There is something to be said for the recent solidarity protests in London, Birmingham and Manchester as organised by the Black Lives Matter movement. Never have I seen such a positive, unionised display of blackness that has caught the eye of not only the media, but also the average citizen. As more articles are released, I am becoming more intrigued by the role that social media has played in galvanising mass movement, and implementing revolutionary politics that will leave behind a long lasting message for people of colour to come.
My experience in the UK regarding institutional violence against people of colour was that the baton was always passed to our stateside counterparts. It is not difficult to see why, when sites such as Twitter and Tumblr opened us up to the lives of Trayvon Martin, Ayesha Jones, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland — long before it caught the attention of popular news sites and news networks. It was important that these narratives were being discussed, as it gave people of all races an insight into the practices within forces that are designed to safeguard us —especially in a society of 24-hour surveillance.
There has been a call in the US to make it mandatory for police officers to wear bodycams. Reason being that there is no way to justify the death of a person, if the person in question is unable to defend for themselves. Citizens are now taking it upon themselves, to utilise their smartphones when an altercation appears; the footage could be the different between an officer on paid leave and a homicide charge.
Citizens are now taking it upon themselves, to utilise their smartphones when an altercation appears
Ramsey Ortega, who filmed the final moments of Eric Garner is now facing a prison sentence. The footage which showed Garner being tackled to the ground and held in a chokehold which led to his death was shared on social media, sparking online debates regarding illegal moves and positions enforced by the New York Police department. Although Ortega is being sentenced on drug charges, there is reason to believe that he is being held accountable for revealing the incident that could have potentially been falsified in court. Had Garner’s death not been filmed, would the public have ever come to show the same level of support? Would the public even know who Eric Garner was? It seems almost Orwellian to say, but recording violence has the potential to save other lives.
A recent ruling in North Carolina has blocked public access to police body and dashboard cams. With this law coming to effect in October — it’s easier to see why member of the public are literally taking the law into their own hands. The opposition to this ruling suggest that the danger in withholding potential evidence means it becomes increasingly difficult to hold officers accountable for their actions.
The same can be said of death of Mark Duggan, an unarmed black man shot down by police in 2011. Not only was his death a clear indicator of the profiling practices carried out UK police forces, but the incident that lead to his death was grossly misreported by several publications, triggering a series of nationwide riots and protests; organised through Twitter and Blackberry Messenger. The response was not only unexpected, but drew attention to the way in which social media has almost come hand in hand, when dealing with public servants. Like Ortega, those that were found to be inciting or endorsing the rioting were convicted and given short term prison sentences as a deterrent. A similar Black Lives Matter led movement also occurred in 2011 when the death of Kingsley Burrell, who died in police custody, was revealed.
Whether or not one agrees with violent protests, something has to give. The coverage of police brutality and xenophobic attacks in Britain has been conducted in a way that excuses the perpetrator and not the issue at hand; which is prejudice and racist values overseeing our criminal justice system. In our post-Brexit stage where more and more racist attacks are being filmed in public spaces, in conjunction with with a newly appointed Prime Minister — who has overseen the unlawful deportation of over 50,000 students —there needs to be an active voice for people of colour to bring these views to light. If it means bringing Central London, Birmingham, and Moss Side to a standstill, then so be it.
post-Brexit stage where more and more racist attacks are being filmed in public spaces
These marches are not for entertainment. It’s the last resort for young passionate people who are fed up of bureaucracy that continues to ignore their plights but benefits greatly from their struggle. It is also important that young black people see an honest display of what black led movements are capable of. Forming these relationships and ideas online has never been stronger than it is today. It has allowed us to physically connect with those in our community but feel supported by voices far and wide.
If we look at the 2014 Hong Kong ‘Umbrella Movement’ protests, in which protestors were denied access to social media and websites were banned from discussing the Occupy Central movement; we must be grateful for the resources we’ve got. Institutions such as governments and police forces recognise the importance of global, public access, so by that merit, we must use it to the best of our ability. If it wasn’t for the likes of Facebook and Twitter, how else would the British public come to know the names of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and support the movements set it in place?
Grief is universal and America’s violence highlights our own.
Featured image © Charlotte Bailey