Being Black is not a contact sport! That statement, along with Black Lives Matter, isn’t one that I should still have to be saying in 2020. However, it is apparent from both past and recent incidents, news and comments that both statements still need to be not only said but shouted. You did not put that life on this Earth, and even if you did, it is not your right or place to take it. The idea that the colour of a person’s skin can determine how they are treated is an abhorrent but harsh reality of today’s society.
The recent increase in Black Lives Matter protests around the world has revealed more of the many racists amongst us. After the tragic murder of George Floyd, people were vocal from both ends of the spectrum. We had many people, rightly disgusted by the actions of the police that led to his murder, many more called out the names of others who had lost their lives as a direct result of racism and this loathsome idea that us being Black gives you permission to use undue violence and force against us. At the other end, we have the misguided who have an unshakeable talent of being able to justify all of the murders we have seen with blanket statements like “Has anyone mentioned that the police will leave you alone if you don’t do illegal stuff?”
It is from statements such as this that it is clear to see being Black makes normal everyday activities illegal. Lets take a look back at some of the “illegal stuff” that black people have been doing that caused the police or others to murder them:
“Unarmed. And dead.
TRAYVON MARTIN (Walking home with iced tea and Skittles. Shot by George Zinneman, who was found not guilty.)
KEITH SCOTT (Sitting in car, reading. Shot by police officer, who was not charged.)
ATATIANA JEFFERSON (Looking out her window, shot by police officer, who is still under indictment for murder.)
JONATHAN FERRELL (Asking for help after auto accident. Shot twelve times by police, case ended in mistrial.)
JORDAN EDWARDS (Riding in a car. Shot in the back of the head by police officer, who was found guilty of murder.)
STEPHON CLARK (Holdng a cel phone. Shot 8 times, 6 in the back. Officers not charged.)
AMADOU DIALLO (While taking out wallet, officers fired 41 shots by four officers, who were all acquitted.)
RENISHA MCBRIDE (Auto accident, knocked on door for help. Homeowner was found guilty of second-degree murder.)
TAMIR RICE (Playing with toy gun, shot by police officer arriving on scene. Officer was not charged.
SEAN BELL (Hosting a bachelor party, 50 rounds fired by police officers, who were found not guilty of charges.)
WALTER SCOTT (Pulled over for brake light, shot in the back by police officer, who pleaded guilty to civil rights violations.)
PHILANDO CASTILE (Pulled over in car, told officer he had a legally registered weapon in car. Officer acquitted of all charges.)
AIYANA JONES (Sleeping, accidentally shot by officer in a raid on wrong apartment. Officer cleared of all charges.)
TERRENCE CRUTCHER (Disabled vehicle, shot by police officer, who was found not guilty of manslaughter.)
ALTON STERLING (Selling CDs, shot at close range while being arrested. No charges filed.)
FREDDIE GRAY (Beaten to death by officers while being transported in police van. All officers involved were acquitted.)
JOHN CRAWFORD (Shopping at WalMart, holding a BB gun on sale, police officer was not charged.)
MICHAEL BROWN (Shot by twelve times by officer, including in the back. No charges filed.)
JORDAN DAVIS (Killed because he was playing loud music. Shooter found guilty of first-degree murder.)
SANDRA BLAND (Pulled over for traffic ticket, tasered and arrested. Suspicious “suicide” while in jail. No charges.)
BOTHAM JEAN (Shot at home, which police officer mistook for her own. Officer found guilty of murder.)
OSCAR GRANT (Handcuffed and face-down, officer shot him in the back. Officer found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.)
COREY JONES (Waiting by his disabled vehicle, was shot three times by police officer, who was found guilty of murder.)
AHMAUD AUBREY (Jogging, shot by two men who claimed they suspected him of burglaries. Both men charged with murder and aggravated assault- Chyna Smith #unarmedanddead #BLM
Sadly this is only a small sample of some of the lives lost. Many of the murderers are still free and have never been charged. The seems to be a gross insensitivity to these cases, cases that are coming through at a greater frequency by the day. The police, its systemic and institutional racisms, are a part of the problem but not the sum of it. Until everyone is held accountable for their actions, and lack of action nothing will change. Black people are being targeted and killed by a racist cross platform of society. We should be equally outraged by every case that we see and not allow the amount of incidents to weigh us down and push us towards becoming desensitised (easier said then done in many a case).
In another display of the lack of value placed on Black lives we have seen the rise in a spate of lynchings across America, with police forces and medical examiners in the states where they have happened classifying them as suspected suicides.
The Cambridge dictionary defines lynching as ‘the act of killing someone without a legal trial, usually by hanging (= killing using a rope around the neck)’. Lynchings were prevalent in pre and post American civil war, with the first recorded lynching being that of McIntosh, a black man in St. Louis in 1835, who was hung by a deputy sheriff in front of a crowd of over 1,000 people. It is not a coincidence that we are seeing this happen now and we must speak up, refuse the verdicts of suicide and demand answers and justice.
Closer to home, we are dealing with similar issues. The argument that our police don’t have guns like in America (some do) has not stopped Black British people from being killed by the police. The Guardian published an article earlier this month called A black man’s life is not valued’: attack on year-long delay of UK police death inquiry which took a look into the deaths of black people in police custody. In the UK black people account for 3% of the population but 8% of deaths in custody. We are being disproportionately targeted. I have seen many comments on social media where black people are being told to stop with our “victim mentalities”, I myself have been the target of such comments. This gross ignorance that it is only our ancestors that dealt with racism, prejudice and discrimination is what will allow the same system to continue.
Another article by the Guardian tells us Black people dying in police custody should surprise no one. Nova media proclaims that Black people dying in police custody should surprise no one and given the history of it in the UK I am inclined to agree. ‘Indifference is a weapon’, and the recent circulation of the #SilenceIsViolence and #SilenceIsCompliance further supports this. According to the Runnymede Trust’s Justice, Resistance and Solidarity paper – “In Britain, black and minority ethnic people are disproportionately in the criminal justice system at EVERY level”
The police killing of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, North London, on 4th August 2011, saw peaceful protests escalate to riots across London and cities elsewhere in England. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was tasked with investigating the case and chose to delay the release of its report by more than a year. The courts heard many differing accounts of the incident, from claims that Mark Duggan was shot after raising weapon to others that he was ‘was throwing gun away’ when shot by police. Years later, and although we stilled questioned was he really armed?, the armed officers involved were cleared of wrongdoing. However, if there is any action that can be viewed as an omission of guilt, the police paying damages to family of Mark Duggan is the epitome of that.
As we look at those accountable in the actions that led to the riots, we must also hold the UK press accountable too. As reported but the society pages, “A Google search for [Mark’s] name offers a glimpse into the many faces of Duggan, as uploaded by the media.” We saw first hand the bias of the press and the effects that the choice of image they picked to print had.
The cropping of pictures of him paying respects at a gravesite commemorating his deceased daughter was not without intention and often accompanied articles that vilified him.
The killing of black people at the hands of police or in police custody is not new. Smiley Culture died on the 15th March 2011, during a police raid at his home. His murder, was ruled as a suicide following an inquest. The investigation of his death by the IPCC was not made public nor made available to his family, something that smacks of cover up and needs to change. This was nearly 5 months before the killing of Mark Duggan and the riots we saw as a consequence. But the black community has a history of discontent with the UK police. The 1981 Brixton riots, was the result of a confrontation between the Metropolitan Police and protesters in Brixton, South London, England, from the 10th – 12th April 1981. The peak of which, the 11th April, saw 279 injuries to the police and 45 injuries to members of public and was later dubbed “Bloody Saturday” by Time magazine and labelling it as “The country’s worst race riot”.
The BBC took a look back at the riots and asked Brixton riots 30 years on: What has changed? Noting ‘Three decades, one inquiry and the Stephen Lawrence scandal separate us from the Brixton riots and asking “Where are we now?”’ During a Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) meeting, there was calls for more engagement with IPCC investigations. Peter Bleksley, a young Met officer at the times of the riots recalled in a BBC Radio 4 interview that “Young black men in Brixton were routinely fitted up, beaten up, tortured” and worse “I was turned from a pretty decent 18-year-old into a violent, racist thug.”
Mr. Butts who was 9 years old at the time of the riots notes “I was already aware of the way police treated the black community. I was brought up to know it was my responsibility to watch interaction between police and a black person – so I could be a pair of eyes and recount what happened as a witness.” Recent years have seen Brixton become a victim of gentrification, much like many other minority ethnic areas of London so I am skeptical as I read that. “much has changed” merely because data and statistics still show that between April 2018 and March 2019, there were 4 stop and searches for every 1,000 White people, compared with 38 for every 1,000 Black people. And that the Black African, Black Caribbean and Other Black groups consistently had the highest rates. We are also still seeing cases of Black people being killed while in police custody, with Simeon Francis, 35, ‘found’ unresponsive in his cell at Torquay police station and later pronounced dead on the 20th May 2020, 17 hours and 15 minutes after police had arrested him in Exeter. He died in police custody and this is not something that can be swept under the rug, we demand answers and justice for Simeon!
I don’t have the answers of how to solve this multi-faceted issue, nor do I claim to. I simply ask that you do not treat us being black as an excuse to use undue violence against us. BLACK IS NOT A CONTACT SPORT. We are not here for you to treat this way. BLACK LIVES MATTER!