Why the Black Lives Matter Movement Matters
First Words, and on Looting and Violence
I’ve been wanting to write something on the Black Lives Matter movement and protests for a little while now, but I wanted to first gather facts, and different arguments, that would be relevant. This ended up being much longer than I thought it would be, but here are my thoughts on the topic.
The first thing I want to say is I do not condone violence of any form, as I do not believe that society can progress through violence. But at the same time, there are so many different arguments which are opposing the protests and I wanted to provide some information to support the protests. Anyone who says that looting is uncalled for is completely right, but these people should not be held as examples of the movement on the whole. The movement is for further rights for black individuals, not an excuse to loot. Anyone truly protesting in favour of rights will likely hold this view; protests are a way of informing and calling for change. The Black Lives Matter movement is not based on looting. It is a response to police brutality and racism, not an excuse for petty crime.
Rioting and why it may be Necessary
That being said, much of the time it is seen that the protests evolve into riots (not always, for example the protest in Durham on Saturday was an example of how a protest can stay peaceful). However, the movement was not taken seriously when it was purely peaceful. After all, nearly four years after Colin Kaepernick kneeled to protest, there has not been a great deal of change in response to this form of protest.(1) It brought negative attention in the media, and many refused to kneel just days ago to show solidarity with the movement in the same manner. Since the protests after George Floyd’s death, we have already seen the start of police reform in cities such as Minneapolis and New York, and you can see more changes in source (2).
Historically, the way to achieve rights has been to riot – the Stonewall riots in 1969 led later to riots for LGBTQ+ persons to achieve some rights within society, riots in the 1960s were able to achieve important civil rights legislation (Malcolm X said himself that his radical form of protest was to make Martin Luther King’s attempts at legislation through non-violent means seem more reasonable to white Americans, and the March on Washington had little effect on Congress itself), suffragettes used radical means for women’s rights to vote, and anti-apartheid riots helped in South Africa. It is no surprise that riots are being used again for further rights for black individuals, and what is also noticeable is the impact it has had already in police reform (again, source (2) shows the changes it has already made). I will always prefer the option of peaceful protest. But in reality, it does not have the same impact. In a perfect world, people would be able to peacefully protest and police brutality and racism would be no more. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. The Black Lives Matter movement has illustrated this.
Violence Used Against Protesters
In response to those who condemn protesters as those who cause the violence in protests, on Twitter #bluefall shows a massive number of videos of protesters who have been attacked by the police, sometimes in full-scale riots and sometimes in peaceful protests.(3) Adding “UK” on the end shows instances of this in the UK. Be aware if you do choose to look at the hashtag however – it is very graphic, but necessary to show the reality of what is going on. Of course, there are examples of protesters who have initiated violence also. This is not a way of saying all cops are bad, just as not all protesters are bad. Both groups have mixed personalities, with good individuals and bad individuals. To all police officers who do their job in keeping the public safe and do their job because they want to truly help others, I say thank you. This movement is aimed at police officers who abuse their power to commit awful offences, not all officers. I think personally many protesters need to remember this.
In political news on the issue - recently in the US, Attorney General William Barr was shown to have endorsed the use of pepper balls in dispersing crowds outside of the White House to allow President Trump to have a photo opportunity outside of St John’s Episcopal Church.(4) The UK has ties to the riot weapons used in that the UK sells riot weapons such as tear gas, rubber bullets and riot shields to the US, which currently individuals (and the Labour Party) are calling attention to in order to show that the UK does not support the manner in which these weapons are being used.(5) The fact that politicians and the police have used these sorts of weapons on peaceful protests in particular is awful. Many people have been badly wounded from the misuse of rubber bullets, for example, and this violence should not be condoned in any way. The UK should also not support the use of these methods in any manner at all.
Is the UK Innocent? What About the Statues? Why Haven't There Been Protests for White People?
There is the argument that this is not as much a problem in the UK. Admittedly, police brutality is less of a problem here. But that does not mean it does not exist. Recent relatively high-profile cases illustrating this are those of Rashan Charles and Edson Da Costa who both died of choking while being restrained by police, and Sarah Reed and Sheku Bayoh who died while in police custody.(6) None of these cases led to officers being brought to justice. Branching out beyond this, in 2018/19, there were 103,379 hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales. 78,991 of these cases were race hate crimes.(7) This illustrates that police brutality and racism are still very much alive in our UK society, just as it exists in the US society we compare our own to. It cannot be claimed that the UK is innocent in any way, or that we do not have the same problems. We do. This is just on a lesser scale than on the US. Either way, however, it is inexcusable.
Some other complaints which I’ve seen include complaints about criminal damage in Bristol when the statue of Edward Colston was taken down during a protest. Of course criminal damage is a problem. However, the Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees has personally said he felt no “sense of loss” to the loss of the statue.(8) Many others agree. After all, in our society, we cannot commemorate someone whose life was dedicated to slave trading in any way. Our society is better than that. Perhaps there would have been a better way to remove the statue, however it likely will not be missed by many, and in the removal we remove a symbol commemorating our slave trading past, and in turn the removal of the statue can become a symbol in history that our country finally does not want to commemorate slave trading, but be educated on its reality and how the UK’s history is not always one to be celebrated.
Another complaint is that the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby did not cause the same uproar. The death of Lee Rigby will always be a horrific tragedy that we should all remember, but Lyn Rigby, Lee’s mother, has already stated that she does not wish for his death to be used against the current movement.(9) His murderers were brought to justice, and this is a different situation to the police brutality which occurs in the UK and US which we protest. Terrorism in all forms is unacceptable, and we bring those who commit these acts to justice. Yet in cases of police brutality, the police are often let off without charges, or with minimal charges. All are tragedies. All those who murder others, whether police or not, should be brought to justice as a result of them.
The Reality: Health Inequalities and the NHS
One more complaint is the hardships NHS staff may have to face if protests lead to a wide spread of COVID-19. I am extremely proud of our NHS. The British Medical Association has stated that they support the Black Lives Matter movement, which I am also extremely proud of. I would sincerely recommend that people read source (10) which includes much more than I am able to write on it. But it becomes clear that medical staff in the NHS do not wish for people to use the NHS as an argument against the movement. As they mention, racism breeds health inequalities, which in term can kill and can affect the NHS also. Medical professionals dedicate their lives to helping all people, regardless of what race they are. They should not be used in an argument against the movement.
As an extension of this, I also wanted to mention the fact that black males and females are at least 4 times more likely to die of a COVID-19-related death than their white counterparts. Taking account of age, socio-demographic characteristics, disabilities and health disorders, this is reduced to 1.9 times more likely. The difference in the mortality rate is a result partly of a socio-economic disadvantage.(11) This can show a form of white privilege itself: the fact that white individuals, in the current crisis, are much less likely to die due to COVID-19, partly as a result of our privileged history in comparison to the past which black individuals still have to live with today. The report mentions that “a substantial part of the difference … is explained by the different circumstances in which members of those groups are known to live”. Even in a pandemic, black individuals are disadvantaged as a result of the conditions in which they live in. The Marmot Review, a report led by Professor Michael Marmot, is a fantastic report on inequalities in England, and it mentions that “Intersections between socioeconomic status, ethnicity and racism intensify inequalities in health for ethnic groups.”(12) This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that COVID-19 disproportionately affects the black community. This is an issue far beyond the scope of police brutality, and black people in the UK, and indeed in the US also, must be given greater opportunities and chances in life, so that they do not have to live with more suffering in today’s age in any way. It is unacceptable that the black community still has to live with a great deal of inequality in our current society.
What the Movement is About, and how to Help
The Black Lives Matter movement seeks to create a society where black individuals are not disadvantaged as a result of their circumstances. No one can change the colour of their skin, and yet still so many people judge others based on a factor which should not at all divide individuals. Racism in any form should not be allowed in our society, and the movement and protests are ways in which we as a society can move towards this goal. We should not condemn protests or a movement which wants nothing more than equality which should not have to be fought for by black individuals in the first place.
Those are my thoughts on the matter. I support the movement and protests wholeheartedly, but if anyone decides to join a protest, please do not succumb to violence. Please wear a mask and gloves, and only attend if you would be able to cope with much higher chances of having COVID-19 passed on to you. If you live with close relatives, please ensure that you keep them safe, and please keep yourselves safe also. It is certainly not an ideal time to be protesting, but for a cause as important as this, we may not get any further chances soon if we do not act now. If you cannot attend protests, there are a huge amount of resources out there (books, shows, films, etc) to educate yourselves, and also many worthy causes for donations or support.
The final thing I wish to say is that I firmly believe that all lives can only matter when black lives matter. There is the analogy of the burning house: if you were in a neighbourhood and only one house was burning, would you try to hose down all of the houses, or would you focus on the house which was burning? By saying black lives matter, this is what we mean. In order to live in an equal society where all lives matter, we first need to campaign for the group which needs society’s help the most. That is what the Black Lives Matter movement is all about.
For resources if you wish to support the movement, one example of a list you can look at is https://www.dandad.org/en/d-ad-resources-black-lives-matter/
© 2020 Kieran Barry