Home   Kent   News   Article

Kent reflects on Black Lives Matter protests on anniversary of George Floyd's murder


More news, no ads

LEARN MORE

A year ago today George Floyd was murdered in the US city of Minneapolis, sending shockwaves across the world.

The video of the horrendous act was viewed millions of times, as police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for around nine minutes.

George Floyd died on May 25, 2020 (Twitter / Kelly Rowland)
George Floyd died on May 25, 2020 (Twitter / Kelly Rowland)

Before dying he managed to splutter out the words "I can't breathe", a phrase which has since morphed into a forceful cry for change.

His murder sparked widespread horror and mass protests across the world under the moniker of Black Lives Matter - people took to the streets in Canterbury, Medway and Tunbridge Wells to shine a spotlight on racial inequality and police brutality.

Carol Stewart, chairperson of Medway's African and Caribbean Association (MACA), vividly remembers the moment 12 months ago.

She said: "As a black person I've known of the existence of racism, I've experienced it both on a personal and institutional level, and I think until people saw in full view I think there was a kind of disbelief.

"Until people saw this person was being murdered in full view of the world it made them sit up and think 'Oh we do have a problem.'

"It's also tinged with sadness that's it's taken him to be murdered for people to sit up and listen."

Chauvin was convicted of Floyd's murder last month - but has the appalling crime inspired real change one year on?

Some businesses and organisations have attempted to facilitate change - an act which Carol applauds.

But she also said the conversation around race and equality has led some to issue shallow responses with little substance.

She said: "I've experienced a tick box reactive response, 'we need to have more diversity in the curriculum, let's out a few books on the shelf and that's going to solve the problem' but it isn't.

Black Lives Matter Protests in Tunbridge Wells, June 2020. Picture: Mikey Reed
Black Lives Matter Protests in Tunbridge Wells, June 2020. Picture: Mikey Reed

"It's like putting a bit of a sticking plaster on it, when actually they're not really looking at the root causes of why we've got this problem in the first place.

"People think that by just doing a bit of cultural awareness training or putting a few books on shelves is going to make a difference, I think they're sadly mistaken."

The MACA chairperson added: "I do get a little bit annoyed when people think they can just write to us and invite us on the board or give us a little bit of money and that's going to appease us."

The association was recently nominated for a community organisation award at The National Diversity Awards 2021.

Working in the Medway community for more than 35 years, Carol and her colleagues hope more businesses and organisations will take a much closer look at what they can do to directly tackle racial inequality in their own ranks.

Dr Wayne Wright
Dr Wayne Wright

And some companies are already making steps in the right direction.

The growing conversations around racial injustice resulted in some company board members being asked by their own employees to do something about balancing a work force that did not accurately represent its customers.

Dr Wayne Wright, managing partner of WSq Solutions in Maidstone, has been working with organisations who hope to make genuine inroads to inspire change from within.

He said: "Those clients who contacted us were being challenged by their staff in terms of what they were going to do about it and how they were going to respond to it.

"From a business perspective how do you engage with those who typically feel marginalised, feel not included, that they don't have a voice?

Medway Cllr Siju Adeoye speaking at a socially distanced Black Lives Matter protest in June
Medway Cllr Siju Adeoye speaking at a socially distanced Black Lives Matter protest in June

"It's helping those companies to be able to reflect on those things and put in place more importantly tangible actions rather than a lot of platitude statements."

While Wayne has seen success in some companies willing to make changes - including hiring more black and minority ethnic people into senior positions - he says those businesses have very much been in the minority.

He said: "There's a lot of platitudes to be honest, a lot of organisations are putting out the obligatory statements with no actionable elements around it.

"Nothing really has happened which is a pity, and I think there's an opportunity that has been missed by some of the organisations that help businesses, for example the chambers, FSB, the Institute of Directors, showing that leadership to help organisations navigate their way through this.

"There has been very little or no responses from those organisations, and that's been difficult because obviously I know a lot of people in those organisations."

"From a business perspective how do you engage with those who typically feel marginalised?..."

Despite there being far less change in the past year than he hoped, Wayne has placed his hopes in the next generation of young people, who he believes will be all the more equipped - and willing - to balance the scales of racial inequality.

One such Medway schoolboy, David Agba, staged his own Black Lives Matters protest last year outside of the Kent Police headquarters.

The then-16-year-old was joined by other young people outraged by the treatment of people of colour across the world.

Now 17, he spoke to KentOnline and reflected on the last year that has opened many people's eyes to historic injustice.

He said: "I think change has to start from somewhere no mater how little it comes, and I do think there has been some change. that I've seen in people's attitudes and their prejudices.

David Agba staging his own protest last June after the death of George Floyd
David Agba staging his own protest last June after the death of George Floyd

"On the topic people are getting much more educated about it, which is delightful to see. When people are educated on things they're able to speak out on it."

David has spent the past year reading up on historic social issues and researching the UK's political system.

In the future he hopes to be one of the people pushing for widescale change, seeing activism and lobbying as his life goal.

But today David's thoughts are with George Floyd and his family, who represent the fact that racial inequality is still a very real thing being experienced by black and minority ethnic people.

He said: "It doesn't just happen in America, people know it still happens here and ignorant people choose to ignore the fact that it still happens.

David Agba wants to make activism a big part of his future
David Agba wants to make activism a big part of his future

"Those protests weren't for no reason - a lot of people think it's a trend but it's really not a trend.

"People go to these protests like me that really want to make big scale change, and we're working our way up gradually to make that change."

To mark the first anniversary of George Floyd's tragic murder, Medway Stand up to Racism have organised an event at Jackson Field in Rochester tonight at 7pm.

Steve Wilkins, secretary of the Medway Trade Union Council and part of Medway Stand Up to Racism, hopes locals will come out and join them in taking the knee and reflecting on what Floyd's death represents.

He said: "It was so obvious and gratuitous what happened to George Floyd, that is wasn't something that could be avoided, and it allowed lots of other people to talk about what's going on."

The Black Lives Matter Protest at Jackson Fields, Rochester, last year. Photo: Yousef Al Nasser
The Black Lives Matter Protest at Jackson Fields, Rochester, last year. Photo: Yousef Al Nasser

Steve is particularly critical of the UK government in its posturing on racism in the country - referring to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report which triggered a significant backlash.

The government-backed review said Britain is no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”.

Steve said: "It was deliberately set up to deny the reality of institutional racism, which of course didn't go down terribly well.

"It's credibility has been considerably undermined. but of course government ministers are still trying to pretend that institutional racism doesn't exist."

And the statistic speak for themselves.

Steve Wilkins is part of the Medway Stand up to Racism group
Steve Wilkins is part of the Medway Stand up to Racism group

Analysis released by the Trade Union Council (TUC) in January revealed one in 12 black and minority ethnic workers were made unemployed during the pandemic, compared to one in 22 white workers.

Another heavily-criticised government move in the past year has been its announcement of a large-scale crackdown on peaceful protests.

The majority of the protests that have gone ahead since May 2020 have been Black Lives Matter protests.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would give officers greater powers to restrict the right to peacefully protest.

Opposition to this move has been huge, with a quarter of a million people signing a petition on the Parliament website against the bill proposal.

Steve added: "It's an attempt to say 'yes of course we are absolutely in favour of your right to protest, but we're going to make it as difficult as possible to do it.'"

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More