Black Lives Matter

Many of us have been deeply affected by the events in the US. 

The murder of George Floyd was horrific. And it was a symptom of a deeper malady in the US. He joins a long list of black people killed at the hands of white police officers and self-appointed vigilantes: Breonna Taylor (Kentucky), Tony McDade (Florida), and Ahmaud Arbery (Georgia) among them. 

This is not just an American problem. It is not just an issue with the US criminal justice system. It reflects a systematic inequality that is prevalent across all major institutions and in countries around the world. We are all part of this.

Over recent days I have been talking to African Americans. Mayor Steve Benjamin, the 36th Mayor of Columbia, South Carolina and the first African American Mayor in the city’s history, Prof Sheila Foster and Scott K. Ginsburg, Professor of Urban Law and Policy and Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University. I have also be talking with my own family living in Atlanta and Los Angeles. The situation is dangerous.

On Tuesday we lit up City Hall in purple light as a declaration of solidarity with George Floyd and a statement of our unwillingness to accept the kind of politics his murder exposes. I have enclosed below a copy of the open letter I and the UK Core City leaders have sent to the Association of African American Mayors. Copies have been sent to the US Conference of Mayors and Eurocities.

Plans are underway to hold Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Bristol over the coming days. I understand this. We are outraged and our voices must be heard. 

But after much thought, I am questioning the wisdom and any method of sharing that voice that encourages a mass gathering. I do not oppose the demonstration. Rather, I am concerned that anything that encourages a mass gathering while we have Covid with us and we have no vaccine is high risk, and the risk is disproportionately borne by black and brown communities. Responsible leadership must bear this in mind. 

First, the virus is killing disproportionate numbers of black and brown people. The Public Health England Report into Covid Deaths found people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other Black ethnicity had between a 10% and 50% higher risk of death when compared to White British people. We are precariously balanced with many health professionals arguing we locked down too late and are unlocking too soon leaving us vulnerable to a second wave. A second wave, like the first, would disproportionately cost the black and brown lives we want to declare matter. 

Second, the lockdown is impacting the economy. And the jobs, wages, businesses and community organisations of black and brown people are being disproportionately lost. The Black South West Network shared with me that the economy has slowed drastically and the economic crisis which is due to follow will be felt most by those on the margins. According to the Runnymede Index of Ethnic Inequality, Bristol ranks 7th out of 348 areas in terms of most deprived areas. These are socioeconomic determinants of inequality which are rooted in history and the continued structural and systemic racism which has followed. Given that Black African and Bangladeshi households have 10p for every £1 of White British wealth, this means these households are ten times less able to cover the new costs, or to make up for lost income from Covid-19. A second wave would necessitate a second lockdown which would further undermine the economic (and by extension politics and health) standing of those communities. This would result in political weakening of the communities we need to see politically empowered. I have major concerns about this. 

I am for the message. I am merely very concerned that the Covid context means any method of delivering that message that encourages or requires mass gathering could have unfortunate unintended consequences for the communities we are trying to support – and that’s not just the individuals who attend but the people and community members they go home to.

I will not dampen down people’s passion. I support them. I would simply suggest there are other ways we can make our voices heard. We could put our minds together to create a huge digital presence, one that declares opposition to Trump’s politics and support for the mayors that are standing up to him. 

As I mentioned above, I have written a letter to the African American Mayors Association. We are speaking into the American situation. They need our support.

#TakeTheKnee in solidarity with George Floyd at City Hall 6pm today


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