NOT SURPRISED: Black Lives Matter co founder, Patrisse Cullors speaking at The Drum in Birmingham
THE WORLD would not have woken up to what is happening to black families in America if the people of Ferguson had “just gone back home” after unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot by a police officer, said a leading US black civil rights campaigner.
Patrisse Cullors, co founder of the group Black Lives Matter, was speaking in Birmingham on a UK-wide Ferguson Solidarity Tour where she stressed that “change will not happen until people force it to happen”.
She told of how the now well-publicised protests in Ferguson, Missouri, began with just a small number, but grew to the extent where people were able to shut down Walmart supermarkets and police departments to make the world sit up and take notice.
She had a warm welcome in Birmingham where she met several high profile families who are still fighting for justice following the deaths in custody of their sons, brothers and cousins.
Cullors told The Voice before speaking at a meeting at The Drum arts centre: “I am disturbed but not surprised by what is happening in the UK. Anti-black racism is a global issue, but I am also hopeful that through Black Lives Matter we can change minds and attitudes.”
She explained how she started #BlackLivesMatter on social media following the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 by vigilante George Zimmerman. The movement has since gone viral.
“I remember crying but feeling unsurprised by the US criminal justice system when Zimmerman was acquitted of murder,” said Cullors. “Instead of him, Trayvon Martin was put on trial and became the cause of his own death.”
In a stirring speech, she called for a minute’s silence after reading out the “unacceptable litany” of names of those across the UK who have died following contact with police.
She met and talked with several relatives, including Sonia Webster, the mother of Julian, who died after being held in a “chin-lock” by security staff outside a Manchester bar in 2009; Tippa Napthali, whose cousin Mikey Powell died on the floor of a police mini-bus in Handsworth in 2003 following his arrest.
UNITED: Patrisse Cullors (centre) meets the community at Cannon Street Memorial Baptist Church in Handsworth. From left: Tippa Napthali, Desmond Jaddoo, Pastor Bryan Scott, Maxie Hayles, Rev Patrick Adetuwo, and Hannah Dee
Kadisha Burrell told of how her brother Kingsley dialled police for help in 2011 and ended up dying in hospital three days later after a blanket had been put over his head in a bid to restrain him. In all these cases no police officers or security guards have so far been held responsible for the deaths.
Napthali, the brother of renowned international poet Benjamin Zephaniah, told of how his cousin’s murder had changed his life, transforming him into a campaigner for justice.
He said he is now seeking volunteers to help in the launch of Red Alert, a 24-hour phone advice service for people who are concerned about a loved one being held in police custody.
An eight-strong panel at the Drum, who took questions from a packed audience, included Maxie Hayles, who chairs both the Justice for Julian Webster and Justice for Kingsley Burrell Campaigns, community activist Desmond Jaddoo, Kehinde Andrews, of the New Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, and Hannah Dee, of Defend the Right to Protest.
Hayles, who said the black community must stop suffering from a dependency mentality, said: “Every time our people are killed, the government says ‘we are learning from this’ but nothing changes. We are fobbed off with claims of insufficient evidence from the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. In my opinion they are not fit for purpose.”
Jaddoo, who earlier said how some of the circumstances of the US killings mirrored those in the UK, said: “We should never have to apologise fore being black. We need to stand up without fear.
“It’s so important that we come together like this. Stop looking at what divides us. Look at what unites us.”
For the Ferguson Tour, Cullors had stepped in at the last minute to replace leading campaigner Rev Osagyefo Sekou, who suffered a heart attack hours before boarding a plane to London. He is said to making a good recovery.