Over the last few weeks, the entire western world has been shook by the protests and actions of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the unjust murder of George Floyd, an African-American man murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. This has resulted in vast waves of protests and riots, demanding not only justice for George Floyd, but also to demand action over the evil of ‘systemic racism.’
Whilst many people have taken to the streets to protest peacefully, this has unfortunately been overshadowed by the brutal attacks on businesses, police departments and public buildings. The indiscriminate destruction has meant that, whilst the issue of attaining justice for George Floyd was one that received widespread support from across the political spectrum, the events that have occurred since have only created a feeling of division and anger.
Whilst many try to justify the rioting as it is only a result of the state’s inaction on ‘systemic racism,’ many others rightfully view it as nothing other than thuggery, and raise the question of how destroying an innocent man’s business will enhance equality and fairness. Indeed, these riots have only served to harden attitudes as the lack of remorse serves as a warning that some view violence as a justifiable means to achieve their end goal - even in a country that upholds freedom and democracy.
What has been brought to the forefront during these riots, particularly here in the United Kingdom where we have seen monuments vandalised and destroyed, is the issue of Britain’s role in the slave trade throughout history. When this issue is brought up there are a number of facts that both sides of the divide must recognise. The first fact is very simple - that Britain was complicit in the trading of slaves from Africa and took full advantage of their labour. At the time of the Slavery Abolition Act, there were 800,000 African slaves owned by British citizens. Whilst we can not shy away from this fact, there is another truth in the tale - that many Britons (who were white may I add) were fully committed to the abolition of slavery, perhaps the most prominent of which was William Wilberforce. Indeed it was the British Government who spent 40% of their annual budget in 1833, through the Slavery Abolition Act, to buy off slave owners hence setting the slaves free.
We have also seen the attack of the Churchill memorial at Westminster, with the words ‘Churchill was a racist’ sprayed on to it. It is understandable that many Brits felt aggrieved by this, as Churchill is viewed as a national hero. However we must confront the truth that Sir Winston Churchill did hold racist views. This is evident through many of his speeches throughout his life, and denying this does nothing to resolve any underlying issues. However on the other side, merely condemning Churchill as a morally depraved individual, without acknowledging his achievements is also disingenuous. Churchill led the charge against fascism and tyranny, refusing to negotiate a peace deal with Nazi Germany until the allied powers secured victory over one of the most evil regimes in history. His ‘never surrender’ attitude saved thousands,possibly even millions of innocent lives from perishing at the hands of the SS and Gestapo and inspired a nation to fight, even when the odds were stacked against them. Until both sides of the political divide accept all of this, we will struggle to come to some form of consensus on how to progress.
Now to the very essence of what these protests are about: the issue of ‘systemic racism.’ The idea that the system is designed in a way that benefits white people over the BAME population. This is an absurd idea for many reasons. Firstly, there are absolutely no laws which oversee and enact discrimination against anyone in the United Kingdom. In fact quite the opposite, there are laws which ensure the fair treatment of all citizens. That isn’t to say that there aren’t any problems for the black community, and it isn’t to say that racism doesn’t exist. Of course racism exists, but it is at an individual level and the overwhelming majority of the population stand against any form of racism. There is also issue of police brutality at the forefront of this, with the general conception that, in the USA, African-Americans are the victim of blatant police brutality. However a recent study by Lois James of Washington State Universityfound that police officers are three times less likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white suspects.
There are problems to address in the policing system both in the USA and indeed here in the UK, however the most obvious problem is crime. In the UK, the black community consisted of 10%of the arrests and 13% of the prison population in 2018, despite only consisting of 3% of the total population. Another issue is that of single parenthood. This isn’t an attack on single parents, as I believe they put in tremendous effort of raising their children, and I am aware how sensitive this issue is, however it is the case that children brought up in a two parent family are more likely to stay out of crime, attend university and have a higher level of employment later in their life. Therefore it is a rude awakening that 24% of single parent families in the UK are black families. In order to break the chain of crime and underachievement, we must assess the reasons as to why single parenthood and consequential challenges affect the black community more and try to find a solution.
The ultimate characteristic that will help us to come to a consensus is an understanding of those we disagree with and having a clear goal to which we can move towards. However until both sides come to recognise the harsh truths, and come to a consensus on what is acceptable behaviour, we will continue to see resentment and anger unfolding in the most damning ways. Attacking monuments and cenotaphs, businesses and policemen will not help. We must strive for peaceful solutions to these complex issues in our society, but the inclusion of violence will only open up the chasm for more anger and more violence. Let’s strive for peace.