Many of my constituents have written to me over the last couple of weeks about the Black Lives Matter movement, following the tragic death of George Floyd.
You can read my thoughts below.
Thank you for contacting me regarding anti-black racism, and the ongoing protests demanding justice for the murder of George Floyd. I hope that you and your family are keeping safe and well in these difficult and uncertain times.
I have received a large number of emails about the Black Lives Matter movement, and would like to take this opportunity to set out my thoughts on a few points that constituents have rightly raised over the last week. It has been good to hear from so many people, many of whom are contacting their MP for the first time.
Firstly, I want to extend my solidarity to those protesting against police brutality in the United States, in particular those black Americans who not only feel the pain of this injustice, but live in fear of its terrifying effects. I have been deeply disturbed to see reports of the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and accounts of police brutality against peaceful protestors.
These protestors, many of them young people, call for the basic human rights of black people to be respected. They demand that black people can live their daily lives without the threat of police violence, and they call for all of us to take action to dismantle the structural and institutional practice which entrench racism in our societies. These are demands for things which should constitute the bare minimum of a democratic society, yet Donald Trump threatens these people with the deployment of the US military.
When we see our friends behave unjustly, we are complicit in injustice ourselves if we do not challenge them. The same can be said for our ally the United States, which is why I wrote to Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, to express my deep concern about the export of riot control equipment from the UK to the US.
You can read a copy of this letter here.
I have since received a response to this letter, which you can read here. Please be assured that I am not satisfied with this response, which does not address whether or not British exports are being used against protestors. I will continue to put pressure on the government to address this as a matter of urgency.
If British-made riot control equipment is being used to attack unarmed protesters and journalists in the US, those exports must immediately be stopped. The British public deserve to know how arms exported by this country are being used across the world, and the American public deserve the right to protest peacefully without the threat of violent repression. Please be assured that I will continue to hold the government to account on this matter until they fully investigate, and take action on the points that I have raised in my letter. I have also written an article for Politics Home on this matter which you can read here.
I also recognise that the scourge of racism does not end at the shores of the United States, but also extends across the Atlantic Ocean, to the United Kingdom. When we challenge Donald Trump, when we stand with black Americans, we must not forget the injustices that black Britons face in our own country. We must not forget this government’s shameful treatment of the Windrush generation. We must not forget the murder of black teenagers like Stephen Lawrence. We must not forget this government’s pursuit of austerity, and the vast inequalities that this has entrenched in our society, which resulted in the deaths of poor black and minority ethnic people in Grenfell Tower.
The effects of this austerity have only deepened during the Covid-19 pandemic. I was pleased to see that the government finally published its report into the disproportionate impact that Covid-19 has had on black and minority ethnic people in the UK. The report showed that people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, other Asian, Caribbean and other Black ethnicity have between a 10% and 50% higher risk of death from the virus, compared to white British people. A large proportion of the UK’s frontline workers are BAME, and the government’s mishandling of this crisis is even more concerning in the context of these figures.
My colleague Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, has called on the government to act immediately to protect BAME people and ensure that no more lives are lost. It is shameful that not only did the government threaten to delay the report’s publication, but also that, as Marsha has rightly pointed out, the report itself offers no recommendations for how the government must work to tackle this urgent inequality.
Many constituents have raised the case of Belly Mujinga, the Transport for London worker who died of Covid-19 after reporting that she had been spat on by a passenger who claimed to have the virus. Despite warning her employer that she was concerned about her health, Belly was still required to go to work and was not provided with adequate PPE. The British Transport Police have now concluded their investigation into this matter and decided not to charge the individual, but a number of serious questions remain about this case. I am pleased that the British Transport Police have now asked the Crown Prosecution Service to conduct a review into the evidence available.
I was deeply saddened to hear about Belly’s death and the other cases of front-line transport workers who have died of Covid-19. It vitally important that, as the government ease the lockdown, they ensure that frontline transport workers are equipped with adequate PPE. To do otherwise would be a blatant disregard for the dignity and hard work of the frontline workers like Belly who face an increasing likelihood of being exposed to the virus in their place of work.
Challenging racism abroad must begin with tackling it at home. This work begins in educating ourselves, in helping to educate others, and in calling out injustice where we see it. In the 2019 General Election, I was proud to campaign on a manifesto which called for the atrocities of the British Empire, colonial legacies, and Britain’s role in the slave trade to be taught as part of the national curriculum. I can assure you that the Labour Party will continue to fight for justice in this country and abroad, and that I will continue to work alongside my colleagues in Parliament to call out this gutless, reckless government, and its blindness to injustice in all its forms.
Thank you again for contacting me about this very important issue. Please do not hesitate to get in touch again if you have any further points you wish to raise, or if my team can be of any assistance.
The Rt Hon. Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury