Friday 5 June 2020

I Am An Ally | Black Lives Matter Portsmouth Protest

Peaceful protest organised by Stand Up to Racism Portsmouth
Over the past week a lot of events have unfolded in the UK and around the world. Everyone's been cooped up and on edge in lockdown. My timeline of hearing about some of the events went like this: Amy Cooper using her white privilege against an African American man in Central Park (US), George Floyd murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis (US), Ahmaud Arbery shot whilst jogging (US), police officers killed Breonna Taylor with eight shots to the chest in a drug raid - they had the wrong house (US), and Belly Mujinga passing from Covid-19 after a member of public claiming to have the virus, spat and coughed at her and her colleague (UK).  

As some of you may know, this is not the correct timeline of events. Whilst the media across the world has been consumed with the current pandemic, these horrific acts of violence have taken place since the end of February. I heard about the Central Park birding incident on Tuesday 26th May first, and was so angry at seeing the video footage (of a middle class white woman threatening an African American man by calling the police, because her dog was off the leash in a bird sanctuary where it was illegal). I couldn't believe that this woman had the balls to feign distress on a 911 call, of which could end in this man getting attacked or assaulted by police. We've all seen evidence of this before on the news, police hear a black male may have a weapon or may be a suspect and they adapt the "shoot first ask questions later" approach. Luckily, in that case no one was harmed (except the dog being practically choked by his owner as she still had not put the dog back on the lead). I was already high on emotions, and then the next day I saw the video of George Floyd (he passed away on Monday 25th May). Pinned down by an officer Derek Chauvin's knee, handcuffed and unable to breathe. This lasted for nine minutes until he was unconscious or near death.

Everyone became outraged as the video and news coverage made the rounds. Rightly so. The four police officers involved knew they were being recorded, and it didn't phase them or make them change their behaviour. At the time of writing this all four officers have been fired from the police department, and they are all facing various charges in connection with George's murder.

In the following days #blacklivesmatter rose to the forefront to use these unfortunate events to again bring around our attention to the unjust treatment of black people and people of colour. It's been nearly seven years since BLM was founded, because of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman of which he served zero time. It does not feel like it's been seven years, but I imagine for black people who have to see and suffer from acts of racism daily, it feels like forever.

People around the world have snapped. They want change. They want laws. They want justice. Too many people have died, especially at the hands of police and not had the justice they deserve. They are supposed to be here to protect us, not kill us. Not be judge, jury and executioner. You might be sitting there thinking "well it only happens in America", you would be very wrong. Racism isn't just calling someone a racial slur, or abusing someone because of their skin colour. There are also micro aggressions that can affect black people from day to day. This all builds up to a misconception of black people and people of colour.

The Protest - Thursday 4th June 2020 1:00pm

I had seen and heard of various protests being set up around the country for George Floyd, but also for everything that happens on our own soil. If you think the British people are just protesting for America, then you are clearly blind to the events and treatment of black people here. I thought about this a lot, and was nervous to go. I've been very vocal about following all of the government rules during lockdown, but I made the decision to join in the protest (which we are well within our rights to do) to show my support as an ally. I got myself a fabric face mask (so I can wash and re-use it) and approached the protest apprehensively, as I wasn't sure what it'd be like. I've never been to a protest before. For the whole hour or so leading up to the protest my anxiety levels were through the roof. When I parked up near the city centre and put my mask on, it got worse. The fact that my mouth and nose were now covered up made me feel claustrophobic. I tried to keep as calm as possible as I knew I was slightly overreacting.

When I joined the back of the protest in Portsmouth Guildhall, I could see that everyone was socially distanced and it wasn't overcrowded. There were two police officers (wearing some pretty hefty blue vests, potentially stab proof) on bicycles interacting with some of the attendees. I heard one say "you alright?" to a middle aged gentleman behind me, I turned and heard him say "oh well it's not very aesthetic is it? Lots of white people here" to which the officer replied "well that's a good thing isn't it?". The officer is right. Not just black people had to attend to fight for their rights and their voice, white people have a job to do as well. It was good to see that so many people from all races and backgrounds came to show their support. With so many variants of messages on signs. Almost everyone had face masks on and was social distancing (obviously it's unclear whether small groups were from the same household but they kept to themselves).

Portsmouth Guildhall knelt in complete silence
I was born and raised in Portsmouth for around five years before moving off the island, but I still attended school in Portsmouth for another year or so. It's always been a multi-cultural place to me, with people from all races and backgrounds. I saw their race, their religion and I saw them as human beings. I played with them in the playgrounds regardless; how were they any different to me? Admittedly this observation is partially incorrect. That's just how I saw it as a five year old. I didn't and still don't judge people on their race or religion. I judge people on their actions. We need a better education system, to teach us about our differences; but not to treat people differently because of it. This is everything that I'm learning now. As a twenty four year old white woman. This is what I heard from the passionate speakers at this protest. Yes, I was shocked when I saw a police officer in America kill a man with his knee. Yes, I was shocked to hear how justice is not always served in these cases. Yes, I was shocked to hear the truths of racism and abuse received in my hometown. I didn't want it to be true. The city that I grew up in, the city that I'm from was racist? People getting beaten up, turned away from job interviews because of the colour of their skin? On my doorstep?! No, this isn't right.

Here are some notable moments from the speakers that stuck with me:

"We are told to go back to our country when you brought us here, you took us from our country and made us slaves, profited from us. Now you want us to go back to where we came from?"

"Please stop touching my hair"

"Portsmouth has the highest rates of stop and search by police in Hampshire"

"I'm 14 and I'm having to stand here and fight"

"Where is the love?"

"I got beaten up for being the only black person at school"

"This girl kicked me, so I kicked her back. Guess who got in trouble"

"When I was younger and I pictured myself as an adult, I saw a white blonde woman. I made all of my Mii characters white, blonde with blue eyes."

"My hair is damaged from chemicals trying to straighten my hair to fit in"

"You look more white with straight hair"

"I didn't see another black person until I was seven years old."

There were so many passionate, angry and upset people speaking. It really moved me and helped me try and understand what it's like to live in this part of the country as a black person. I had no idea. I was so confused and outraged at what had been done or said to them. One of the men was technically a white British male, but has black skin. His parents are both white, his siblings are white. He grew up in the area I'm living in now, a mostly white middle class populated area. He's thirty years old now, and at the time he was born the world was even more backwards than it is now. We keep thinking we are "woke", we aren't. We might be more now, as more people are standing up and speaking out about this. We need to keep it moving and enforce change. This is a movement, not a trend. Posting black squares on Instagram had good intentions but drowned out the black voices, and it means nothing if you don't try to change. If you don't try to challenge not just your own, but other people's behaviour and language. This is an every day battle for black people, and we need to make it everyone's battle for equality.

We all have experienced fear in this pandemic. Fear of leaving the house and catching Covid-19, and scared to get within two metres of another human being. Imagine what it's been like for black people having that feeling every single day. Not feeling safe, ever.

It's time for change, it's time to educate and it's time for equality.

No justice, no peace.

Helpful resources, petitions and fundraising:

Black Lives Matter
Justice for George Floyd (if you need a zip code for petitions use 90015)
Daughter of George Floyd Fund
Memorial Fund For George Floyd
Glamour: How to Support Black Lives Matter
Glamour: How To Be a White Ally
Glamour: Racism in 2020
The Trayvon Martin Law
Justice for Breonna Taylor
Justice for Ahmaud Arbery
Justice for Belly Mujinga

*All photos used in this post were safely taken by me.
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