prejudice.

Even looking to the current pandemic, the BAME community has been disproprtionately affected by the new rules, despite making up a large percentage of the key and front line workers. Pre-Covid, a BAME individual was 40 times more likley to be stopped by police than a white person. Now, they are 54% more likely to be fined. BAME individuals make up just 15.5% of the population and yet they recieve 22% of lockdown related fines.

We all need to put pressure on our local MPs to ensure that a message of anti-racism is taken back to Parliament. In order to find the name and contact details of your local MP, you just need to input your postcode into this website.

If you are unsure of what to say when you do right to them, you can find templates here, but I would suggest finishing with the following requests:

I have 4 specific asks:

  1. Please write to Dominic Raab and ask him to condemn the words and actions of the President of the United States, and call for him to suspend the attack of protestors

  2. Please write to the Prime Minister and ask him to denounce Trump’s militarisation of the protests in the US

  3. Please write to the Home Secretary Priti Patel and ask her to make assurances that UK protesters will not be met with brute force

  4. Call on the government to immediately suspend the sale of tear gas, riot shields and rubber bullets to the United States of America. 

Additionally, please personally commit to proactively increasing your understanding of these issues and to take a stand against structural racism in your position as Member of Parliament whenever you encounter it. 

If enough of us write to our MPs, they will have to listen.

Never forget that silence is compliance. White privilege is most apparent in the fact that most of us will be able to switch off the news at the end of the day and know that we can go to sleep without fear of violence. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye and plead ignorance when it suits us – we have to show up for everyone.

George Floyd’s last breath has fanned a flame and we now all need to take personal responsibility to keep that flame burning.

Thanks for reading,

~ Sanya

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