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George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Michael Brown. I’m sure you are familiar with these names, and the unjustifiable, harrowing circumstances of their deaths. If not, the facts are that these people were all black, and all had their lives taken by the police.
What is the Black Lives Matter Movement?
According to the official Black Lives Matter webpage, the movement is a fight for ‘freedom, liberation and justice’ for black lives. Yet, there are many misconceptions that radicalise it. For example:
Do the protesters want to get rid of the police?
No. The slogan ‘defund the police’ used by the Black Lives Matter protesters has been taken out of context. Rather than removing the police entirely, protesters are urging governments to invest their resources differently.
In the USA, the authorities have essentially militarised the police. As a result, police weapons take many Black lives. Rather than investing in a system that disproportionately attacks Black lives, what the BLM protesters want is for more money to be invested in other services, such as healthcare, education, and housing.
This video explains in more detail the importance of the defund the police policy, and how despite many efforts towards police reform, the rates of police brutality towards Black Americans remain static.
Why is it wrong to say ‘All Lives Matter’?
I often see this question circling through the realms of social media. It is often accompanied with the opinion focusing on black lives is racist in itself. Why focus on race? Why not just treat everyone as equal? While equality is, of course, the ideal solution, it is sadly not the reality. We have to look at race when it is race that’s the issue.
‘Black Lives Matter’ does not mean that all lives don’t. It does not mean that Black lives are better than White Lives. The phrase does not mean Black Lives matter more. It means that Black lives are the lives we need to focus on.
For example, if one student is comfortable with an assignment, and another is struggling, a teacher will invest more time in helping the latter. This does not mean that the struggling student matters more, but that they need extra help more than the other. By helping this child, the teacher is not saying the other student does not matter, but they do not need the help that the struggling student does. This is the same with Black lives matter.
By saying ‘All Lives Matter’ we are reducing the importance of the message. Black lives are in danger, Black lives are discriminated against and Black lives need help. Black lives matter. We don’t have the option to ignore it.
Why is Black Lives Matter Important in the UK?
UK Law Enforcement
I have spoken to many people who believe racism is not present within UK law enforcement, despite acknowledging that police brutality and racial profiling are a major issue in the USA.
According to UK government data, black ethnic groups had an elevated rate of stop and search compared to other ethnic communities. Black Caribbean people in the UK were 9.6 times as likely to be stopped and searched by the police compared to White British citizens.
For every police force area in the UK for which data was provided, Black people had the highest rate of arrest in every single one. This includes Greater Manchester. Here, the rate of arrest per 1,000 people was 24 for Black people compared to 9 for White. It is 3.8 times more likely for police to arrest somebody from The Black Caribbean population within the UK than the White British.
Surely, this is no coincidence. Why are rates of stop and search, and arrest higher for black communities? The answer must involve racial bias. And that is a key reason why the Black Lives Matter movement is crucial for the UK.
Race and Mental Health
The UK Government data also shows that there is racial bias within the mental health services in the UK. Rates of suicidal thoughts were similar in both white and black communities: 21.6% of white British people reporting having had suicidal thoughts compared to 20.7% of black British people.
However, white people were the most likely of all ethnic groups to receive treatment for mental health, while black people were 3.7 times more likely than white people to be detained under the Mental Health Act. This needs to stop. And soon.
In a sense, what this data shows is that as a country, we are criminalizing poor mental health in black communities, while white communities are getting the support that everybody deserves.
By no stretch of the imagination does this mean that these are the only racial issues in the Uk. But, they do show that it is simply not true that racial inequality does not exist here.
Black Lives Matter in Greater Manchester
Emily Durr from the Equality Matters Marple Facebook group explained to me how this Greater Manchester town has been fighting against racial inequality.
The Marple protest had a turnout of at least 100, Emily says. Protesters all took to the knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in silence, about half of them holding signs. “The leader of the demonstration had a ‘black trans lives matter’ sign, which was awesome”.
Emily has also invested a lot of her time printing and putting up posters explaining how people can help the movement. “They keep getting torn down, literally every time”, Emily states, but she is always quick to replace them.
She then said, “my mum saw a bloke actually writing notes from it, so that made me feel like it might actually be working, even if only a few people are listening, it still helps!”