Political distraction is an incredible tool isn’t it? It’s remarkable how easily we can be coerced into discussion about the juicer headline, while hits to the most vulnerable in our country go unseen. Russia; last week’s hot topic, from Prime Minister’s Questions to everyday conversations with a ‘who shot Phil Mitchell?’ kind of thrill. Understandable perhaps, if you can detach yourself from the people leaders want us to ignore; often people of colour. While our politicians game played and fired shots at each other over investigations and negotiations, here’s some race news that fell to the bottom of the agenda:
It is no secret that many feel the avoidable and ongoing tragedy of Grenfell is both a race and class issue. It is, and as a result means that public interest diminishes over time. It didn’t happen to Britain’s people, it happened to ‘the other people’, the people we systemically care less about.
Therefore the outrage that fire doors resisted flames for half as long as they should didn’t really become public outrage at all. 15 minutes instead of 30. We cared about protecting the lives of those in Grenfell half as much as we should; the doors failed to meet basic safety tests. I wonder if this would have been the case for those communities who reside down the road in the more affluent areas of Kensington and Chelsea. I imagine not.
Grenfell United have said ‘it’s time people’s lives are taken more seriously – and that includes everyone from every walk of life’ – can we honestly say society is listening?
Police and Tasers:
So the ‘armed policing lead’ for the National Police Chief’s Council believes that all officers on routine patrol should be allowed to carry tasers for protection; the reason given in the same article being threats of terrorism, an infrequent and rare occurrence. Chesterman states he ‘would not want to be a frontline police officer now without a taser’. Our officers patrol daily, terrorists do not, therefore we are arming police in lieu of a threat, and ‘potential threat’ is too often influenced by a colour chart.
The police force is institutionally racist, we know that from stop and search, deaths in police custody, and a disproportionately black prison population. The criminal justice system, from grass roots to the top, as the Lammy Review shows, reeks of discrimination. Yet we want to arm more officers with tasers?
No amount of training reduces the engrained racism we have all internalised from being raised in a state built on racial inequality, which leads the way in which we police our communities. Our own Prime Minister, when Foreign Secretary in 2015, cited evidence suggesting the risks of tasers to black and ethnic minority communities, with Home Office figures showing black people may be three times more likely to be tasered; with Dalian Atkinson meeting his fate in 2016.
Use of force too frequently finds misuse against people of colour, the continuation of this discussion is no good news.
No passport, no healthcare:
Now speaking of Theresa May, last Wednesday saw her successfully bat off the case of Albert Thompson in the House of Commons, a case that she was unaware of, and therefore tackled with a tit for tat ‘you’re worse than me Jeremy’ excuse, as standard.
Thompson, having lived in the UK for 44 years since coming here as a teenager (like other immigrants from the Commonwealth), is being refused NHS cancer treatment (unless he can drum up the cash, of course!). He has worked here, paid taxes here, and has ‘contributed’. He will know the UK better than me, a passport bearing British citizen, he probably even adheres to our wonderful British values, therefore doing everything we want a good immigrant to do, right? Wrong! Not good enough, like so many who came here as children from Jamaica, he does not have a British passport.
And finally, women of colour are still dying to be heard from Yarl’s Wood through their #HungerForFreedom protest. The UK is the only country within the EU to ignore the ‘Return Directive’, and practice indefinite detention. We detain people who do not have access to the right information to follow the processes, often working-class people of colour. We detain those seeking asylum, unable to return to their countries due to risk they would face. We imprison people for days, months and years. Last week their strike continued, reaching day 20. Read Kieran Yates’ blog here, and follow Detained Voices for more information.
So, as I waited to speak on 5 Live’s ‘Question Time Extra Time’ last Thursday evening following the main show’s 40 minute focus on Russia (topped with a cherry of Brexit), you can see why I was left wanting to congratulate our leaders; they’d done it, the nation was, once again, distracted.