A Summer of Injustice: Six Months On
Lucien Staddon Foster provides an incredibly important reflection regarding the horrific racial traumas that Black people have had to face over the last six months since George Floyd's murder. It provides a strong reminder of what not to forget and what needs to be done to stand in solidarity with the BLM movement.
As I write this, it has been exactly six months since Derek Chauvin, aided by Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, knelt on George Floyd's neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. Ultimately, taking his life over a dispute regarding the validity of a $20 bill. In response, we saw public outcry on an extremely unprecedented scale, with protests occurring in over 60 countries across all continents, making this summer of protest one of the largest demonstrative movements in history. But where are we now?
Like so many other important issues this year, the spotlight has slowly drifted away; spurred by our constantly wavering attention spans and active dismissal from mainstream media outlets. Justice never seemed to reach George Floyd’s killers, their trials don’t even start until March and conviction is always unlikely in these cases. Even Breonna Taylor’s murder was reduced to nothing but a debate topic, despite the public pressure from the huge numbers that came out to seek justice, both on the street and in petitions gathering over 11 million signatures. We saw her name become an empty phrase thrown around by those who really couldn't care less about what she, as a brilliant daughter, friend and employee, had taken away from her and the huge loss to her community.
We saw her name become an empty phrase thrown around by those who really couldn't care less about what she, as a brilliant daughter, friend and employee, had taken away from her and the huge loss to her community.
The solidarity displayed over the summer, with protests on the street and our feeds packed with pro-Black content and anti-racist infographics, has gradually drained from the mainstream, leaving me, and many other Black people, feeling arguably more alone in our struggles than ever. Whilst I have had increased success in talking to white peers about issues of race, something I never felt comfortable or able to before the summer’s heightened focus on racial inequalities. However, this local and circumstantial change is meaningless when the neighbour’s walls got more justice than Breonna Taylor herself (1).
Most morbidly, the supposed engagement with racial justice from my white peers has appeared to all but vanish in some cases. I've sat by as the president-elect, Joe Biden, is paraded as a hero, a saviour of their normalcy, with little regard to the insult or damage he has caused to Black communities. We're told to shut our mouths and play along, as though our criticisms can only be a direct endorsement of Trump and his hateful presidency. We’re expected to celebrate a man who's challenged our Blackness (2), called Black men "predators" (3), caused the mass incarceration of thousands under his 1994 Crime Bill, and ultimately promised donors that "nothing will fundamentally change" between his presidency and Trump's (4). Given how listened to I felt in the summer amongst widespread anti-racist discussion, although outrageously performative at times (see Blackout Tuesday and the BLM tagging challenge), it's so incredibly disheartening to see this momentum stall while we continue to suffer and die ourselves. This year alone, there have only been 16 days where the police did not kill someone in the US, 237 (or 28%) of these victims have been Black, despite only accounting 13% of the population (5). But what action is actually coming from all the woke talk of the summer?
We're told to shut our mouths and play along, as though our criticisms can only be a direct endorsement of Trump and his hateful presidency.
When calling out these issues, I'm regularly told to stop being divisive and work towards bridging the gap in our polarized society, to practise compassion and healing with those who barely regard Black people as human, let alone believe in their struggles. How am I expected to find commonality with those who both morally and financially supported Kyle Rittenhouse? Who received brand deals and a publicly crowdsourced bail release following his triple-homicide at a protest. How out of touch must our leaders, and many of their followers, be to suggest that overcoming these differences is even possible? Even in the UK, opposition leader, Keir Starmer, has dismissed the Black Lives Matter movement, calling some of their aims “nonsense” and simply saying it’s dominated by “radical Marxist agenda” without actually addressing the problems behind the demands (6). On both sides of the Atlantic, it has become obvious that our leaders and those meant to hold them accountable continue to disregard Black struggle.
How am I expected to find commonality with those who both morally and financially supported Kyle Rittenhouse? Who received brand deals and a publicly crowdsourced bail release following his triple-homicide at a protest. How out of touch must our leaders, and many of their followers, be to suggest that overcoming these differences is even possible?
The injustices of the summer are not exclusive to diasporic Black populations either. Recently, we’ve seen just how widespread crises of police brutality and inequality are with the End-SARS movement concerning Nigerian injustices and the Lekki Massacre, on which the EDI magazine has already run a piece (7). All across the African continent, militarized police forces, often supported by our governments (8), harass, oppress and kill their citizens. However, public concern has appeared to fade again, as pleas for justice and an end to brutality become just another social media fad. It’s understandable that many only want to focus on issues widely regarded as close to home (such as US and European injustices), but for many of us, these issues are incredibly close to home and the decline in attention and discussion leaves us feeling demoralised and alone in our struggle. As Black students, many of us have had family and friends affected or displaced by this violence across the African continent; for me, it’s my mother, who has had to move cities in Nigeria due to the instability and lack of safety from police-protest clashes. Additionally, the university offers little support to those of us who are affected immensely by these issues; we're expected to work business-as-usual despite the stress, hurt and frustration brought about by injustice and violence against our people. However, the university’s student support and its shortcomings are part of a much wider issue that I won’t touch on any further in this article.
Whilst there have been many further injustices and a decline in the momentum of protests over the last six months, perhaps I have been overly negative, as there have also been significant developments and achievements. Since May, many more people are aware of and educated on systemic inequalities and are actively trying to better themselves concerning their privileges. We've seen policymakers put under pressure to address these issues, and devise strategies to correct our path towards one of equality. We even saw the first Black female vice-president, Kamala Harris, elected in the US, although this has its own complexities that I won't get into now, either.
Here in Edinburgh, we've seen the launch of BlackED, a group dedicated to providing for the unique needs of Black students and establish a better sense of community and anti-racist culture at the university. Their efforts even made the front page of The Times (9), with their campaign towards the renaming of the eugenicist-celebrating David Hume Tower (now 40 George Square) getting national coverage, and of course, a significant backlash from racists and the Conservative Party (Tomato or tomato?).
Here in Edinburgh, we've seen the launch of BlackED, a group dedicated to providing for the unique needs of Black students and establish a better sense of community and anti-racist culture at the university.
There's a long way to go before anything resembling equality can be reached, but following a summer of heated debate and protest, a large step has been taken and eyes all around the world have been opened. Even though public attention has drifted, the lessons learned from this summer are unlikely to be forgotten, and the legacy of George Floyd, and too many others, will continue to drive the movement for a better world. Keep listening, keep learning and speak out on injustices where you see them - we can't let our progress go to waste.
Guide for further resources:
Follow @blcked_movement on Instagram - they’re a great place for information and support surrounding some of the aforementioned issues.
Read ‘Beyond Breonna: Louisville Police Make the Case for Abolition’ https://theintercept.com/2020/11/27/defund-police-louisville-breonna-taylor/
Watch ‘The Black Voters Who Could Swing Pennsylvania’ to better understand some of the criticism surrounding Biden: https://theintercept.com/2020/10/29/philadelphia-black-voters/
(1) - Brett Hankison, one of the officers involved with the illegal raid on Taylor's apartment, was charged with 'wanton endangerment'. This was the only charge to come out of her death.
(2) - Biden: 'If you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black' https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/22/politics/biden-charlamagne-tha-god-you-aint-black/index.html
(3) - Biden in 1993 speech pushing crime bill warned of 'predators on our streets' who were 'beyond the pale' https://edition.cnn.com/2019/03/07/politics/biden-1993-speech-predators/index.html
(4) - Joe Biden to rich donors: "Nothing would fundamentally change" if he's elected https://www.salon.com/2019/06/19/joe-biden-to-rich-donors-nothing-would-fundamentally-change-if-hes-elected/
(5) - mappingpoliceviolence.org by Samuel Sinyangwe
(6) - Black Lives Matter UK criticises Labour Leader Keir Starmer for dismissing calls to defund the police https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/keir-starmer-defund-police-black-lives-matter-backlash-a4483981.html
(7) - #EndSARS: The Edinburgh Voices https://www.theedimagazine.com/post/endsars-the-edinburgh-voices
(8) - End SARS protests: UK police trained 'brutal' Nigerian security forces https://www.independent.co.uk/news/end-sars-nigeria-protests-security-forces-uk-police-training-b1254970.html
(9) - Edinburgh University ditches David Hume over slavery link https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/edinburgh-university-ditches-david-hume-over-slavery-link-kz9dl2p3v
Lucien Staddon Foster is a Third Year Geography student at the University of Edinburgh