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The Next Mayor of London Must Not Fail the Black Communities

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The stakes are high regarding the forthcoming elections for London Mayor on 3 May. London's black communities and other ethnic minority Londoners make up considerably more than a third. London sets the pace and agenda for the way the whole country responds to our needs and concerns.

Our communities feel they are being failed. The Met is being rocked by at least 13 officers being referred to the IPCC for racism. This follows on the heels of the reports that black men were 29 times more likely to be stopped under Section 60 powers than their white counterparts.

The shooting to death of Mark Duggan in August by the police in Tottenham reminded London's black communities how easily we could roll back to the situation of the 1980s. Given the Mayor's increased powers in this area, these elections are being keenly observed by London's 900,000-strong African and Caribbean population.

The backdrop to rising concerns about discriminatory policing is wider inequality affecting black people. Last year, unemployment reached nearly 50% for young black men, almost double that of white people. Our housing is worse, our average wages are lower, with austerity and cuts making this worse. The Muslim community suffers some of the highest indicators of poverty and deprivation. Black people, especially black women, disproportionately employed in the public sector, fear for their livelihoods.

Add to this the closing of departments at universities such as London Metropolitan, where more black students study than the whole of the Russell Group put together. The end of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) disproportionately hits black students as we are from poorer backgrounds. I would not have been able to participate in higher education if not for the gateway that EMA provided me. This is why I took part in the student demonstrations against the government's trebling of tuition fees and loss of EMA. The pricing out of education represents nothing short of a betrayal of a generation.

So I am looking very closely at what the Mayoral candidates have to offer black Londoners.

It was therefore insulting to discover that Conservative candidate, Boris Johnson, in his manifesto - comprising 150 plus pages - doesn't even mention the needs of black Londoners. The only mention we get is in the section on crime, where Johnson states that black people are "over-represented both as perpetrators and victims of crime, with a disproportionate number of young black people affected by serious youth violence." It goes on: "86% of gang members in London are of Black Caribbean ethnicity."

In other words, Boris Johnson deals with the black communities in London as a focus for criminality, and has nothing to say about our social and economic needs, or our huge contribution to London's prosperity.

This was played out at the recent black community hustings on 12 April in Kilburn, where Johnson's pitch that he is a Mayor who will unite London met little response. He tried to dodge questions about why he had cut the support to Black History Month.

He received further audible dissent from the audience on last summer's riots, particularly for the treatment of Mark Duggan's family and for his failure to return from holiday.

I am not a member of any political party. I am following the Mayoral campaign with interest and believe that in the context of this current economic crisis, Londoners need a Mayor who understands what Londoners are going through and shows a knowledge and concern for our problems - even if they are beyond the powers of the Mayor to resolve.

Ultimately this election will come down to a choice between Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone. On the evidence of these hustings, Boris Johnson is not going to dent Ken Livingstone's commanding lead among black voters in London.

While Boris Johnson had nothing to say to black people, Ken Livingstone described decades of engagement with challenging racism and discrimination, his awareness of the debt that the NHS and other sectors owed black workers and his determination to move these issues back up the agenda if re-elected.

His pledges of a fares' cuts especially on the buses, a London EMA, and inventive policies on solving the housing crisis and rising home fuel prices, are geared to making a real difference to peoples lives. Like most of the audience at the hustings, I will be backing Ken Livingstone in this election. The negative response to Boris Johnson suggested he had failed to win over anyone in the room.

The NUS Black Students Campaign represents over one million African, Asian, Arab and Caribbean students. We have been campaigning for all black communities to register and then get out to vote.

Whichever way people are planning to vote, black communities should not allow ourselves to be taken for granted. Confronting the democratic deficit facing black people in Britain means registering and voting. Register to vote by 18 April here.

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