Coopting Black struggles is an insult to victims of police brutality
The last Saturday of every October since 1998 has been the annual United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) procession in central London. UFFC is a coalition of justice campaigns led by predominantly Black bereaved families of people who were murdered by British police or died neglected under custody in police stations, prison cells and in mental health institutions.
The UFFC assembles at midday in Trafalgar Square and walk collectively to Downing Street to hand a letter to the British government to demand justice. Families of Sheku Bayoh and Allan Marshall echo this gathering in Scotland, delivering a letter with demands to Nicola Sturgeon.
Over the last decade, more support and awareness has emerged as solidarity has increased for victims of police murder in the United States, particularly George Floyd, who was killed in May 2020 when a police officer knelt on his neck.
All demographics involved in social justice campaigns in Britain are aware that this date is dedicated to show solidarity with predominantly Black families, including Muslim families, who demand their loved ones’ stories are not forgotten.
"Instead of being treated with care when experiencing a mental health or psychotic episode, Black people are treated inhumanely, and met with state violence and excessive unnecessary force"
Ever year, the faces and names of those killed are blown up on banners and photographs are carried by the families of Roger Sylvester, Joy Gardner, Mzee Muhammad, Mark Duggan, Paps Ullah, Leon Patterson, Sean Rigg, and Jason McPherson, amongst hundreds of others.
Since 1990, 1839 people, Chris Kaba being the most recent victim, have died at the hands of British police. Only in the case of footballer Dalian Atkinson, who was tasered three times and kicked in the head by PC Benjamin Monk, was a police officer prosecuted.
Black victims have been disproportionately impacted, a continuation of being disproportionately stopped and searched, murdered in hard stops like Mark Duggan and Jermaine Baker, and tasered on London Bridge like Oladeji Omishore. Instead of being treated with care when experiencing a mental health or psychotic episode, Black people are treated inhumanely, and met with state violence and excessive unnecessary force.
On a day where hundreds take to the streets in central London to demand justice and remind the public Black Lives Matter in solidarity with predominantly Black bereaved families impacted by institutional racism and state violence, as a young Indian woman and a long term supporter of UFFC, I was horrified to witness a Black Power fist and ‘Hindu Lives Matter’ emerge on posters by factions of the Indian Hindu community.
Families & friends of those killed in state custody in the UK are set to hold The People’s Tribunal, with injustices & violations of law recognised despite impunity due to the lack of political will of successive governments. @kenfero shares his thoughts. https://t.co/ZqFfzHk6mI— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) October 30, 2022
They had organised a protest outside the BBC on the same day as the UFFC march, accusing the BBC of being ‘Hinduphobic’ and ‘Indiaphobic’. Attempts to amplify concerns whilst recklessly stepping over the graves of Black victims of institutional racism and police killings is deeply inappropriate and offensive.
The Black Power fist was first raised by John Carlos and Tommie Smith in the 1968 Olympic Games, protesting on the podium against how Black communities were treated in the US. For other communities to co-opt the Black Power fist and the famous Black Lives Matter slogan is very divisive and disrespectful.
Other social justice movements are aware of this. Palestinians both at home and displaced diaspora refuse to appropriate the racial justice movement with ‘Palestinian Lives Matter’, although they experience settler colonialism, Israeli apartheid and massacres under occupation.
Although many communities in Britain may be on the receiving end of racism, no community has been vilified, demonised and violated in every arena like African and Caribbean communities. The social positioning and victimisation Black communities face in the streets and demonisation in the media, especially the added intensity of Islamophobia Black Muslims experience, cannot be compared to.
Organisers who seek to demand ‘all lives matter’ or hijack a legitimate cause's symbols and acronyms in attempts to legitimise their cause should reflect and apologise.
It is insensitive for any non-Black communities to co-opt symbols that are deeply meaningful for the black community. It is not a matter of playing oppression Olympics; those who’ve never felt an ounce of what Black communities suffer at the hands of the British state, in school institutions, in police stations and the courtroom and have never lost members of their community to the hands of British state violence and institutional racism, have no right to equate their communities concerns with that of the Black community when attempting to legitimise their cause.
Organisers from the Hindu community said they held a ‘silent peaceful’ protest, yet the poster was violently insensitive and an ugly way to co-opt Black communities’ struggle against institutional and structural racism that murders, harasses and discriminates. The institutional racism in a London school permitted a Black child, Child Q to be strip searched whilst on her period.
It is deeply offensive to allies of the Black community and those who challenge the notion of political Blackness, the misguided notion that all non-white communities experience the same injustice, to co-opt their struggle and pan-African symbolism.
"Organisers who seek to demand ‘all lives matter’ or hijack a legitimate cause's symbols and acronyms in attempts to legitimise their cause should reflect and apologise"
It is even more distasteful to have been used by organisers who are often apologists of casteism, the struggle Indians with more melanin at home and in the diaspora face from Dalit and Adivasi communities. African tourists have also been mob ambushed and hospitalised by anti-Black fascists in India.
Black communities in Britain have spoken out for decades against being discriminated against in South Asian owned corner shops and Indians appropriating owning Black hair shops. Indian organisers using Black Power symbols without speaking out in solidarity of victims of anti-Blackness, hiding behind the illegitimate visual of ‘political Blackness’, are part of the issues of false allyship.
The Indian nationalist organisers also refuse to organise as a South Asian community, with a deep hatred towards Pakistani communities and Muslims, the same Muslims who demand their Black Lives Matter. The lack of solidarity for Africans in India and Black communities in England despite creating such distasteful and inflammatory posters and slogans is upsetting.
May support continue to grow for the UFFC and families on a grassroots level to get closer to justice. In the words of Marcia Rigg, the sister of Sean Rigg murdered in Brixton Police station “We had to become lawyers overnight.”
The UFFC needs holistic support and reparatory justice. I hope we witness more justice for these families left in devastation with children left to navigate the loss of their parent through state violence at the hands of police who they are meant to be able to trust. Collective protest against lawful killing verdicts when all evidence suggests otherwise needs to continue.
Ethnic minority communities can stand in solidarity with each other's struggles but ‘Political Blackness’ died a long time ago and does not need to be resuscitated by the divisive and politically insensitive.
Shareefa Energy is a working-class poet, writer, activist and creative campaigner. She was the Youth and Community Coordinator for stop and search in London from 2016-17. She has supported the United Friends and Families Campaign in various capacities since 2011, including supporting family led justice campaigns the Mark Duggan Campaign, the Justice for Smiley Culture campaign, amongst others.
Follow her on Twitter: @ShareefaEnergy
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.