I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe. The words squeezed from the dying breathes of George Floyd as he pleaded with the white police officer whose knee was slowly throttling the life out of him.
I can’t breathe.
The police officer knew he was being filmed. For nine minutes. But that didn’t stop him. That is the culture at the heart of the American state. They thought it didn’t matter if they were being filmed because nothing would change. Nothing would change. Just another black life gone.
I can’t breathe.
And they were right, weren’t they? It didn’t change when those were Eric Garner’s last words too, in a police chokehold in New York in 2014. It didn’t change after the death of Travon Martyn in 2012 or when 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was shot in her sleep by police officers executing a no-knock warrant in 2010.
I can’t breathe
But this isn’t only about America. We are not only protesting in solidarity against the racism in America we are protesting what happens here.
I can’t breathe were the last words of Jimmy Mubenga: forcibly deported from Britain in 2010.
None of us can have experienced the pain and fear and desperation of having our lives chocked out of us. But some of us have experienced the bitter taste of racism. And all of us will have seen it, walked by as an insult is hurled or know of the disproportionate arrests of black people in this country and this region. The disproportionate deaths of black people in this pandemic. The ghettoization of black and minority ethnic people to certain streets, certain jobs. The race pay gap. The lack of black voices on our TV screens or in our corridors of power.
I grew up in Newcastle in the 70s and 8os, a city with many warm, supportive, people. But also with racist abuse, physical and verbal and a lack of any role models. Martin Luther King visited Newcastle when I was two – I never learnt about that. Frederick Douglass the American campaigner and abolitionist lectured in Newcastle in the 1840s. I never knew about that. It sad to think we may have had a higher proportion of BAME lecturers then than now.
So that is one reason why the terrible death of George Floyd touched so many of us. Because of its inhumanity but because we have been waiting for generations now for the promises of justice and equality to be realised and we are tired of waiting.
We have to prove the killers of George Floyd wrong, and make this not just a moment of protest but a revolution against racism. Not a moment but a movement.
We are angry. And I understand those demonstrating right now despite the lockdown. I was glad we moved this protest online because I don’t want to risk the black lives this movement is about, and who are more susceptible to covid 19. But when I hear Priti Patel urging protesters to stay at home to protect themselves it almost makes me want to take to the streets. If Patel wanted to protect black lives she could start by getting rid of the no recourse to public funds rule which is causing starvation in this city today
I was on the National Executive of the Anti Apartheid Movement, the most successful mass movement in history. I loved our demonstrations. We had all the best music, Free Nelson Mandela, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, hundreds of thousands danced to those tunes. But why that mass movement worked was not simply because we protested in huge numbers but because we made organisations, companies, politicians, countries, change. We boycotted, we voted, we made Apartheid South Africa a pariah state.
We have to do the same thing for racism.
Make it unacceptable.
Don’t buy its products.
Don’t vote for its advocates.
Don’t fund its perpetrators.
So British Government says it doesn’t know what the tear gas and rubber bullets exported to the US are used for – do we accept that? No.
So police forces say they don’t know why black people are being arrested disproportionately – do we accept that? No.
So businesses say that they would love to hire black people they just can’t find any talented ones – do we buy their products? No. We are sick of the excuses
Broadcasters saying its just the best stories are written are always white
Local authorities saying they don’t understand why there aren’t more black councillors.
Schools that just always exclude black boys
Politicians whose policies always marginalise bame people
We need change. Organise. Stand up. Make it happen.
Do not let George Floyds death be just another black life gone. Prove his killers wrong.