This week has seen a global protest against the unlawful killing of George Floyd by the police in Minnesota, USA. We have seen widespread anger and hurt and a demand for action and change from people all around the world. Individuals and organisations across the UK have acknowledged the need to fight for justice and to ensure anti-racism lies at the heart of their work moving forward. At Clean Break we have pledged our own commitment to anti-racism and will strive to continue to shine a light on the presence of racism and discrimination within the criminal justice system and the need for change.
We asked some of our Members to respond to this moment through the lens of their experiences of discrimination in and around the UK’s criminal justice system. Ann, Beverly, Fatima and Sandrine shared their stories in a very personal way.
Please note that these stories contain potentially distressing material for the reader.
I knew George Floyd
Back in the eighties, we were close friends. Full of life, love and laughter. We had a beautiful naïve hope. Content to be in a world we thought was promising us endless possibilities. The harsh reality of how our life would almost inevitably unfold, hadn’t quite hit us yet. The phrase “systemic/institutional racism” hadn’t even been coined. But make no mistake, it was/ is real.
I knew George Floyd
She died in police custody. Not even out of her teenage years. I saw her on the day she was to die. She was planning to spend the afternoon with her young son. Excited at the prospect, she decided to go to town, and shoplift some goods to sell. She was planning to take him out and buy him some gifts. She lived a life, that maybe you would not understand. A product of her environment, some would say. A teenage mum, in and out of prison for petty offenses. Brought up on a notorious predominately black council estate. In foster homes for most of her short life. Crime was the only way she knew how to escape the poverty that surrounded her.
I knew George Floyd
A social scientist would have a field day studying her life. Her young son already in care like his mother before him. Would they have known she had a heart of gold? A zest for life? No amount of trauma she had endured, ever dampened her spirit. This beautiful young black female, may have been a petty thief, known to the police and the justice system. Yet she was also a human being, with dreams and aspirations like all of us. She was happy in the only world she knew.
I knew George Floyd
The “justice” system, which (still) comprises mainly middle-class white men/women, coming from an opposite perspective, a different world view, never actually saw her. She was treated in death the same way she was treated in life. Killed in police custody. During the “investigation” I was told she had hung herself. Told by the very same police who diligently removed, on a daily basis, all potential possessions that could harm anyone. Belts, ties and coat cords were routinely taken away, and given back when released. A police officer who interviewed me during the inquiry, stated her death would be called suicide. In a cell, that he agreed, had no possible means in which to hang yourself.
I knew George Floyd
In the coroner’s report the boot-prints that were found on her face and clothes, were never explained. Bills have been passed, laws have changed, but the heart of man has not. There have been many George Floyds before my friends murder, and tragically, probably many more after. The justice system is broken in this world. My hope is in a God who will judge what man will not. Jesus take the wheel.
Listening to the radio presenter and guest gush over the 'timeless image' of the current Monarch on a horse. I see another 'timeless image' l am not able to let go of - the still at the beginning of the video detailing the murder of George Floyd through extreme aggressive state representation. One member of our human race ending the life of another human being. I'm not going to watch the video, and perhaps (as well as the need to shield @home) that's why l'm not amongst others outside the US Embassy demanding justice that leads to peace.
In the days since the British Transport Police (more human beings) closed the terse investigation into the assault on Belly Mujinga leading to her Covid-19 related death. I'm not getting a sense of justice and the peace lacking in my heart and mind is manifest in protestors worldwide.
These days of systemic discrimination within our institutions that are here for our protection; is that right? Have l misunderstood? These days of relentless unconscious bias are a culmination of centuries of one set of humans with greed, status, and easy living in mind (in my opinion) stating with absolute authority that the people with different skin colour sitting on natural resources that hold, potential prestige for you and yours back home are not just different they are a different race. A lesser species therefore... 2020.
It takes real desire to change, to actually see another person as another person equal to you. Not above or beneath, you, equal to you. I am using the pronoun 'you' intentionally, the second by second, hour by hour, day in day out, work you need to willingly engage in (reflecting on outcomes regularly) to effect the changes that have justice leading to peace as the consistent natural outcome for you and all of us. This is what l want to see; what about you?
With the protests that are alive now, l am feeling real hope (thank goodness cos Minister Hancock understanding #BlackLivesMatter, numbed me) that, more of us are willing to do the work of transforming systems in society that are not working justly for all of us. My biggest complaint is that l don't feel people, other humans enough of us are willing to do this transformative work, that begins with looking within yourself to assess how have l contributed to the situation, am l ok with my efforts to date, and what can l do in this moment to create value for myself, and others, with aim being justice that leads to peace?
People protesting at this time all over the world, tells me, compassion and empathy are ALIVE, and that humans can get it - they don't have to have the lived experience of being handcuffed lying on your front arms pinned behind your back, whilst another human being (empowered by the state which is paid for by you) pushes his full body weight on to your neck as you lie unable to protect yourself and are murdered as a consequence of.
I can't look at these recent present moments of state/government representatives killing - through decisions based on hidden discriminatory values- with impunity without referring to our 400+ years past. And so yes l see l am going round in agonising circles in my heart and mind-the micro, and l see the same in society-the macro.
I'm back to where l began, one of these timeless images is soothing and pacifying, the other, helps, l hope, break the cycle of incomplete humanitarian revolution within our criminal justice system within our institutions that need to develop total respect for the dignity of all lives, yet, for at least the next 100 years emphasise the #BlackLivesMatter, cos we all need - supported by law - to find ways to make these words our reality.
“Stop. I can’t breathe! “-George Floyd, dying words of latest police murder victim in USA, 2020 Ignorance allied with power, is the enemy of justice. (James Baldwin)
Dreams and memories: police abuses of power
Whilst studying at Tottenham college, I dreamt our college disco was raided by police, with all jumping through windows to avoid police arrest of youths dancing, enjoying themselves. I recall waking in terror, sweating, unable to breathe!
This was nothing compared to my feeling, hearing that my dream had come true; my best friend jumped through a window fleeing police arrest and brutality she witnessed. The US police murder of unarmed black man, George Floyd with hands up saying, Don’t Shoot, reminds me of police slaying of Mark Duggan in North London culminating in ‘The Hard Stop’, documented in film by George Amponsah (2016). Armed police were witnessed shooting unarmed black man Mark, contrary to Metropolitan Police allegations of him dumping a gun. UK inner city uprisings: socio-economic, legal and political inequalities Urban 1980’s uprisings in Brixton, Toxteth and Manchester were documented in films:
Blood Ah Go Run (Dir: Menelik Shabazz), examining the inequalities in socio-economic conditions: housing, wages, inequalities before the Law and the CJS. Time and Judgment (Dir: Imruh Bakari) records injustices meted out to the Afrikan-Caribbean community systematically criminalising Black youth.
Comparing experiences globally, I found evidence of sustained police brutality, terrorisation and complicity in Black deaths in police custody and police house searches. What of police legacy: killing innocent unarmed women, whilst supposedly searching houses for Black men: Cynthia Jarett in North London, and Cherry Groce in Brixton, one killed, one maimed? Police investigating police has on balance proved ineffective: examining the New Cross Fire investigation: where 13 Black teenagers died in a mystery fire whilst celebrating Yvonne’s birthday, yet nothing was said. Peaceful marches protested what the Black community perceived as a ‘racist attack’ in a known National Front racist area, New Cross, South-East London. Having agreed the route of the march, police then tried sabotaging the outcome, Attacking peaceful unarmed marchers hoping to provoke violence, but marchers chanted:
‘Thirteen Dead. Nothing said! What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!
Conclusion: Film and music documenting inequalities in CJS, US & UK Activist, Spike Lee’s enduring film message, Do the Right Thing, seeking an end to police brutality could have been filmed in 2020, instead of cataloguing African-American deaths at the hands of racist police officers. Oprah highlighted on her TV show, a video recording of Rodney King brutalized by police saw no appropriate action brought against officer(s) concerned. Junior Mervin’s song, Police and Thieves still rings true now. ‘Until the philosophy that holds one race superior, and another, inferior, is toppled…abandoned, everywhere is War! (Bob Marley song, War). LOVE conquers hate, fear and ignorance, bringing healing and transformation. I envision ‘justice flowing down like a river’, Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
First of all my deepest, deepest condolence for the GEORGE FLOYD family
I am going to speak emotionally and from my heart
It is fucking inhumane the way we treat black bodies
I am so fucking sick and tired of trying to convince people (white people specifically) that racism is fucking alive and well.
you know what
fucking good for you for not being able to see colour
well done for not noticing a security guard following me around shops and supermarkets.
well done for not noticing young black men being stopped and frisked constantly just because of how they are dressed.
I am honestly so sick and so tired,
God I am really tired.
I can’t master the sound
to expressing what I feel
Every time I open my mouth all that comes out is an animal sound
I am howling!
a hyena sounds
I am the hynena
I fear for my
For my brother, for my sister who have yet to be grown
How do I protect them
how do I make it better?
how do I hide them from the system that is determined to claim them before they have grown?
Must take arms
in this war
The anger must be eaten and suffocate deep into my bones rest I burn the world down
I must numb
Must numb all this anger and pain in fear of suffocating myself
This what black people must do every time one of us is shot, put in a cage or humiliated for the fun of it by the system.
what I am told I must do as an individual by society
1) It must be my responsibility to get justice
2) I must be obedient
3) I must wait for nothing to be done by “the judicial criminal justice system”
4) I must be thankful that this time there was video that showed the truth
5) I must
6) I always must
I will rage until I am heard
I will be motherfucking seen
I will provoke until we start getting somewhere
until I am treated the same as my white friends
I will begin burning the world down one corner at the time until something new grows on scorched ground
Something must give and it will not be black people that give
We have given you enough of our sons and daughters
We are the new generations and we are not afraid to take hostages in this war
Seeing as you choose violence as your weapon of choice
Dear our ancestors
Dear our foremothers
We call on you
We call on you our foremothers
We on your children
We call on our continent
Lead us into this battle and may we succeed, Amen
With our thanks to Ann, Beverly, Fatima and Sandrine.
#BlackLivesMatter #BetheChange #ImagineAnotherWay