The death of George Floyd in the US last week is a tragedy that affects and moves us all. I would like to express my condolences to his family and friends who must be devastated to lose him, to his children who will now grow up without a father, and to the wider community.
I watched the video of him being arrested and detained as police officers kneeled over him, as he cried ‘I can’t breathe’. It was extremely harrowing to watch. ‘I can’t breathe’ has now become a phrase which millions of people recognise worldwide and it resonates with people because of its reflection of police brutality and prejudice.
It is vital that we all acknowledge and confront the tragic reality that systematic racism exists in our society and is not just ‘an American problem’, but our problem. It is time we recognise that racism still happens here in the UK too - I have received a great many number of emails from constituents in the last few days who have shared with me their experiences.
There are several truly shocking aspects to this tragedy. One was the shocking sight that it was a police officer who was responsible for kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for more than eight agonising minutes. We think of police officers as public servants who we can trust to keep us safe, to “protect and serve”. Trust has to be earned, and it cannot, ever, be abused.
Another was the sight of other police officers also kneeling on the victim as he begged for help. Not one of them appeared to show any concern whatsoever for his very real distress. Systematic racism against anyone, of any colour, is evil, and must be rooted out wherever it can be found, and we must uphold the ideal that everybody should be treated fairly.
George Floyd has now become the central figure in the Black Lives Matter campaign. But the shock and anger evident among those campaigning for more equal rights show that his is not a solitary case. There are others who have been victims of racism in similar appalling ways.
Systematic racism is evident every single day and all of us, politicians, and members of the public, must share a new will to say that we will not tolerate it.
Serious investigations must clearly take place into the culture of policing in the US. We have made huge improvements in this regard in the culture of policing in the UK in recent decades. But this is a fight we can never stop fighting. We must examine, and we must re-examine those entrusted to police us all and their standards must be set high and kept that way.
Fortunately, we live in a town that has a strong record of equality and inclusion, and which in the past has held events such as the Southport International Festival. I am proud of Southport’s diversity, proud of our reputation as
a tourist town which guarantees a warm welcome to over nine million visitors a year, proud of our schools which teach children from so many different countries, faiths and backgrounds.
Yet, the right to be treated with fairness is one which is clearly not being enjoyed by everyone in our society today. Over the years, within many of our lifetimes, we have had to confront the shameful legacies of slavery, racial division, homophobia, and sexual inequality – and part of that legacy and its repercussions are still prevalent in our society today. We should not attempt to brush it under the carpet.
I have already committed to one constituent that when the new academic year starts, I will write to all school headteachers in Southport to request that they include Black History Month in their curriculum, but I hope this post has reassured those constituents in our community who are concerned with the scenes in US that
I am on your side - we must condemn and eradicate racial hatred in our communities.
But we must also draw the distinction between what is considered reasonable protest and criminal, violent behavior by opportunists who have used the protest in the US to attack innocent people, destroy businesses, and commit arson. We should not condone violence is any shape or form, and no one is above the law.