Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 21, June 6, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Upsurge in Response to the Killing of George Floyd:

In Defence of the Rights of All

Hyde Park, London

People all over the world have expressed their condemnation and revulsion at the brutal killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which was captured on several video recordings for all to see. People have been particularly appalled that such a crime could take place in public and during the Covid-19 pandemic when governments and their agencies should be doing everything to protect the lives of their citizens.


Protests on a scale not seen since the 1960s have taken place across the United States, elsewhere in the Americas, as well as in towns and cities throughout the world. People have voiced their opposition not only to the unlawful and savage way in which George Floyd was killed, but also to the deaths of many other African Americans who, in recent times, lost their lives as a result of racist violence, often perpetrated by those given police powers by the authority of the state. Condemnation of the killing of the George Floyd and other African Americans has also come from the numerous governments, the African Union and various agencies of the United Nations.

Attention has been drawn to the fact that the history of the United States has been inseparable from racist violence and the oppression of its African American population. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, stated: "This is the latest in a long line of killings of unarmed African Americans by US police officers and members of the public, I am dismayed to have to add George Floyd's name to that of Breonna Taylor, Erol Garner, Michael Brown and many other unarmed African Americans who have died over the years at the hands of the police - as well as people such as Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin who were killed by armed members of the public. The US authorities must take serious action to stop such killings, and to ensure justice is done when they do occur. Procedures must change, prevention systems must be put in place, and above all police officers who resort to excessive use of force should be charged and convicted for the crimes committed." Bachelet concluded that "the role that entrenched and pervasive racial discrimination plays in such deaths must also be fully examined, properly recognized and dealt with". The protests in the United States as well as elsewhere have shown that the vast majority of people are resolutely opposed to the perpetuation of such racist violence and discrimination by the state, or in any other form, and are determined to eliminate it and stand together in defence of the rights of all.

The worldwide protests have also taken place in towns and cities in Britain, in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and elsewhere, although the government and police are now attempting to ban such gatherings on the grounds that they are "unlawful" during the pandemic. In these demonstrations people have expressed their anger and grief not only at what has occurred in the United States, but at the various forms of racism that still exist in Britain. This has been poignantly highlighted by a renewed focus on those of African and Caribbean heritage who have lost their lives at the hands of the police in Britain. They include men who needed medical care such Sean Rigg, killed by the police in Brixton in 2008, Olaseni Lewis, killed by police whilst in hospital in 2010, and Sheku Bayoh, killed by the police in Scotland in 2015, as well as many others. Figures released by INQUEST suggest that the proportion of such deaths of those from African, Caribbean and other minority communities "where restraint is a feature is over two times greater than it is in other deaths in custody". INQUEST concludes that those from minority communities "die disproportionately as a result of use of force or restraint by the police".

Protests in Britain have also drawn attention to the disproportionate numbers of those from minority communities who have died as result of Covid-19, including Belly Mujinga, a railway worker who died following an assault. Police initially declined to take any action on the case claiming there was insufficient evidence, but a public outcry and a petition of over a million signatures has led to the Crown Prosecution Service being asked to conduct a review of the evidence. This week also saw the release of the enquiry into deaths from Covid-19 published by Public Health England which was supposed to address the disproportionally higher death rates amongst those from minority communities. However, although the report acknowledged that the risk was higher, it was immediately criticised by the British Medical Association, and by many others, for censoring some evidence, for adding nothing to what was already widely known and for "having no clear action plan" to save lives. It was not coincidental therefore that this week it was also announced that the government's Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will investigate "long-standing structural racial inequality" in Britain.

The fact that such inequality in its many forms is "long-standing", both in Britain and the US, points to the inability of existing mechanisms and institutions to remove it. Indeed, history and experience including recent deaths show that it is the powers that be and the existing social and political institutions that perpetuate racism and other forms of inequality and discrimination in health, education, employment, the criminal justice system, the media and elsewhere. What is more, it is the laws, policies and actions of the state that are the most thoroughly racist and create the conditions for violence against individuals and entire communities. In these circumstances there can be no illusions that governments and the state apparatus are capable of taking, or concerned to take, the necessary measures to save lives and eliminate racism. These circumstances underline that it is the anachronistic state and its police powers which must be blamed for racism and violence, not the people. As recent events have shown, it is necessary for the people themselves to take action in order to advance their common interests and stand together in defence of the rights of all.

London, Whitehall (left)  Newport Isle of Wight (right)

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London, Brixton (left)  Newcastle (right)

London, Southall (left)  London, Peckham (right)


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