George Floyd: what has changed one year on?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116812″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]George Floyd was my dad. He was my brother and my cousin, and my boyfriend and my criminology professor, and my pastor. He was every black man that I love. His death represented the death of a million black men. Every death of a black man at the hands of injustice threatens black men everywhere.

If you’re reading this and you’re white, when was the last time you watched another white person die a violent death on your phone? I have watched more black men and women die on Twitter and Instagram than I can count on both hands. The careless tossing away of black lives, especially by those who are supposed to protect and serve, has turned into a monthly episode on social media.

We should not have to watch ourselves die over and over at the hands of the police. We should not be used to hearing “not guilty” when police are put on trial for our murders. We should not be used to finding out about police departments covering up gruesome murders at the hands of their police officers. We should not be used to grieving, but we are.

George Floyd’s death was not the first or the last gruesome murder of an innocent black man caught on tape. In 1961, the author James Baldwin said so poignantly, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time.”

When I watched Floyd die, I watched my father die, I watched my brother die, I watched my cousin die, not for the first time, but the twentieth time. His death felt like another wave of grief and anger. That’s how it felt in 1961, and still feels today, to be a black person in America with any semblance of consciousness; it feels like a constant state of grief and anger that comes in waves.

George Floyd’s murder was a horrendous and disgusting show of the carelessness with which the police and society treat black bodies. What adds to the tragedy is that his story is not the first or last of its kind; I have friends and family members who have lost loved ones to the police, been injured by the police, or have lost quality of life because of the police, but their names were not placed after a hashtag because no one was there to record it.

For many black people, George Floyd’s murder and America’s response felt like a little too late awakening as we have been dealing with this treatment, specifically by the police, for generations. However, I am optimistic that those who fought for George Floyd will continue to fight with that same ferocity for our black brothers and sisters who are still alive.

Since last year, I have started to see a sense of urgency from the white majority to eradicate certain racist systems, which is amazing. However, it is important that black lives also matter even when it is not palatable and marketable for businesses and organisations.

Black lives matter when the victim is a criminal, or homeless, or disabled, or loud, or not nice. Black lives matter even when the victim is not crying out for his mother. Black lives matter even when there is no phone screen recording it.

Last year, I was proudly among one of the many applicants for law school; applications for college, law school, med schools, and other graduate schools were in record numbers in America, seemingly as a result of the number of systemic injustices we saw unfold. This fall, I will be beginning law school with an intent to work in prison, criminal justice, and broad human rights reform (which also are areas that are inherently racist in America).

Seeing the urgency of our youth to get involved in helping change the racist healthcare systems, racist criminal justice systems, racist public health systems, racist education systems has been refreshing and gives me hope that in generations to come, we will see changes in social thought leading to a more inclusive and empathetic society.

But the battle from last year is not over. The battle from 20 or 100 years ago is not over. In my opinion, police departments across America need to be uprooted and completely flipped on their heads to reveal to everyone the nasty racist history upon which they were created. Crime-control systems that focus on mental health resources, improving social interaction, creating job security and job opportunity, providing access to quality education, and creating community-led programming, etc. need to be implemented, as those are the aspects of society that actually decrease crime rates.

People must learn and listen to minority issues and treat others as they would like to be treated. Systems need to be created that do not benefit the white majority in a way that encourages indifference. Less than 5 per cent of lawyers are black, and less than 2 per cent are black women. Around 5 per cent of doctors are black; 7 per cent of teachers are black. There is a stark underrepresentation of black people in positions that affect some of the greatest changes in society. As more black and brown people are able to ascend to new heights in society, their influence will hopefully facilitate new changes in laws, practices, and social thought that can move us further away from systems of racism.

Moreover, the white majority have to share their platforms, listen to the needs of the minority, set aside their selfish and unilateral stances for the sake of advocating for those discriminated against. As those in power are mostly white men, we need their support and not their indifference. We need to continue making white people feel as uncomfortable about the racism that exists in America as we do so they too feel compelled to facilitate change.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The right to speak out depends on the right to breathe

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116612″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]”I can’t breathe.”

The last words of George Floyd are really beyond comprehension for most of us. The sheer horror of struggling to breathe not because of an awful illness but because of the actions of another human being. The very thought is devastating, the reality is so much worse.

The video of a police officer kneeling on the neck of someone they have detained, for over nine minutes, rightly shocked the world last year. This horrendous action has forced the world to recognise the fact that racism is still far too prevalent, that people lose their lives and their livelihoods daily because of it and that some people genuinely don’t believe that all lives matter, that black lives matter.

George Floyd’s heinous murder permanently changed the world. It reinvigorated a demand for equality, it made the current civil rights movement a global phenomenon and it reminded us all of why our own voices become so much more powerful when they are one of many. George Floyd’s murder demanded change from every one of us, at an institutional level, at a human level. Change that we must strive together to deliver.

George Floyd’s murder serves as a constant reminder of the ultimate right of free expression, of free speech. The right to speak is only feasible if you have the right to breathe. Free expression is more than just your right to media freedom and to say and do what you want within the law. It’s also the safety and security to walk on the streets you live in, to buy the food you want to and to say what you want to without fear or favour. That is free expression. That’s what Index seeks to defend, that’s why we care and it’s why we exist. Within an American context it is the ultimate civil right – the right to live and be free.

But this week was about more than civil rights, more than the right to protest, more than the fight against racism. It was about justice and it was about George Floyd’s family and friends.

I, like many of you, waited anxiously for the verdict of Derek Chauvin’s trial on Tuesday. Glued once again to CNN praying for the right result. Hoping that justice would be done, and that George Floyd’s family could finally have a little peace. It was with relief that I watched the three guilty verdicts, relief for George Floyd’s family, relief for his friends, relief for the communities who have been directly affected by his murder and relief that we can now continue to fight for positive change in our communities rather than campaign against yet another injustice.

There is a Jewish saying on bereavement – may his memory be a blessing. It is now for all of us to make sure that George Floyd’s memory is a blessing and a catalyst for positive change. Using our rights to free speech in his memory.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also want to read” category_id=”41669″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Our free speech is under attack, in the UK and across the world, and we need to fight to protect it

Credit: Singlespeedfahrer/Petr Vodicka/Amy Fenton/Executive Office of the President/ Philip Halling/Isac Nóbrega/The White House

George Floyd. Dr Li Wenliang. Amy Fenton. JK Rowling. Edward Colston. Jair Bolsonaro. Donald Trump.

Love or loathe these people, the actions of each have opened a new debate in 2020. From the Black Lives Matter movement to the debate on sexuality, to the freedom of the press in the UK, to the role of Government and state actors hiding details of a public health emergency from their citizens.

If we have learnt anything at all from the turmoil that 2020 has given the world, it’s that free speech is vital; free expression is central to who we are and; that journalistic freedom is integral to the type of global society we aspire to live in.

Today, I’m joining the team at Index on Censorship as its new CEO. Index has spent the last half century providing a voice for the voiceless. Giving those who live under repressive regimes a platform to tell the world of their experiences and enabling artists to share their work with the world when they can’t share it with their neighbours.

Our work has never been more important.  There have been over 200 attacks on media freedom across the globe, since the end of March this year, related to Covid-19. In the US alone there have been over 400 press freedom ‘incidents’ since the murder of George Floyd, including 58 arrests of journalists, 86 physical attacks and 52 tear gassings.  In the UK, this weekend, on the streets of London we saw journalists attacked while reporting on a far-right demo in our capital.

My role in the months ahead is to highlight the threats to free speech, both in the UK and further afield, to celebrate free speech, to open a debate on what free speech should look like in the 21st century and most importantly to keep providing a platform for those people who can’t have one in their own country.

The editorial in the first edition of Index on Censorship in 1972, stated:  There is a real danger… of a journal like INDEX turning into a bulletin of frustration. But then, on the other hand, there is the magnificent resilience and inexhaustible resourcefulness of the human spirit in adversity.

With you, the team at Index will continue to fight against the frustration while celebrating the magnificent resilience of the human spirit.  And I can’t wait to get stuck in.


PS Join us to protect and promote freedom of speech in the UK and across the world by making a donation.