By Aisha Sembhi
This article contains mentions of the ongoing violence against black protestors both in the US and UK. Some of the links included lead to videos taken from the US protests that have been posted on Twitter, in which officers are acting violently towards protestors. Some are distressing to watch.
The last few months have seen several high-profile cases of police violence against black Americans come to light. We have become familiar with the home raiding and subsequent murder of Breonna Taylor and the recorded killing of Ahmed Aubery. We need look only to the abhorrent actions of Amy Cooper, who called the police on Christian Cooper (no relation) and openly stated her intent to fabricate a threat with emphasis on perpetration by an African American man, to understand the threat police officers pose to the lives of black people. This is not a new phenomenon, yet the refusal to dismantle and restructure a broken policing system means these violations against black Americans have been able to continue for decades.
On 25 May, yet another video evidencing killer cops at work surfaced, in which George Floyd was killed by police officer Derick Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Footage shows Chauvin, nonchalant in his actions, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, despite Floyd’s constant reiteration of his inability to breathe. Chauvin has since been charged with third degree-murder (five days after the incident occurred), but there’s so much more to be done in the pursuit of justice. The murder has since triggered an ongoing wave of protests, beginning in Minneapolis and spreading throughout the entire United States.
There is a risk of risk of black protestors being portrayed as unnecessarily violent or aggressive
Protests built on unrest and rioting have been an integral part of American political culture since the very inception of the nation (the Boston Tea Party of 1773, for example, was a riot). In white American history, rioting to achieve an extension of rights is a fundamental right in itself. We need only need to look back to the nationwide protests against lockdown that occurred only weeks ago to understand how this is still perceived to be the case. Officers did not respond to these lockdown protests with brutality, despite these individuals occupying government buildings with assault rifles and provoking those patrolling the scenes.
Compare this to the recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, and other means of unrest enacted by black Americans. Videos posted to Twitter show protestors often sitting or kneeling, before being attacked unprovoked by riot police unwilling to sympathise. Officers have been recorded employing several violent methods to quell the anger – macing children, shooting at journalists, running over protestors, dismantling help stations, even holding protestors down with the same knee-on-neck method that killed George Floyd. We must always keep these instances in mind, especially given the risk of black protestors being portrayed as unnecessarily violent or aggressive.
So, what can we do as white and non-black POC (people of colour) in allyship? Raising awareness of the situation via social media has become increasingly popular over the last few days. This is an incredibly useful method of bringing attention to the incident and is an excellent place to start but is perhaps the bare minimum non-black allies should be doing in support.
It is our moral obligation as human beings to recognise unjust violence and brutality and to show solidarity with victims
It is so important that we avoid turning the movement into a trend. Sharing a black screen with ‘#BlackLivesMatter, tag 10 people who’ll agree’ on your Instagram story is not activism. Though there is good intent behind this chain, it runs a huge risk of trivialising the movement. Yes, you might want your followers to know that you are aware and where you stand, but you need to want more than that. No-one is going to congratulate non-black people for being on the right side of history – it is our moral obligation as human beings to recognise unjust violence and brutality and to show solidarity with victims. Plastering this stance on social media is not praiseworthy, it is performative.
Despite being on the other side of the Atlantic, we can be practical with our activism: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/. This website provides quick links to petitions that need signing, fundraisers that need donations and resources to further educate yourself. I would highly recommend taking some time to explore and share this page, as I can guarantee you will find several unexpected ways you can contribute to the movement. Social media is an incredibly powerful tool – utilise it to share these links and other similar petitions and fundraisers.
There are several ways we can and should contribute to the BLM movement offline. We have power in people. We can attend the protests that are currently being organised and exercised around the UK (with caution, given the ongoing Covid-19 crisis), not only in solidarity with our US allies, but also in solidarity with those black Britons who have been victim to overt police brutality and criminal injustice. May we continue fighting for justice for Belly Mujinga, and other black lives that have been lost and ignored by the state. As protests of solidarity begin in the UK, please look out for each other. Take extra masks and gloves with you and do your best to keep yourself and others safe and protected from Covid-19. Recipients of white privilege, please utilise your immunity. Protests are not an opportunity for you to fulfil your anarchist wet dream, nor are they the perfect opportunity for you to get the perfect selfie for your Instagram feed. We are attending protests as guests and should be respectful of the narrative the BLM has spent years cultivating.
We can and should do everything in our power to prevent a loss of the existing momentum
Furthermore, we have power in our individual actions. We can and should call out injustice when we see it occurring and be prepared to use our privilege to intervene in difficult situations. We can and should interject when our neighbours use anti-black language or slurs. We can and should normalise talking about the issues at hand with our family and friends (whilst being prepared to listen to and understand the perspectives of our black peers first and foremost). If you are unsure where to begin, educate yourself. There is a wealth of knowledge available online – it is not the job of black people to educate us on the historical oppression and subsequent trauma they have faced. For non-black POC like myself, our activism starts at home. Call out your racist relatives who hold anti-black sentiments, no matter how uncomfortable the conversation may be. Unsubscribe from and destroy the myth of the model-minority. Address issues of colourism with your cultural communities.
Perhaps most importantly, we can and should do everything in our power to prevent a loss of the existing momentum. Do not forget about George Floyd next week, next month or next year. This is an issue we must show support of consistently, not only in instances where brutality is exposed and shared. Continue to post about Black Lives Matter, police brutality and killer cops even after George Floyd’s name leaves the mainstream news cycle. Activism goes beyond convenience.
Photograph: Nicole Baster via Unsplash