Shabbir Lakha reports on this week's London activist meeting of Black Lives Matter, as participants discuss the next steps for the movement
The Black Lives Matter movement began in the US as a reaction to the brutal murder of Trayvon Martin. Outrage at the murder and solidarity with black victims of police brutality in the US saw the movement begin in the UK shortly after. It has resurfaced several times including after the killings of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland, and now again with the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
But despite the huge demonstrations in London and around the country, like the ones we saw last week, being a reactive movement thus far, it has only been able to mobile as a response to racist police brutality in the US. Organisers from different anti-racist groups and activists met yesterday at the Shacklewell Mosque in Hackney to discuss what’s next for the movement.
The key points recognised by most contributors were that police brutality against black people is very much prevalent in the UK as well as the US but that the racism faced by black people is far more ingrained and widespread than police brutality, and that these racist structures are the same ones that affect other ethnic minority groups and oppressed peoples. A coherent and successful movement would need to address all these factors. To do this, the following suggestions were made:
- The Black Lives Matter movement needs to educate and empower black people and communities, particularly the youth. This would be both in practical terms about knowing their rights and current legal ways to counter abuse of power by police when it comes to Stop and Search and hate speech/violent abuse as well as culturally/strategically in understanding and drawing from the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the US and the anti-racist movement in the UK in the last century.
- Racism in all its forms needs to be challenged, and recognising intersectionality and uniting with other persecuted groups is the best way to build a successful front against racism in all its forms. Islamophobia has been growing and institutionalised over the last 15 years and the Black Lives Matter movement should be engaged in fighting government policies like Prevent which targets the Muslim community. Similarly the fight against the state’s migrant detention system and inhumane policies towards refugees should be represented within the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Economic empowerment is necessary for the success of the movement. This comes both in terms of investing within the black and ethnic minority communities and also in terms of engaging with the movement against austerity and getting politically active around the housing crisis, gentrification and cuts in public services that inevitably affect black and ethnic minority communities disproportionally.
- The Black Lives Matter movement has to be better placed to organise around police brutality in the UK. It was pointed out that last week’s demonstration in central London after the murder of Philando Castile drew several thousand people to the streets, but the following week when a black teenager died in police custody in Liverpool, the demonstration in central London that followed was only attended by about 50 people.
There was also some mention of getting more involved within unions and to work within existing political structures to get motions/legislation etc. passed. However, one thing that wasn’t brought up, although from speaking to some people beforehand I know people largely agreed, was supporting the movement around Jeremy Corbyn.
Jeremy Corbyn has been a principled and committed anti-racist activist for over 50 years and his time as Leader of the Labour Party has proved that his politics is defined by these principles. In the current three-pronged onslaught he is facing by the Conservative government, his own Parliamentary Labour Party and the media, he has stood firm by his principles and against undemocratic establishment forces. The Black Lives Matter movement has a lot to gain from the success of Jeremy Corbyn and need to mobilise in support of him.
Overall, the room was full of enthusiasm, solidarity and a drive to affect change. There was a consensus that the movement needs to be strengthened and widened in order to keep building the momentum and seek justice for victims of police brutality, maintain solidarity for the movement in the US and address the deep rooted racism in Britain.
Ideas for what to do next included a speaking tour around the country, which could involve speakers from the US movement and musical events similar to the kind of events that played a big part of the fight against fascism in the 1970s as well as bringing the Black Lives Matter message to Notting Hill Carnival.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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