The Birth of a Great Rebellion

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From the US to Africa, Korea, Europe and beyond, millions have marched against racism and police violence. Harold Wilson begins our global round-up with the explosion of anger in Britain

George Floyd’s racist murder was as public as it was graphic, but others have been just as brutal, casual and naked. Breonna Taylor was shot dead in March as she slept in her Louisville apartment by three police officers serving a ‘no-knock warrant’. On 1 June, police in northern California fatally shot unarmed 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa, who was on his knees with his hands raised outside a Walgreens store as they responded to a call of ‘alleged looting’. “When confronted by the police, he dropped to his knees and surrendered, and they fired at him,” said a lawyer representing the family. Police shot Sean from inside their car.
The Bay Area, particularly in the city of Vallejo, has a notorious and long history of police violence, deadly force and high-profile killings. And in Atlanta, a “black faces in high places” city, Rayshard Brooks was gunned down in the back as he fled cops. The officer who fired the bullets kicked Rayshard’s motionless corpse.
The anti-racist response to events in America this side of the Atlantic has been enormous.
The Kent naval dockyard town of Chatham witnessed a long, disciplined, single-file protest that contoured the high street with home-made placards damning racism and state murder. In a magnificent visual display of solidarity, Sheffield’s cab drivers drove in convoy through the city.
Fifteen hundred people gathered on Tooting Common, south London, on 7 June, and the following Sunday two thousand assembled there again. There were 1,000 protestors in St Albans, Hertfordshire; more crowds in Belfast, and Derry had a flowering counter-culture feel with music and speeches. Two giant, successive demonstrations in central London in early June and a large turnout through the heart of Manchester made the headlines.
Two thousand protestors marched in Colchester (home of the giant army barracks), 15,000 in Brighton, hundreds in Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Nuneaton, York, Lancaster and many other cities. Market towns and even small villages all held anti-racist protests. Even the far-away Orkney Isles joined in. The Fire Brigade Union’s instruction to firefighters to take the knee on 3 June was a highpoint of organised workers’ solidarity.
Where they already existed, anti-racist organisations such as Stand up to Racism and Black Lives Matter, were strengthened. In many places, new groups and organisations sprang up. One political undercurrent which many protestors accepted as a given in 2014, when thousands marched over the police murder to Michael Brown in Ferguson, US, was ‘white privilege’.
This is the idea that white people in general have implicit and systematic social and political advantages compared with non-whites. It still carries purchase with some, but the sheer breadth of the response to George Floyd’s murder in the UK undermines the idea.
One of the key features of the global anti-racist rebellion has been the strength and depth of the racial mix involved. If white people have ‘skin in the game’ with racism how can you explain this solidarity? To waive it off as ‘white guilt’ is hopelessly inadequate.
The campaigns in Bristol and Oxford to bring down the statues of Edward Colson and Cecil Rhodes, both of whom made fortunes from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, moved decisively forward, with Colson being dumped into Bristol harbour and Oxford’s Oriel College declaring its intention to remove Rhodes’ statue. Its previous refusal to do so was reversed following several antiracist protests in the city.
A decolonised school and University curricula is more likely today, following the global rebellion, than it ever has been. It’s a joyful time to be challenging bourgeois orthodoxy. As Dalia Gebrail, editor at Novara Media taking to Twitter put it: “Yeah, sex is great, but have you ever seen people dump the statue of a slave owner in the very river where his slave ships used to dock.”
Despite these positives there is also cause for alarm. The protests have clearly illustrated the depth and extent of institutionalised racism. The police, Dirty Babylon as we cussed them back in the 1970s, seek a return to the discredited SUS laws (stop and search) of that era. It was a time when black youth were stopped and frisked in full public glare and harassed for no reason except police racism. Stop and search Today, such stop and search practices are explained away as ‘drugs searches’.
In May, the increase of racial profiling and subsequent police harassment of black people during the pandemic was highlighted by the case of school pastoral support worker, Dwayne Francis. Dwayne was handcuffed and aggressively questioned while waiting in his car for a post office to open.
The Metropolitan Police’s Territorial Support Group is increasingly policing inner-city communities while the police use of tasers is increasing, with black men eight times more likely to be tasered or threatened with tasers than any other group. In Tottenham, north London, Millard Scott, 62, whose brother Stafford campaigns against police brutality, was tasered during a raid on his home by five officers.
The family was shielding because Millard cares for his 23-year-old son Shaquille, who is severely disabled with cerebral palsy.
Following the anti-racist rebellion, the National Police Chiefs’ Council announced it was commissioning independent research into the use of tasers. After Public Health England’s report into the impact of Covid-19 on Black and Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities was shown to have been suppressed, it is now in the public domain, revealing that BAME death rates are on average four times that of whites.
It shows that longstanding socio-economic factors are key to explaining these disproportionate deaths. It notes that in poor areas there are a “higher incidence of chronic diseases and multiple long-term conditions with these conditions occurring at younger ages”, disproportionately experienced by BAME communities.
The report broadens the findings of David Lammy’s 2017 review into BAME individuals in the criminal justice system. As a result of the pandemic, and its disproportionate impact on BAME communities other facts have come into public view, with research released in April showing that black women are five times more likely to die in child birth than white women, an astonishing confirmation of how deeply racism is embedded in every aspect of life. The pandemic has shone a glaring light on the racism embedded in capitalism. The anti-racist rebellion has begun to express a way out.