As racist attacks escalate in the US, and continue in the UK, the show of solidarity from Britain's streets is inspiring, writes Shabbir Lakha
Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Trayvon Martin. Freddie Gray. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Mike Brown. Sandra Bland.
These are just a few of the black people in America that have been killed with impunity at the hands of trigger-happy, racist police officers. The United States of America is plagued with deep rooted structural and institutional racism which legitimises the use of fatal force and extreme violence against black people and is justified and given a platform by the country’s and global media.
It was to great shame that I had to find out about the killing of Alton Sterling through social media, but received numerous notifications from the Guardian and the BBC the next day when it was white police officers that were killed with the blazing headlines “Shooter wanted to kill white people”. But that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the media’s bias in reporting stories about racist attacks. It is no conspiracy that when a black man is shot to death, it is reported with undignified pictures, often mug shots, and much effort is taken into digging up past criminal records or mentioning that they owned a gun or such; while white perpetrators of crimes, be it rape or mass shootings, are reported with selfies from their social media profiles and initial reports labour to justify their actions.
While it may seem like black people are killed by police officers once in a while, it is unfortunately an almost daily occurrence – it is only when a particularly horrible video surfaces online that it goes viral and catches attention. So far this year there have been at least 136 black deaths at the hands of the police averaging to two deaths every three days. In 2015, more black people were shot by police officers than the number of black people who were lynched in the worst year of lynchings under Jim Crow (1892). A black man in America is nine times more likely to be shot than any other demographic. FBI data shows that a U.S citizen is 58 more times likely to be killed by a law enforcement officer than a terrorist.
But these statistics don’t accurately relay the impact this level of brutality has on the black community. In a society where a black mother has to worry about her teenage son wearing a hoodie or playing with a toy that could by some stretch of the imagination resemble a gun; and black people are afraid whenever they see a police officer or god-forbid are stopped by one, fear and distrust have become deeply embedded in the community.
The American legal system invariably exonerates police officers who have killed black civilians. So when a black person cannot trust the people that are supposed to be protecting them and cannot rely on the justice system, it is no surprise that some individuals have resorted to violence in return. Five police officers were killed in Dallas by a sniper and on the same day police officers were shot or injured in Tennessee, Missouri and Georgia.
It goes without saying that violence of this kind must be condemned and indiscriminate killing of police officers is no different from indiscriminate killing by police officers. But it is equally obvious that attempts to place the blame of these attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement are an attempt to sideline the real issue at hand.
It is not campaigners advocating for justice and equality for black citizens that are causing divisiveness, it is the system that creates targets out of black people that does this. It is not protestors shouting “Hands up, don’t shoot!” that drive a few individuals to taking up arms, it is the disenfranchisement of knowing justice for black people is unattainable that does this. Those campaigning for “All lives matter” and “Blue lives matter” are evidently not actually campaigning for all lives or police lives but are rather actively trying to undermine and condemn the Black Lives Matter movement, and the fact that this is their focus should make it clear what their intentions really are.
In the UK
On Sunday 10 July, I attended a massive Black Lives Matter demonstration in central London. It was beyond moving to see the level of solidarity from people of all races and ages in London going out to victims of racist persecution in the United States. But there was also recognition of the same racist structures that are in place in the United Kingdom.
Since 1990, over 1,500 people have died either in police custody or shortly after police contact, and there haven’t been any prosecutions. More than 20% of them were attributed to the Metropolitan Police in London, including but not limited to Sarah Reed, Mark Duggan and Jean Charles De Menezes.
But just like the United States, racism isn’t limited to incidents of police brutality, we have a very real problem with institutional racism. While outbursts of racism, such as the one we are currently witnessing in the wake of the referendum result or the ones that occur after terrorist attacks, happen from time to time, there is a much more systemic marginalisation of ethnic minorities in this country. Austerity, gentrification and lack of opportunity are a few examples of things that unevenly affect ethnic minority communities.
How we respond
Ethnic minority groups and communities need to recognise that we are all politically black and must stand united against racism. We must also remember that the establishment go to war and drop bombs on Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and everywhere else and let refugees drown in the sea with the same disregard for the lives of those people as they have for the black people gunned down by police officers in our countries. We must recognise that the dividing lines in this society are those who make up the top 1% and the rest of us, not the colour of our skin, our religion or the places we were born.
If we do this then we can strengthen the movements against racism, austerity and war which are all intertwined and build a united front against the forces that seek to divide, disenfranchise and dehumanise us.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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