After this weekend’s London protests, we spoke to the organisers of Black Lives Matter UK
‘We aim to build and empower the black liberation movement’
This weekend hundreds of people gathered in Brixton to march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, after the shootings of two black men in the US – Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana. The demo was held significantly, in Windrush Square, named after the ship which brought the first wave of West Indian immigrants to the UK. We interviewed Bess Oates, one of the representatives for Black Lives Matter – London about the motives behind the movement and why police violence and racism is such a pressing issue.
What makes the Black Lives Matter UK movement different from the American movement ?
I don’t think the two movements are too distinct, they’re both ultimately united over a common goal of international racial equality and the empowerment of black people who are the most marginalised racial group. The protests we have had in London have been held either in solidarity with those who are affected by systematic violence in America and in response to specific racist attacks in America, or we have been targeting systematic violence in our own country like the murder of Mark Duggan for example.
Did you expect the turnout to be as successful as it has been?
It was a lot bigger than I imagined it would be, especially as the last protest started just as a Facebook event by one individual, but social media is becoming increasingly powerful which has meant we can spread awareness and information about actions a lot easier than ever before. I think it really goes to show how much people care about this issue and how much commitment people are willing to put into it to try and make the world a better place for marginalised groups.
How would you sum up the movement’s ultimate goal?
Black Lives Matter aims to build and empower the black liberation movement, it aims to intervene and bring an end to the systematic oppression of black people, and it aims to recognise and affirm the contributions of black people in society.
Why do you think that police violence and racism is such a pressing issue in America?
America’s gun laws are undoubtedly a big contributor to racist violence. When you can buy a lethal weapon in your weekly grocery shop at Walmart there’s definitely a problem, I think this is one of the main reasons why there are more murders of black people in the US than in the UK, it can largely be reduced to the easy access to lethal weaponry. Beyond that though, it’s also massively interlinked to the perpetuation of economic inequality which is very prevalent in America’s history because after the emancipation of the slaves, black people were not left with enough reparations to keep them out of poverty which meant they were systematically impoverished and because of the poverty trap, black people were kept poor for generations to come.
The dismantling of de jure segregation in America meant that new ways of continuing white supremacy had to be found. This was ‘achieved’ through multiple campaigns and policies such as the war on drugs and overzealous policing policies which meant people were more likely to be arrested for minor victimless crimes such as marijuana possession. More police officers were placed in poorer areas which were generally communities of colour because of the systematic poverty creation, the combination of all of these things meant that black people were more likely to be arrested and this helped propagate the narrative that black people are more likely to be criminals.
The continual propagation of these racist ideas has kept racism alive and thriving in the US, which is why it remains a hub for racial hierarchy.
Do you think that the UK’s police force is racist?
Definitely. An analysis from The Independent from 2015 found that black people are more likely than any other racial group to be stopped and searched in almost every part of England and Wales, more specifically in Dorset it was found that a black person was 17 times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person. Another study of the police force in the UK found that about 3000 officers are under investigation for brutality and most of these accusations have come from ethnic minorities, that’s not even including potential cases where the victim may have been too scared to come forward which is very likely because it’s extremely intimidating to give a statement to the police.
The police’s job is to ‘serve and protect’ and to maintain the order of the state, but what this essentially means is maintaining the status quo which is institutional, structural racism. It may not be present in all police officers, but it is something that individual police officers should all learn to be conscious of and do their best from their side to dismantle that.
Do you think that police violence and racism could become a problem in the UK to the extent that it has in America?
I think it’s unlikely largely because of the difference in gun laws in the UK and America because in the UK, gun crime is not normalised in the way it is or can be in the US.