‘The overwhelming majority of the people marching weren’t breaking windows, they were trying to break barriers.’
-Rev. Al Sharpton, the eulogy of George Floyd.
Since the death of George Floyd on the 25th May, the world has seen an incredible change.
We have witnessed images, videos and powerful messages from protests in 53 cities outside the US. The Black Lives Matter movement has reached an international level of coverage. George Floyd’s murder is being seen as a tipping point in the age-old struggle for equality.
It's been almost five months- so what has changed?
A police officer involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor was arrested (more than three months after her death). They have not yet been arrested.
Nine Minneapolis city council members announced their support to dismantle the cities police force on June 8th, saying that; 'it's clear that our existing system of policing and public safety is not keeping our communities safe.'
Other US cities are re-thinking their police forces; Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City pledged to move funding from the cities police department toward youth and social services.
Officials in Washington, California, Nevada and Texas have banned choke holds and are reviewing police reform.
So those are some changes in America. But what about the impact across the pond?
Well, the BLM movement has made waves across the globe. Backing for anti-racism has reached 6,848 kilometers from the first Minneapolis protest. While there is considerable hope that the protests are signs of possible systematic change, many are skeptical that the worldwide interest and support has, and will dwindle in months to come. Petitions, non profits and campaigns have been created in the hopes that advancement in the area of racial prejudice can be allowed to flourish.
I was able to attend the socially-distanced rally in Carlisle on June 6th to educate myself; as Nelson Mandela said, 'education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.' Hundreds showed up to show support and explore how racism affects closer to home. For those concerned about the possibility of contracting the coronavirus, masks were handed out and social distancing was promoted by floor markings.
The protest began with an 8 minute 48 second kneel- the same amount of time officer Derek Chauvin knelt with his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Then anyone who wanted to speak was able to- many speakers were emotional; it was clear to see how deeply affected so many were by this issue. I feel as though the stories of injustice shared at the protest, here in the UK, mirrored somewhat some problems brought to light in the US.
There has been said to be a misconception about Britain that we have, as a country, moved past our troubled past when it comes to prejudice, but events like this one have the ability to reach past any rose-tinted glasses in person. The atmosphere was very supporting and welcoming- when I approached one speaker, Colette, she was more than happy to give me her contact details and answer some questions. It was so encouraging to know that in learning about and supporting a cause you can find compassionate people to speak to.
After all, conversation about these topics is one of the first steps to change. Colette's speech was very emotive- it was clear that the rest of the on lookers were listening intently.
When I asked Colette what her initial reaction to the video circulating the internet of George Floyd's death, she said that her initial reaction was to 'pause and avoid'. The nature of the video meant that it was incredibly difficult to watch, and Colette believes that it was; 'atrocious, but a blessing in disguise that such a vile video woke people up to the lack of respect for black lives.'
Collette said that; 'the importance of showing solidarity in the UK and a predominantly white area like Carlisle is immense. The idea that many have is that racism towards black lives doesn't exist in the UK. Once awareness is brought we can begin to understand and acknowledge day to day racism and shut it down! This is a scary concept to tackle on your own, and that is why solidarity is so important. I didn't come to speak at the protest but i felt the need to seize the opportunity.'
'I guess I just had allot to get off my chest. There were a few black people who spoke,and it was important that the people who came heard from the oppressed. it became more than a Facebook video that we were there bleeding out our pain. That hopefully confirmed their motivation.'
Colette also voiced her fears; 'when i saw the universal rage it honestly made me anxious. I've seen it many times in my life- people post about it on social media, they protest, they speak on it. However, it discontinues. I just knew there would be silence which follows.'
For anyone wondering what racism still exists in Britain, here is a list of some facts and figures to help educate:
- When a group of Britons was asked whether some races are less hardworking than others, 44% of interviewees said yes.
- 18% of the British public agreed that some ethnic groups are born with less intelligence than others
- 2016/17 study by TheConversation.com found that applicants to jobs with typically black or Muslim names were less likely to receive a positive response from British employers than those with a typically British name
- Rates of Unemployment faced by black groups are over double those for a white majority
- Black Caribbean children are 3.5x more likely to be excluded than all other children at primary, secondary and special needs schools.
- A poll of over 400 BAME teachers found that 54 per cent have experienced actions they believe to be demeaning to their racial heritage.
- Incidences of racism in school have increased over the last ten years
- 46 % of black households live in poverty compared to just 1 in 5 white households
For some more information on racism in the UK, check out a few of these websites: