Last week I found myself having to avoid certain social media platforms. I flinched and felt sick as my timelines and news feeds were filled with videos and images of brutalised black bodies. Distraught relatives, friends and entire communities filled with anger. This past week I have felt overwhelming feelings of despair, hopelessness and mourning. My heart is heavy. How often will I be subjected to watching the murders of Black and Brown people in not only the US and the UK, but everywhere else too? People that look like me – my sisters, my cousins, my neighbours – slaughtered, with their bodies put on display for all to see.
Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Alva Braziel: the three most recently ‘hash-tagged’ names. Three black men whose lives were taken at the hands of one of the most powerful institutions in America. Three more families robbed of a father, a son and a husband. And here, thousands of miles across the ocean in London, on Sunday the 10th of July I was overcome with a juxtaposition of emotions as I took part in the third of a recent wave of reactionary protests. This particular one was organised by 18-year-old student, Capres Willow Turner. In the middle of a crowd of more than a thousand people, stopping traffic and bringing the whole of Oxford Street and Westminster to a standstill, I suddenly did not feel as hopeless, but empowered. As myself and my siblings marched in solidarity as part of the Black Lives Matter movement here in the UK, we were turning heads, making a statement, and telling the world that we would not come quietly as they carry out the genocide of Black peoples.
“Hands up, don’t shoot”
Though at the same time, I was hurt and close to tears. We gather in our hundreds and thousands but still we are not heard. We declare that “Black Lives Matter!” but to everyone else that seems to have a question mark at the end? Those in opposition to our activism dispute: “but, ALL lives matter” – yet it is so painfully obvious that they do not. I mean, how can they, when the right to life is apparently a white privilege? When our cries for peace and justice are not met with understanding, but ‘justification’? Sandra Bland was pulled over for a traffic offence, Eric Garner was selling cigarettes, Mike Brown accused of petty theft – apparently this is enough to deserve to die. Young Black women are terrified, let alone mothers and sons who already live in constant fear that their own child will be next.
“Hands up, don’t shoot”: the last words of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was brutally murdered by a Ferguson police officer in August 2014, were chanted throughout the crowd on Sunday. Shouts of the names of other Black victims of police brutality gave me goose bumps as they reverberated through the crowd. We must say all of their names. We cannot let them be reduced to statistics and trending topics. People compare numbers and statistics: Philando Castile being the 123rd Black person shot dead by the police this year in the States. When measured up against the 54 fatal police shootings in the UK since 1991, of which 9 victims were from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, it is easy to see how the UK can be painted as some sort of safe haven. It becomes commonplace at times like this for our British police force to get much undeserved praise. But the MET police are not innocent and we are not safe. There have been over 500 deaths of Black people in police custody in the past 24 years in the UK, and not one conviction has occurred. Not one. What about Sarah Reed? Roger Sylvester? Sheku Bayoh? We must say their names too. This is about us, as much as it is about our counterparts across the Atlantic.
“We are here, and we matter”
Being a part of Sunday’s protest made me so proud to be part of such a resilient community. Expectedly, however, there has been very little coverage of the protests which have taken place. Thus far they have been mostly very peaceful, and it seems Black people and Black Power are not deemed worthy of media attention when we are not adhering to damaging and violent stereotypes. Few seem to care when no blood is shed. Nonetheless we will keep marching, chanting, and demanding prosecution and protection. America, you are not alone – we too will campaign and protest in our thousands for justice.
To those of you who are non-black, I urge you to check on and be there for your black counterparts; we are your friends, lovers, and colleagues. When you are silent we hear it. It does not go unnoticed. Whilst it may be easy for you to detach yourself from what is happening, we cannot. We are in mourning and you cannot choose to acknowledge our blackness only when you find it convenient. We are black right now, and we are hurting right now, and right now is when we need your solidarity. And to my afflicted siblings, to the families of those who grieve for lost children, to those who are feeling helpless: you are not alone. Take care of yourselves and those around you. We are all hoping that one day we will no longer have to fight to have our humanity recognised.
Several other protests are taking place across the country, from Manchester to London, Birmingham to Bristol. Search ‘Black Lives Matter’ on Facebook and Twitter to find more information, and if you can attend, please do.
We are here, and we matter.
Oxford Street #BlackLivesMatter March, July 10 2016
Images: Instagram, @stephen.jonathan.photography