Why must every black British mother have to tell her son how to walk?

This is the text of a speech by Annette Rochester, PCS NEC member, to a Midlands Regional meeting on Zoom in early June.

Today I’m tired. sleepless. Angry. Over 50 years ago Malcolm X said – That is not a chip on my shoulder – that’s your foot on my neck. How prophetic those words were.

Today – Public Health England published a report that I haven’t yet read – delayed by what is going on in America which proves that the government is aware of the social disparity it reveals. they know they need to take the moat out of its own eye and that what is happening in America isn’t because they are unique and could easily happen here.

Already we are seeing uprisings in places like New Zealand and Australia where in just one year – 1991 – 99 Aborigines were killed in custody. In the 28 years since then a further 432 have died. In Britain since records began not one officer has been tried and convicted of murder or manslaughter when people have died in their custody although in that same period 1741 people lost their lives and Black & Asian people are more than two times more likely to die.

Across the West Midlands in the last 3 months there are 6 cases alleging police brutality- 4 involving the same officer.

And of course there is the over-representation of Aborigines, African Americans and Black British people in prison. There is a multitude of reasons for this but anyone who badges this as simply class war needs to understand that we cannot fight a class war whilst we are under siege and fighting for our very survival – our right to breathe.

Every black British mother must tell her son how to walk – how to react to a police stop and search. I’ve told my son and now I’m telling my grandsons. I remember going to a PCS BM conference which was addressed by the then chair of the Black police federation – a detective inspector who told us of the time he was stopped and searched with the old chestnut – you answer the description of a burglar – in his 3-piece suit!

At the same time society refuses to acknowledge the mental strain this puts you under so we often get tagged with the aggressive trope!

It’s not our bodies or minds that are weak but the systems that are supposed to support us. In fact, those systems are often weaponised against us and the recently released Public Health England report highlights it is racism that is the main cause of increased deaths in the communities.

I’m fortunate enough to have lived long enough to have been here before. And unfortunately have seen the same problems that impacted me, impact my son and impacting my 15-year-old grandson who was stopped and search after playing basketball with the same tired old excuse. Why is he not allowed to be a child?

Society is governed by contract – We are policed by agreement. Black and Asians Britons – just when are we going to be allowed to be called Britons? – are expected to sign up to this as part of society but are being short-changed. We cannot put people on the outside of society and expect them to live by its rules.

At work including the civil service we are over monitored and under praised. Our lived experiences doubted and diminished, our opportunities stifled. And rather than seeing fewer race cases they are on the increase.

Some of this is down to lack of empathy and of course downright racism as evidenced in the NHS where it is reported black and Asian medics are pushed to the frontline riskier roles because they are not valued in the same way.

The civil service is promoting the progression of BAME staff – social mobility being one of its top priorities. But all organisations should remember tokenism is not representation – I should not have to say what you want me to say – I want to able to give my truths and for us to work properly together. When all voices are heard we create a rounded sound – a choir.

I would love to see more black activists working with me in the union and in wider society – helping to create a wall of sound and that’s why growing the BM network is one of our priorities. The DWP group has already started on this kicking off with two learning events for all BAME staff in London and West Midlands before lockdown. And we intend to continue this work across the country.

Covid and videos of a state sanctioned murder has opened people’s eyes to the very real injustices and inequality in society. Please keep them open.

You will have heard Lewis Hamilton state he was a lone voice – it’ s horrible being the lone voice – then Charles LeClerc responded saying he wanted to speak out but does not know how to. Then spoke.

I- we – loved that! Please don’t be scared to speak out: White silence is violence. Help us the take that foot off and create not a tolerant society but one in which we can all thrive.