Defending the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK

By Toyin Agbetu | Sun 24 July 2016

Shining a light on injustice: Unarmed therapist Charles Kinsey before being shot by police(Top) Black Live Matters founders: Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi (Bottom)

It should be unnecessary having to defend a campaign named ‘Black Lives Matter’ but as long as Africans are being shot by police who then escape prosecution there is a need for the social justice movement.

Most were shocked after viewing a civilian recording of therapist, Charles Kinsey, 47 being shot after attempting to help an autistic man from self harm. The video footage clearly showed Kinsey lying unarmed on the floor with both hands up in the air as the police officer shoots him. Thankfully the officer missed his torso hitting his leg instead. When Kinsey asked the officer why he shot him the officer responded “I don’t know”.

From Nat Turner, Sojourner Truth, John Brown to Malcolm X - America has a tradition of forming civil and human rights movements. Whether they violently resisted Maafa (African enslavement) or peacefully advocated human rights, all were needed at their respective times in history.

Residing somewhere in between the Black Panthers cry of ‘Black Power’ and Martin Luther King’s often quoted sanguine “I have a dream” vision lays the newest iteration of this ritual - the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The slogan itself is believed to have been created in 2013 when activist Alicia Garza wrote “Black people. I love you. I love us... Our lives matter” on Facebook after George Zimmerman escaped justice for the murder of innocent teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman who later became an American celebrity had successfully attracted $200,000 in crowd funding for his legal defence and later auctioned of the gun used to murder Martin as memorabilia for $250,000. Zimmerman now a hero of US gun fanatics publicly pledged to fight Black Lives Matter activists.

2014 saw the ‘lives matter’ phrase became even more popular after teenager Michael ‘Hands Up. Don’t Shoot!’ Brown, 18 was murdered by police officer Darren Wilson. Like Zimmerman he too escaped justice and a report from Department of Justice’s concluded that Wilson did not violate federal civil rights law. In many ways these two murders of African teenagers, one by a civilian and another by a police officer as well as the killing of Eric Garner whose tragic last words ‘I can’t breathe’ as a mob of police officers strangled him to death were immortalised on video which lit the spark for transforming Black Lives Matter into a global movement.

For some it’s far too easy to forget how long African people continue to be terrorised and traumatised by those who seek to disrupt them whilst they go about their daily business. In western nations the tired old adage ‘if you haven’t don’t anything wrong, then you haven't got anything to worry about’ is a lie that is only applicable to non Africans.

The formation of BLM has been an effective progression despite its retrograde usage of the label ‘black’ in referring to African Americans. During its relatively young lifetime BLM has proven itself to be one of the most effective Pan African organisations of this decade. By highlighting the injustice of African people killed whilst in police custody, names like Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling have become household names. Simultaneously BLM has led to a sustained media spotlight being placed on the failure of the American criminal justice system to hold abusive Afriphobic officials to account. But this abuse of African people occurs outside the US too.

To its credit, the Black Lives Matter movement has proven itself capable of grabbing international headlines and galvanising young people to organise and mobilise globally. By utilising some of the tactics used by Micah White’s Occupy movement in 2011, it has succeeded in forcing the call for revolutionary social justice onto the mainstream political agenda.

However as a result of its success there is an assault on the movement almost every day.

Perhaps what is disturbing is the level of vitriol coming from Africans in the US some who are police officers and others regarding themselves as ‘black’ Conservatives. Individuals such as David Clarke, a Milwaukee County Sheriff claims there is no data or evidence that US police officers treat Euro-American citizens with less violence than African Americans. In an interview with reporter Don Lemon on CNN he claimed that “this anti-cop sentiment from this hateful ideology called Black Lives Matter has fuelled this rage against the American police officer”. The force of Clarke’s outrageous comments are only matched by ignorant shock jocks like Tomi Lahren who labelled the movement ‘the new KKK’.

African Victims of American Terrorism: Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling (Victims) Micah X and Gavin Long (Martyrs)

Systematic Bullying of Black Lives Matter

Sadly, these attacks come not only from from Afriphobic illiberals’ based in US but also from the UK’s political right. The fear over the western world of a renewed assault on white supremacy succeeding in dismantling any of their ‘white privilege’ is scary for them. As a result there have been many attempts to discredit the movement. For example, London’s Evening Standard published an article with the misleading headline – “Hyde Park turned into ‘warzone’ when youths chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ clash with police after water fight descends into violence”. To make matters worse within hours there were fake rumours being circulating that a police officer had been stabbed by protestors. However despite the incendiary front page image, the park incident had nothing to do with BLM – a point quickly clarified by the Met Police to their credit.

Meanwhile, in America, Africans are seeing a rise in the growth of Afriphobic counter narratives such as ‘All Lives Matter’, ‘Blue Lives Matter’ and ‘Black Lives Kill’. These facetious slogans are typically being used to undermine legitimate concerns about state violence against Africans in America and now the UK. Systematic brutality against African people by the state or killers like Dylann Roof is terrorism although far too many seem to not think so unless a european is harmed in the process.

The attempt to conflate the issue of homicide by criminals within the African community (so called ‘black on black crime’) with homicide committed by police officers against the African community is juvenile. It is also impossible to stop a tiny number of irresponsible people using the movements’ slogan to justify their own bad behaviour. Yet despite this attempt to malign BLM the actions of a few is not representative of the vast majority of people supporting the movement for the right reason.

Nevertheless the proponents of these alternative anti-’black’ lives arguments also include African academics seeking media attention to boost their careers. A good example is Carol Swain, a right wing professor who accused Black Lives Matter of causing the death of several police officers who were fired upon by ex-US military officers, Micah X Johnson and Gavin “Cosmo Setepenra” Long. The actions of these two men who are now seen by many as martyr’s for African liberation are being abused to justify the branding and shutting down of Black Lives Matters as a terrorist organisation. It is a position alluded to by the acerbic Katie Hopkins clone Melanie Philips, various LBC presenters and Daily Mail columnists.

Their toxic comments have created a chilling climate where many people supporting the aims of the BLM movement often face attack or arrest for speaking in its defence. In New York the situation is similar, Sapphire Williams, 22 was arrested for talking in support of the movement whilst doing an interview near a protest.

Williams hadn’t even participated in the gathering.

This assault on freedom of speech continues as Kalyn Chapman James, the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss Alabama was stripped of her title when in a Facebook post she used the word ‘martyr’ to refer to Micah X Johnson and explained why it was hard for her to handle her guilt of not feeling sad for slain police officers when so many African men are being gunned down by them also. It is a view shared by millions that has somehow become socially unacceptable to express.

In America politicians such as former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani attempted to label the Black Lives Matter movement as ‘racist’ and ‘anti-American’. The former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh also spoke for many racists when he wrote on Twitter “Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you”. His distinction of a ‘real’ America and an America tainted by Africans and other non-European immigrants is similar to the views held by BRexit supporters in the UK.

Thankfully despite all these attacks from media commentators and Afriphobic politicians the Black Lives Matter Movement is still growing in the UK. For whilst thuggary amongst UK police officers increase as a result of growing awareness of racial aggression in Britain, there have been successful BLM (UK) rally’s in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham and beyond.

New cases of deaths in custody like that of Mzee Mohammed now have a chance of reaching the same level of media exposure as that of Mark Duggan who is the topic of the recently released film Hard Stop.

This article opened with the story of Charles Kinsey an innocent man shot by a police officer despite being unarmed.

Thankfully as with all the new cases there is video footage containing details of the incident so no-one can accuse African people and their supporters of fabricating stories and having a ‘chip on the shoulder’. The Black Lives Matters movement encourages us all to secure evidence of police interactions with African people especially as many of the offending officers deliberately fail to wear or switch on body cameras. But let’s be clear. For every incident that is caught on film, there are countless others that are occurring undocumented and enabling bad policing to continue unchecked within our communities. Whilst the existence of BLM in the UK may not guarantee justice for all the victims of police brutality, it could mean that the media silence over this particular injustice is over thus bringing justice one step closer.

And that’s a movement worth defending. By any means necessary.

#Black Lives Matter

Black Live Matter (UK) Protest 2016 – Liverpool, London, Manchester, Sheffield

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Thankfully despite all these attacks from media commentators and Afriphobic politicians the Black Lives Matter Movement is still growing in the UK.

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