The footage of the life being squeezed from George Floyd as he lay on the ground has horrified people around the world. Nor is he the first to die in this way. In recent years a number of other black people have been killed in similar circumstances.
Those killings have brought a wave of protest on to the streets demanding equal treatment before the law. American voices from Spike Lee to Joe Biden have spoken in recent days about how the issue of race has run through American society and history for a very long time and how the struggle for a more equal and unified country is never truly complete.
At a time like this when there is such a burning sense of injustice there is a need for far sighted, healing and unifying leadership. Sadly, though perhaps unsurprisingly, that is not what we have seen. Instead the President has sought to blame mayors, governors and protesters and to turn questions of equality before the law into nothing more than public order issues, culminating in the threat to use the US military to quell the protests. As on so many other fronts, instead of leadership we have everything reduced to a battle of strength. And the shortcomings of leadership which prizes motivating core supporters beyond any higher calling to unify the nation have been exposed.
I would always plead that protests should be carried out peacefully and within the law, not just because that is the right thing to do but also because if it isn’t that can overshadow the just cause which brought people onto the streets in the first place.
You may have seen that Keir Starmer raised the death of George Floyd with the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Questions and on the issue of exports of riot control equipment, teargas etc Labour’s International Trade spokesperson has said “if that any of these riot control projectiles and equipment are being used…against unarmed civilians then the government must act immediately to stop their export.”
It would be hugely complacent to think that we did not also have a racism problem here in the UK or that we did not need to examine our own society and our own discourse about race. One need only look at how some of the Windrush generation have been treated to see that is the case, or the everyday experiences of many people from BAME backgrounds in many different situations.
I have represented a very diverse constituency in Wolverhampton South East for many years. We are a community of many faiths and backgrounds. A basic qualification for the exercise of that representative role is to value human life equally, regardless of colour or creed. This is such an important issue which goes to the core of what kind of society we are and what kind of community we want to be.