The riots happening in the US, due to the death of George Floyd, by the knee of police officers; and the public backlash the UK Government is facing over Dominic Cummings’ Durham/Barnard Castle excursion are more related than you might think at first glance.
The connection is power. Those who have it, and those who don’t.
The riots in the US began when three police officers attempted to arrest George, holding him to the ground and kneeling on him, on his neck specifically. The video footage makes his pleading that he can’t breathe clear. The police did not let up. They continued to hold him there. He then became unresponse, at which point the cops kept him there for another few minutes. He was dead. Murdered.
There is a long history in the US of unarmed black men being killed by the police. The community is hurting and under attack constantly. The statistics show this – in police suspicion, conviction rates and sentencing black people are disproportionatly likely to get longer and harsher treatment from the state. From the people with power.
This lead to riots. The community, frustrated at yet another needless death has taken to the streets, to protest, to riot. They took Martin Luther King Jr’s words to heart.
A riot is the language of the unheard, and what is it that America has failed to hear?Martin Luther King Jr
The system has failed them. Systemically. They have no recourse. Previous attempts to bring justice, through the system, have occured only after similar levels of violence, and have resulted in the cops charged being acquitted. In the US it is incredibly difficult to bring charges against a police officer personally, or against the state for crimes commited by police.
Meanwhile, in the UK, where Dominic Cummings was reported, by two papers in a joint investigation, to have travelled 260 miles to Durham was initally met with silence by the government. As public anger grew, a statement was issued from number 10. Anger still grew. Dominic Cummings himself gave a statement, which included a justification for a 30 mile trip to Barnard Castle that many found unsatisfactory. The anger does not seem to be disappearing.
In the UK Dominic Cummings is a senior political advisor. We, the public, have no recourse to get him sacked from number ten. Unlike MPs there is no right to recall the MP to face a fresh election (and even for MPs that right is incredibly limited and thus hard to do). We are faced with a government with 4 and a half years left to run, with the Prime Minister’s right hand man perceived to be breaking the rules he himself helped to set and communicate to everyone about our covid 19 lockdown measures.
We have no power. The black people of America have no power.
Some on the Dominic Cummings situation say that they don’t have all the facts, that they can’t judge, that the calls were premature. To them I say that without the investigations from the press, without the public judging on the available evidence at the time that there were serious questions to be asked, we would not have got Cummings statement. We will never have 100% perfect knowledge of what happened or why here. You have to make a call on the available evidence. And, in the eyes of the public, that evidence means Cummigns should go. But we have no power to force it.
In the US, when reporting on the riots, a CNN team was arrested. The police claimed that they did not move when asked – except that the live on air video footage at the time shows them offering to move to wherever the police want. The reporter in this unit was black.
The main function of the press is to hold the government to account – to investigate, document and tell the truth to the public come hell or high water. That is a threat to those in power. The rule makers. And the rule enforcers.
It’s not surprising, when you look at the power dynamics in play, that the police would attempt to supress the press from documenting their activities in a volatile situation.
It’s not surprising, when you look at the power dynamics in play, that the UK Government has stopped follow on questions at their press conferences. That Boris tried to prevent his science advisers from answering a question about whether Cummings actions were wise. That the governemnt are trying to move us on to the next story.
Our awareness of their abuses of power threatens their power. Those in power will rarely explain their actions unless required to do so by law, or by public pressure. Especially when those actions might be even slightly controversial and threaten their power.
We must not give in to fence-sitting. Yes, revise your judgments when new evidence comes to light. But fence sitting aids those in power, and only ever those in power. It allows your voice to be silent. It makes it easier for those with power to go unchallenged.
The systems of power in the US, in the UK, are fundamentally broken. Citizens lack real power. They don’t feel they have a voice. Letters to politicans get explained away with platitudes or simplistic phrases that avoid addressing the actual problem. Their vote is meaningless thanks to gerrymandering of constituency / district boundaries that keeps the same two parties in a relatively comfortable back-and-forth meaning that those parties can look after themselves and their financial backers, with an occasional bone thrown to their voters.
And that’s before getting in to how changes that would remove power from those in power, that would make them more accountable, are usually heavily opposed by those in power and so… never happen.
No change for equality – be that black rights, gay rights, gender rights, or voting rights themselves has ever happened without violence being invovled in over-turning the system. And even those examples still need more work – as the US situation shows.
The US system has forced black americans to have another stab at demanding equality through riots.
The UK hasn’t had riots in a long time. And no-one wants riots. But when people are left feeling as if there’s no other way to get the systemic injusticies addressed…. perhaps they are, to turn a phrase, inevitable.
I’ve not provided any sources here. If you’re genuinely curious to learn about the history of Black Lives Matter, of how civil rights were actually achieved for minority groups, of how modern democracy in the US and UK is gerrymandered into an absurd caricature of how we’re all told it should be then google can help you learn.
PS: No, I’m not saying that I want a riot. Or calling anyone else to riot. I’m simply observing how violence has been a part of every system change so far. Maybe we can break the pattern. Maybe. But there’s a lot of examples of when the peaceful route didn’t work.