It appears as if people power is starting to work, including talks to remove racist statues. Mass unity against police brutality was sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. It led Black Lives Matter demonstrators to spill on to the streets of cities across the world.

What may have started as a message of solidarity with protesters in the US is now a call to look at racism at home. A lot of progress has been made in a short time.

Statues of colonisers and slave traders have been pulled down or vandalised. There have been calls to defund police departments, calls against police brutality and resignations by police chiefs.

A Facebook post in support of continued protests is trending. It states that after Martin Luther King was assassinated, 110 American cities started rioting and, after six days and $47 million in damages, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed.

Anger towards the uniform

Although Britain was once described as “the empire on which the sun never sets” – giving it the literal human capital to be dominant in the transatlantic slave trade – home secretary Priti Patel denied British police have anything to learn.

Writing in the Telegraph, she stated: “They are the best of us. UK policing is very different to police in the US. Our proud tradition of policing by consent means officers are held to the highest standards of integrity. No system is perfect but ours is the envy of the world because officers work with communities, not against them.

A worker cleans the Churchill statue in Parliament Square that had been spray painted with the words ‘was a racist’. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

David Thompson, chief constable of West Midlands Police, England’s second-largest police force, had a different take. In a message on the department’s website, he wrote: “In my time in policing I have felt a captive of our history as a service with black people.

“I have not always understood the anger towards the uniform I wear with such huge pride and the police service I believe to be the best in the world. More than ever this week I do.”

Teach us the real black history

There has been a huge rise in calls for black history to be added to UK school curriculums. One petition with almost 20,000 names on it was started by Edinburgh resident Christina Laing, who wrote: “The true series of events that led to the wonderful pockets of diversity found throughout the UK today is not coherent with the narrative I was taught at school.” 

Laing is seeking a curriculum where British black history and anti-racism are included in the Scottish and national education curriculum. She says the current curriculum only includes Black History Month. 

A comment on the petition reads: “UK schools teach racism as if it was just an American problem. I was surprised myself when I looked further into British history and its involvement in the slave trade.”

This mirrors my own experience. When I first moved to the UK from the US I went to the Museum Of London Docklands and learned for the first time the significant role the UK played in American slavery. 

Scotland backs protesters 

MSPs in Scotland voted to call on the UK government to suspend export licences for tear gas, rubber bullets and riot gear to the US.

Patrick Harvie, co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party, said: “We cannot in good conscience supply tear gas and rubber bullets to police forces involved in the systematic targeting of black people and anti-racism protesters. Those exports need to end.”

The Scottish Parliament also voted to establish a slavery museum to address the nation’s historic links to the slave trade. 

Meanwhile, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage lost his radio show with “immediate effect” after comparing Black Lives Matters protesters to the Taliban for demolishing supposedly racist statues. 

Still standing, hopefully not for long

Statues are finally becoming a proxy in this fight. Last week the imposing statue of Winston Churchill outside Parliament was boarded up for protection after protesters wrote “is a racist” under Churchill’s name.

Black Lives Matter protests have highlighted that many of London’s statues and plaques celebrate only the achievements of old white men. Mayor Sadiq Khan ordered a review to ensure landmarks fairly reflect the capital’s diversity and achievements. The Labour Party has instructed its 130 councils across the country to do the same. 

Activists formed a group called Topple The Racists after protesters tore down a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston. They pulled it through the streets of Bristol before throwing it into the harbour. Topple The Racists has identified 60 statues in the UK with links to slavery or colonial violence. 

A statue of 18th century slave trader Robert Milligan was taken down in east London last week after protesters vowed daily demonstrations if it remained. 

Belgian protests

Belgian activists are now calling for the country’s statues of King Leopold II to be torn down. He is known for brutalising, mutilating and killing millions of native inhabitants of Congo.

In Ghent, a bust honouring the king was vandalised and covered with a hood bearing George Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe.” In Antwerp, Leopold’s statue was set on fire before being removed.

Photo by Julian Wan on Unsplash

Voting Black Lives Matter

Many parts of the US have held elections and primaries during this time and the elections have reflected the new awareness of so many Americans. One of these was Ella Jones, the first black person and woman to be elected mayor of Ferguson, Missouri, the birthplace of the Black Lives Matter movement. Almost six years ago a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teenager, in that city.

Ira Edwards, who had a 20-year tenure as a Georgia sheriff, lost in Tuesday’s Democratic primary to John Williams. Edwards was known for honoring so-called ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainers. These are warrantless requests that a sheriff’s department voluntarily keeps people detained in jail beyond their scheduled release to give federal agents more time to claim custody. 

France leads, then forfeits 

After two weeks of French protests, interior minister Christophe Castaner announced a ban on police using chokeholds. After dissent from police, the ban was revoked and the government will set up a commission to examine possible “substitution techniques” instead. Recommendations are due by 1 September.

In the US, chokeholds, levels of transparency within police departments, and review of use-of-force rules are being reviewed in many cities.

Touchdown

This week National Football League (NFL) commissioner Roger Goodell reversed his position against kneeling during the national anthem before games. “Without black players, there would be no NFL,” he said.

During the 2016 pre-season, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem to draw attention to police violence against African Americans. His stance inspired other players around the league to do the same. 

During a rally in September 2017, Trump called for NFL owners to fire any player who took a knee during the anthem. At the time, Goodell called the comments “divisive” and said they “demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game, and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our community”.  

There are many more examples of change happening around the world. We have 400 years of damage to undo. Let’s hope George Floyd didn’t die in vain. 

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