One year ago, in the middle of an already traumatic year due to the pandemic, millions of people around the world, witnessed the horrific murder of George Floyd, with a global impact – played out on our screens in real time it was painful to watch and traumatising and for some it was too unbearable to watch. Personally, it took me several weeks before I felt able to watch it. It led to global protests by the Black Lives Matter movement who were campaigning not just for justice for George Floyd but for an end to the racism and related justice we face in every aspect of life, including here in the UK.
As the co-founder and National Chair of BARAC UK, over the years I have sadly found myself helping to organise countless protests, marches, vigils and solidarity events in response to deaths at the hands of the State both sides of the Atlantic because sadly the horrific murder of George Floyd was not the first or the last killing of a black person by the police.
The PCS National Black Members Committee has supported the annual United Family and Friends Campaign annual March against deaths in custody for several years and both PCS and BARAC UK have supported several family Justice campaigns over the years, organising meetings and doing fund raising initiatives and passing motions to offer practical solidarity. I have acted as the trade union liaison officer for some of these campaigns, such as the Sarah Reed campaign for justice.
The protests which took place during the summer of last year across the UK were in response to the murder of George Floyd but also protesting the legacies of enslavement and colonialism, everyday racism and micro aggressions, systemic and institutional racism. The toppling of the Colston statue triggered a refreshed but not new debate on decolonisation. I have long since been campaigning for decolonisation including supporting the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, campaigns for road names to change, a successful campaign to change the name of the Plantation bar before it officially opened. But the legacies of colonialism are not just present in statues and symbols but policies and cultures which allow racism to thrive. I co-led the negotiations on behalf of PCS with the Cabinet Office on the issue of Black Lives Matter and decolonisation and raised concerns that unless these legacies are addressed then the institutional racism we face today will not go away.
But it’s not just about how we are treated at work but in wider society that reduces life chances, as a daughter of the Windrush Generation I have experienced first hand how those legacies led to the so called hostile environment including the Windrush Scandal and as a leading campaigner on these issues recognised the importance of the campaign for justice being a trade union issue and worked with others to ensure it was. Having warned of what was to come back in 2012 and written about it in The Guardian in 2016.
Over the past year I have been part of a global pan African George Floyd justice group. Art I produced in tribute and remembrance and in solidarity calling for justice for George Floyd and Black Lives Matter have been featured in exhibitions in the UK and in the USA, featured at commemorations on Martin Luther King Day in the USA.
For the past nine years I have been the curator of the Roots Culture Identity art exhibition, established as part of the TUC Stephen Lawrence task group recommendations and this year the exhibition went global and virtual and is on the themes of BLM and the impacts of coronavirus and can be viewed here : https://sway.office.com/RHan1XP2EbeevcTS?ref=Link
In PCS we organised events to discuss the impacts including a facebook live event on why Black Lives Matter is a trade union matter. Like me, the killing of George Floyd has impacted deeply on many people’s lives over the past year and we watched the trial on edge and in pain hoping that justice would be served. When the jury went out it was an anxious 24 hours for me where I hoped, wishes and prayed for the right result. I shed tears and shouted not with joy but with relief when Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts. There was no joy in this result – because George Floyd is still dead, the pain of losing a loved one is still there for his family and the trauma of what we witnessed is still there for all of us. Of several thousand deadly police shootings in the US since 2005 only 140 officers have been charged and only 7 convicted.
Sadly, while the jury reached its verdict a 16-year-old black girl child Ma’Khia Bryant was shot dead by police in Ohio on 21st of April. The same week as the verdict the funeral of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old young black man shot dead during a traffic stop and before that a 13-year-old boy child, Adam Toledo was killed by police.
Here in the UK we started the year with Mohamud Mohammed Hassan dying after being held in a police cell overnight in Wales. Mohamud encountered as many police offices in one night as there are weeks in a year, but they failed in their duty of care when he reported feeling unwell – he entered the police station well and healthy, he left battered and bruised and hours later he was dead. I was commissioned to write a poem for the campaign which was made into an animated film to raise awareness of the campaign.
Sometimes we can feel quite helpless in the face of trauma and injustice . As a multi disciplinary artist I create in order to respond, raise awareness and heal. Solidarity no matter how small an act you may feel able to provide, does make a difference and our collective response can be powerful in effecting awareness and change.
The verdict in the Chauvin trial was the one, we wanted to see, needed to see and means that Chauvin will be punished for his horrific crimes – but we should be under no illusion that it will stop police brutality and disproportionate stop and search and racial profiling of black people in the USA or here in the UK.
In the UK like the USA black people are overrepresented in the prison system and receive harsher sentences than their white counter parts. The police and crime bill disproportionately impacts on black communities in addition to trade unions and is of concern for all of us that organise and participate in protests, vigils, rallies and marches for justice, human rights and race equality. It is crucial that we submit evidence re the bill and support the #killthebill campaign as it is part of the same system of brutality and systemic racism which has led to so many black people dying at the hands of the State.
It is crucial that we continue to mobilise and organise against oppressive regimes and systemic racism and fight for a better future for ourselves and generations coming through. We deserve race equality in our lifetime, we stand on the shoulders of the generations before us including those invited here as part of the ‘British Empire’ who fought back against No Blacks No Irish No Dogs signs and actions, against police brutality and harassment such as Mangrove and who then experienced the Windrush scandal.
International Solidarity and standing up to Racism and Injustice is a fundamental part of what it means to be a trade unionist be it in support of Palestine , Black Lives Matter or the Windrush Generation , our struggles are connected.
Today the One Year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd I will be speaking at and doing some spoken word at the United for Black Lives 1 year anniversary event on Instagram Live. https://www.instagram.com/p/COtOP-aH2dT/?utm_medium=copy_link
On Wednesday from 6.30pm I will be speaking st the PCS Facebook Live to mark the 1 year anniversary.
National Vice President PCS