Racism Isn't Just America's Problem. Here's What Protesters In The UK Are Fighting For

People aren't just mobilising in solidarity with the US – the UK has its own racial injustices to confront.

The demands of justice for George Floyd – demands for the arrest, detention, and sentencing of all four former Minneapolis police officers involved in his death – have become a catalyst for a wider global movement with protests in Copenhagen and Berlin.

Floyd, a 46-year old Black man living in Minnesota, died as a result of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin – who has now been charged with third-degree murder – kneeling on his neck for up to nine minutes during an arrest.

Activists around the world have stepped out in solidarity with protesters in the US, who – in calling for accountability from law enforcement – have been met with violence.

Video footage from the weekend shows officers driving into crowds of protesters in New York, using large quantities of tear gas and causing serious injury – including partial blindness – to people with rubber bullets.

UK protests have centred on the need for justice for Floyd, and for the many other Black people killed by police in the US – but protest organisers and activists alike have also repeatedly pointed out that racism isn’t just a “US issue”. The UK has its own serious and deeply entrenched racial issues to confront.

They include Black people being 40 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched; having lower life expectancy than men and women from white and other ethnic groups; and Black Caribbean children, in particular, being three and a half times more likely to be excluded from schools.

A landmark study in 2018 found people from non-white backgrounds were more likely to be wrongly suspected of shoplifting, more likely to be abused by strangers, barred or ejected from restaurants and clubs without reason, and overlooked for promotions at work than their white counterparts.

People from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, making up a quarter of the UK prison population but only 14% of the actual UK population. Black men are 26% more likely to be held in custody than white men, according to the Prison Reform Trust, and Black people are 53% more likely to be sent to prison for equivalent categories of crime in a crown court.

People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Trafalgar Square on Sunday.
People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Trafalgar Square on Sunday.
Dominic Lipinski - PA Images via Getty Images

“We have a prime minister who described the Black community here as ‘piccaninnies with watermelon smiles’ and refused to apologise,” said Weyman Bennett, co-convenor of Stand Up To Racism, one of a number of groups who have organised their own protests to be held on June 3.

“He actually put that down on paper, described Muslim women as letterboxes and bank robbers. Now why did he do that?

“He was telling the majority population: ’I’m not the problem. I went to Eton – I represent a different league. Your problem is your Black next door neighbour, or your Muslim neighbour.

“We’re demonstrating, firstly, because we’re angry that we have a government that doesn’t care about the Black community, or any community. We’ve called the demonstration in solidarity, but also to raise the fact that we’re going to do something about this.”

Deaths in custody

Over the past 30 years, Inquest – a charity investigating and representing state-related deaths – has recorded 183 BAME deaths either in police custody, or following contact with the police.

That figure accounts for 14% of total deaths in those circumstances, which is approximately consistent with the population of the UK at the 2011 census, but far outstrips the number of BAME people in the UK in 1990 when Inquest began counting.

Inquest specifically highlights the fact that BAME people die disproportionately as a result of use of force or restraint by the police, “raising serious questions of institutional racism as a contributory factor in their deaths”.

As the world once again turns to examine police brutality, questions are raised about what constitutes proportionate force during the arrests of some Black people in the UK.

On Sunday Bristol Live reported that the city’s mayor Marvin Rees would review footage of “tense confrontations” after police were filmed attempting to restrain a Black man, the same day as Lewisham-based paper News Shopper reported on footage of a Black woman shouting “I can’t breathe” while being pinned to the ground by six police officers.

On Friday it emerged that West Midlands Police were the subject of nine different investigations into six alleged incidents of excessive force used against Black men, which involved two uses of a Taser, a fractured ankle, and police kicking and striking a 15-year-old boy during a stop-and-search.

“We have to give the younger a chance to survive without being killed by the police,” Bennett said.

“They’ve been made unemployed, they’ve been made homeless – all these things are fuelled by the ways in which race intersects class.

“We need to do something about that.”


Justice for Windrush protesters hold a Windrush Day of Action.
Justice for Windrush protesters hold a Windrush Day of Action.
Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The “systemic operational failings” at the Home Office, which led to hundreds of members of the Windrush generation being wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights, have been frequently cited as a recent example of the injustices Black people have faced in the UK.

Faced with the near-impossible burden of proving their residency with at least one official document for each year they had lived in the UK, many of the Windrush generation were falsely deemed to be “illegal immigrants”. Arriving to the UK as children on their parents’ passports, and with thousands of landing cards and other documents destroyed by the Home Office, hundreds faced detention centres and removal to countries they hadn’t even visited since they were children.

The Home Office said it had paid £362,996 to 60 people, including one payment in excess of £100,000, during the first year of the scheme.

The data add that 1,275 claims were made by the end of March this year, with the number received by the department decreasing each quarter since it launched.


Discrimination remains rife in places of work, according to a series of reports.

The Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College revealed last year that levels of discrimination when applying for jobs are unchanged since the 1960s.

Applicants from minority ethnic backgrounds have to send 60% more applications to get a positive response from an employer than white British candidates.

The findings revealed that Black people and those of south Asian origin – particularly those with a Pakistani background – were penalised heavily.

In July, Office for National Statistics figures showed employees from ethnic minority groups earned on average 3.8% less than their white British counterparts in 2018.

One in four Black, Asian or ethnic minority employees in the UK are still suffering bullying and harassment in the workplace despite a widespread zero tolerance policy, a report found in October.

The 2019 Race at Work Report, published by Business in the Community, uncovered the shocking statistic even though 97% of British employers now have a clear zero tolerance policy on racial bullying and harassment.

Hostile environment

People take part in the demonstration against Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedford in 2015.
People take part in the demonstration against Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedford in 2015.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

More widely the government’s hostile environment policy, which remains in place to this day, has been fiercely criticised for targeting ethnic minority communities.

Even key workers, at the very front lines of the nation’s fight against Covid-19, have faced being separated from their families as a result of immigration policy.

Several high profile cases of asylum seekers facing deportation, even after reporting a clear threat to their lives, have made headlines in recent years, and the conditions in detention centres such as the notorious Yarls Wood have been likened to those in prisons.

The Home Office has refused to bring an end to indefinite detention, despite calls to do so from Parliament’s human rights committee and cross-party support, the Law Gazette reported.

The infamous “Go Home” vans, part of a controversial 2013 advertising campaign carried out by the Home Office, have become one of the enduring symbols of the government’s approach to the hostile environment.


People march to mark the two-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower block fire in 2019.
People march to mark the two-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower block fire in 2019.

The treatment of minority ethnic communities at the centre of the Grenfell Tower fire has also repeatedly been cited as an example of systemic racism in the UK.

Of the 72 victims, seven were white British, The Guardian reports, and the tower block was home to residents who had come from all over the world to make London their home.

As late as January 2020, more than two-and-a-half years after the tragedy, nine families still had not been housed – despite promises from the PM in 2017, Theresa May, that homes would be found for everyone displaced by the disaster.

In the days and months after the fire, the organisation that managed Grenfell Tower received warnings about a series of fire safety failures months before the deadly blaze.

Former residents also said they had reportedly tried to escalate fire safety concerns for months before the disaster, with Edward Daffarn – who called the tower home for 16 years – speaking out about his anger that those who should have kept the diverse community inside the tower safe had not responded to safety concerns.

He told the BBC: “The reality is if you’re on a housing estate it’s indifference and neglect, two words that sum up everything about the way we were treated.

“They weren’t interested in providing housing services, keeping us safe, maintaining the estate. They were just interested in themselves.”

Disproportionate impact of Covid-19

Protesters are also campaigning to highlight the impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities, which have been disproportionally hit.

Data published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in early May showed that Black people were four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white people.

The figures, which were adjusted for age, suggest that men and women from all ethnic minority groups – except women and girls with Chinese ethnicity – are at greater risk of dying from Covid-19 compared with those of white ethnicity.

A disproportionate number of NHS frontline workers who have lost their lives to Covid-19 have also been from minority ethnic backgrounds. On May 28 the Royal College of Nursing published the results of a survey which found that BAME healthcare workers were less likely to access personal protective equipment (PPE) than their white counterparts, Nursing Times reported.

Of BAME survey respondents working in high-risk environments, such as intensive care or critical care units, only 43% had adequate equipment for eye and face protection, in contrast to two thirds (66%) of white British nursing staff.

Public Health England was due to publish a review into the impact of the virus on minority ethnic communities on May 29.

The report still has not been published, with officials only able to tell HuffPost UK it would be available “shortly” with no clear timeline established.

An outpouring of questions has also emerged in the wake of the British Transport Police’s announcement that they would be taking no further action over the death of Belly Mujinga, a Black woman who died of Covid-19 in early April.

It was initially reported that she had died two weeks after being spat at whilst working as a railway ticket officer at London Victoria station, but police said on Saturday “there is no evidence of anyone spitting”, adding that the man captured by CCTV at the time of the alleged incident had received a negative antibody test which meant he had not had the virus.

Mujinga’s union, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), said at the time of the news of her death that she had been left extremely shaken by the incident and urged her bosses at Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to call the police.

She is said to have pleaded not to be sent back outside, asking instead to work from inside the ticket office. Mujinga had underlying health issues for which she had taken time off work previously, and said she was scared for her life.

Her husband Lusamba Gode Katalay has since spoken out, discussing the “disappointing” news that the case had been closed.

He said: “We had never thought a prosecution was likely, but it was disappointing to get that news. We are not pursuing a prosecution. We are instead calling for her employer to take action to protect their workers.

“There are important things we need answers to. Her union, the TSSA, reported it to Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate [the health and safety body of the Office for Road and Rail], and that investigation into the safety of Belly’s workplace is still ongoing. Hopefully that will answer questions like why she was out working on the concourse at all given that she had a respiratory health issue.”

Aside from the serious health implications, the associated lockdown rules have also disproportionately impacted BAME communities.

Towards the end of May it emerged that people from minority communities in England are 54% more likely to be fined under coronavirus rules than white people.

“If you look at the coronavirus crisis, BAME communities are taking a central role in saving lives. ” Bennett said.

“But that’s not how they’re portrayed. They’re portrayed as muggers, as terrorists.

“I’m very, very worried about a second wave of this virus, and the second wave again disproportionally killing BAME communities. I don’t see any caretaking.

“What I really think is that the elites, those at the top of our society only care about themselves, and they use racism, as Frederick Douglass said, as a ’tool to divide each and conquer both’.

“We’re sick and tired of being blamed for this country’s problems, and not being seen as key communities that can really make a difference.”


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