A fortnight ago, hundreds of thousands of ordinary law-abiding citizens around the globe became not only innocent bystanders, but eye witnesses at an unexpectedly brutal act of violence by a uniformed police officer: the public murder of a fellow citizen, without rhyme or reason, despite the desperate cries of the public, and more importantly the victim himself lying face down in the street, calling for his mother and alerting the officer, over and over, that he “couldn’t breathe”. We realised immediately that we could never “unsee” those 10 minutes of a life being snuffed out in front of our very eyes. Damage to the psyche done, the horror acknowledged, the trauma inflicted. It wasn’t a scene from a movie, a play or a piece of theatre, designed to shock our sensibilities after the watershed hour. It was simply an example of the ordinary run of the mill life chances of an average black Jo Bloggs on the streets of a major metropolis in the United States, “the land of the free, home of the brave”. Joe Bloggs was later identified as George Floyd, a name that is now synonymous globally with out of control police tactics, urban “wild Wild West”, and shoot first, ask questions later philosophy.
So what does it have to do with us in the UK, thousands of miles away, doing our best to adapt to the vagaries of Government policy of easing the imposed lockdown in response to that deadly and ominous enemy: COVID-19? The combination of lockdown, soaring unemployment and on the doorstep of the worst recession since the 1930s, proved to be a lethal combination. Alternatively could it be that during 9 weeks of enforced isolation, that we have found time to “go inside” and think about what really matters in life?
Take away the trappings of the modern dream life. Take away retail shopping, fast food, entertainment on tap, money, credit cards, outings, movies, toys, gym membership, and celebrity stalking on social media…..and what’s left? Possibly, the meaning of life, leading an ethical life, renewed appreciation of family and friends, a reckoning with our mortality and a mother’s love. After all, Mothers Day fell right bang in the middle of the lockdown. A mother’s love was also on the mind of George Floyd as he called out for his mother, seconds before his death on the street, ostensibly due to his unsuccessful attempt to pay for groceries with a fake 20 dollar bill. Evidence has since emerged that the banknote was NOT a forged one. Doesn’t that still beg the question: was his life worth less than a 20 dollar bill?
Outrage at this notion: the devaluation of a man’s life sparked the flames of disgust, incredulity and horror around the world, but not more so than here in the UK where the loaded set of circumstances appeared to strike home due to the marked similarities in our shared history. Unwarranted police brutality, discrimination, unconscious bias towards and against people of African or Asian descent, echoes of racial segregation, apartheid, imperialism, colonialisation and slavery.
We must confront our past if we want to enjoy a future of any value. Human trafficking, modern day slavery and its offspring racism must be immediately and decisively quashed, by all of us, young and old through intelligent and wise application of and respect for the universality of human rights, whether you’re in leafy Surrey or downtown Minneapolis.
It has been gratifying to witness and join people in peaceful protests in Guildford, Woking and other towns in Surrey. As the saying goes, we cannot clap for CARERS on a Thursday, then willingly, knowingly or even recklessly expose them to a death sentence of coronavirus on a Friday.
The Labour Party urges you to listen to the debate held at Cambridge University Union in 1967 on the value of the life of an American Negro. The Negro who answered that question was James Baldwin, invited to speak here in the UK. I invite you to read it, even debate it again if you must, but remember this: no shots were fired, no arrests were made and the man never even shouted.
Elizabeth Mpyisi, BAME Officer, Guildford CLP