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#BlackLivesMatter is more than a hashtag

OUTRAGE: A recent Black Lives Matter protest about the police killings in America

THE BLACK Lives Matter movement has become bigger than a hashtag and whilst demos being called both in the USA and here in the UK are not called by its formal structure, the police are not going to acknowledge that.

The deaths of Alton Sterling, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Philando Castile, near St. Paul, Minnesota being played out on our screens in real time was traumatising for us as black people to watch.

That there has been such a huge reaction both sides of the pond with people taking to the streets can be viewed as a positive thing because the worse thing would be for people to become desensitised and/or normalise such events.

Police in the USA and to some extent in the UK have been killing with impunity for far too long. Institutionalised racism in police forces and other systems and structures such as the judiciary is deepening.

Alongside this state violence and threat to black lives is deepening poverty fuelled by economic downturn, austerity and lack of investment in the poorest and most deprived areas combines with discrimination in the labour market.
There is only so much people can take without breaking.

Black people must warn their children as they go outside on the streets independently not just of the dangers of criminals preying on them but also of the dangers of the police targeting them and how to stay alive in such circumstances.

The shooting dead of five police officers in Dallas, though an isolated incident by an individual working alone, is just going to make police even more entrenched not less. Any life taken is a tragedy but whilst there may be outrage by right wing commentators at the death of these five police officers where is the outrage and tears for the countless black people murdered by the state?

ARMED

Officers being armed is a huge part of the problem but here in the UK, whilst the police have shot dead black people such as Mark Duggan, there have been a number of black people beaten to death at the hands of the state. It is no wonder that in America so many black people feel it necessary to be armed as the police are far too fast to shoot before asking questions. I speak to black friends in the USA who feel that to be safe they must be armed. As long as the police are armed they believe they must be armed too.

We have seen the targeting of Black Lives Matter activists by police over some time before the events of the past week or two and I don’t think the police are going to distinguish whether the demonstrations and activities are organised by the official movement or not. But even they were I don’t think police would care. As an institution they see black lives as cheap and will be aided by those who seek to demolish black people, especially young black people.

I understand that talks are being organised between police and community leaders. The question is whatever is agreed at those talks how do you ensure that the police, who police themselves, adhere to it?

Black people are quite rightly angry and there is only so much people can take. What are they expected to do? Witness the brutal killing of yet another black person and stay silent?

I think that marches and demos are a powerful form of expression and important in gaining visibility in bringing people together, mobilising and getting our voices heard.

But we know that mainstream media has a tendency to report such mobilisations in a negative and racist way and even worse, as is the case here in the UK where thousands of young people have taken to the streets and protested in solidarity with our American brothers and sisters, the media refuse to report on these events at all. Thousands of young black people took over Parliament Square at the weekend but where were the media reports?

I was called on Sunday morning to appear on a news station to discuss the UK #blacklivesmatter protests. It was broadcast in the USA rather than the UK.

BACKLASH

BARAC UK has the Black Lives Matter hashtag on our national banner. We have organised blocs on anti racism marches under the hashtag because we know our lives are not treated as being of equal value to white people but here also we have received a backlash as is happening now in the USA with the emergence of #bluelivesmatter with people repeatedly trying to assert that #alllivesmatter - white privilege and arrogance at its worse.

If all lives really mattered there would be no need for a #blacklivesmatter hashtag.

Stating that all lives matter at a time when black lives are being taken with impunity is insulting and lacking in any sensitivity or awareness of the reality for black families.

But on Sunday as I spelled this out and held up my #blacklivesmatter placard at a rally I spoke at in Trafalgar Square I saw white people around nodding in agreement. So maybe the events of the past few days have woken people up.
It fills me with sorrow and upliftment in equal measure to see so many young people take to the streets in the USA and here - sorrow that after spending decades of fighting and campaigning against racism the next generations will have to continue that fight - even worse post Brexit.

Black Lives Matter is more than just a hashtag and has become more than one organisation. Arresting activists and negative reporting, whilst appealing to the Donald Trump followers of the USA, will not stop the expression of outrage happening. What doesn’t break us only makes us stronger and whether you call it #blacklivesmatter or something else the cry for justice freedom and humanity for more than the privileged minority will grow louder until change comes.

Zita Holbourne is the Co-founder of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts BARAC UK, a trade union activist, author, poet, artist and curator.

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