The black lives matter update from Britain

The black lives matter movement is sweeping through Britain, with demonstrations in London and many smaller cities. The biggest flap is over the demonstration in Bristol, which toppled the statue of a slave trader, Edward Colston, and dumped it in the harbor. 

Cue outrage, first over people wanting to erase history, then over illegal acts and general thuggery. To explain why the statue was toppled, I’m going to quote that political sage Larry the Cat (@Number10cat), who tweeted (yes, of course he does his own tweets), “Simple questions: What mechanism is there for people anywhere in the UK to request a statue be removed? When was any statue in the UK last removed using such a mechanism?

“Unless you have simple answers, don’t be surprised by today‘s events.”

Since Larry the Cat gets a mention here, it seems only right for Fast Eddie to get a walk-on part. He has no lines and can sleep through the rehearsals.

Larry lives in 10 Downing Street but is not responsible for the political decisions made there, only for keeping the mouse population in check. He’s independent of all political parties.

I can’t help wondering how many people who worry about erasing history mentioned it when statues of Lenin and Sadam Hussein were pulled down. I do remember it being mentioned when Confederate generals fell in the U.S.

68 thoughts on “The black lives matter update from Britain

  1. Sadly, the BLM has been taken over by anarchists who desire nothing more than to loot and vandalize. It started off with good intentions, and many who support the group still have those intentions, but they are quickly becoming the (silent) majority.

    It’s not all that unusual, when I was a young adult I remember the MLK Jr. movement, and his desire for peaceful protests. Shortly after his passing the movement was taken over by those who promoted violent protests and vandalism. Remember a guy name Jesus? Same thing happened then, the desire for peace was quickly (relatively) taken over by those using the movement to kill off and enslave those they wanted “out of the way.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m going to have to disagree with you on several levels. First, when you block peaceful protests, or when they get no response, violence is inevitable. It may not be wise, it may not be saintly, but it will happen.

      Second, don’t throw out the demonstrations themselves because of what happens around their edges. And peaceful demonstrations are still going on. They have not been taken over by anyone. They continue–sometimes in the face of violence by the police.

      Third, in spite of all the talk about antifa infiltration, there’s precious little evidence of it: https://www.thedailybeast.com/fbi-finds-no-evidence-of-antifa-involvement-in-dc-violence-the-same-day-trump-said-it-was-a-terrorist-org; https://time.com/5849592/antifa-far-right-violent-trump-protesters/

      Fourth, what do you propose? Do nothing?

      Liked by 10 people

      • First, I’m not against the protests, I don’t think I ever said anything like that. What I am against is the violent aspects they’ve taken on because of those outside the group taking advantage.

        Second, yes, the violence IS due to outside influence, not from members of BLM itself, here’s your evidence:

        https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2020/05/30/cheif-schubert-floyd-protests-comments/

        https://www.foxnews.com/us/pittsburgh-police-hunt-man-accused-of-inciting-a-riot-during-george-floyd-protestdowntown

        When Trump became president people accused him of affiliation with the Klan, no matter how many times he denied it they came back with, “well, he didn’t say…; well, the words he used weren’t strong enough; etc.” What do I propose, simple.

        First, we drop the harmful rhetoric. Nothing was every accomplished by accusing the other side of anything. If we’re going to make any progress we have to deal with each other respectfully.

        Second, we have to admit that there are good and bad in every group. You can’t put down an entire segment of the population because of a few people. Most cops are good, killing them because a few cops do something that most cops disagree with isn’t going to make things better.

        Third, we need both sides to sit down and work with each other. Have you ever followed a cop on assignment? Every time they put on their uniform they put a target on themselves. The last time this happened, Kentucky, a good cop where I live was shot in revenge as he sat in his patrol car. No one protested that. Not a single BLM member decried it as wrong. We need to work this out.

        Fourth, the protestors need to police themselves. When they see someone turning violent they need to group together to stop it. Have you seen the story about the black business woman whose store was vandalized and lotted by people in the BLM movement? If it’s not, as you say, outsiders then it’s people in the BLM that need to be help accountable.

        Fifth, people need to wake up to believing black lives matter all the time, not just when a cop kills a black person. Very few black people are killed by cops, but that’s the only time we see outrage.

        “According to the US Department of Justice, African Americans accounted for 52.5% of all homicide offenders from 1980 to 2008, with Whites 45.3% and “Other” 2.2%. The offending rate for African Americans was almost eight times higher than Whites, and the victim rate six times higher. Most homicides were intraracial, with 84% of White victims killed by Whites and 93% of African American victims killed by African Americans.”

        93% of AA’s are killed by AA’s. That’a appalling! That is where the outrage should come from. Every day when I watch the news (and I do that less and less anymore) a day rarely goes by when the major city I live near (not in, near) doesn’t have a story about a drive-by, gang shooting, or some child being shot by accident. Yet, there is rarely an outcry from the AA community unless it is a young child who is killed. Police rarely get co-operation from the community. Two years ago a young child was shot outside his home during a birthday party, dozens of people present, they called 911 for the ambulance, when the cops arrive no one saw or heard anything. Someone saw something in order to call 911. This is where the outrage and reform should come from. Like in Chicago of the 20’s, until people start stepping up and speaking out nothing will change.

        Finally, politicians need to step back and quit using it as an opportunity for a photo-op and, instead, use it to make real reform. My son works for a police department (not as an officer) and he sent me this, his department is the only one in the country to adapt all eight policies, we need more of this, and additional ideas.

        https://tinyurl.com/yc5hypdn

        Liked by 2 people

        • With apologies, this is more than I’m going to be able to respond to fully, although I will check the links. I’m not advocating killing cops. Some people, inevitably, will. No community is unanimous. Every movement produces extremes, and yes, nuts. They’re not easy to control–maybe not even possible to. Back in the day, when I was involved in the antiwar movement, I had experience of how hard that is.

          I wouldn’t argue that all cops are bad, but I would argue that it doesn’t matter. When a system becomes corrupt, you have a problem, and the system is corrupt. We have cops covering their badge numbers so they can’t be identified. We have weak-to-useless oversight both of police departments and of many cops. When you place so as much power in someone’s hands as we’ve handed to the police, the oversight has to be effective and strong. In its absence, the worst can flourish, the best are overwhelmed.

          As for violence in the African American community, of course the cops get no cooperation. People’s history with them is that they’re the enemy–and that they have no power, in any case, to protect witnesses against gangs. If you want to end the power of gangs, you could look for ways to work from within the community instead of policing it from outside.

          I don’t know in percentages how many black people are killed by police, but (and I speak here with some experience of being a minority, so I have lived with how these things resonate) when you live every day of your life knowing that it could happen to you and that if it does you have no power to stop it and the cop will probably not be held to account, each incident has a massive multiplier effect. Everybody feels, I could be the next George Floyd. I could be the next Breonna Taylor.

          Again, my apologies. I haven’t addressed many of your points, just sketched out a couple of thoughts.

          Liked by 4 people

      • Well argued, Ellen. You have my full agreement and support. As someone who marched against the Vietnam war (and who copped it more than once from the thin blue line), I am well aware of the over-emphasis by the conservative media of the effect of the odd agent provocateur. Sometimes they were members of the local anarchists (who met in a phone booth) and sometimes they were plants from the secret branch of the police and sometimes they were just idiots.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Absolutely. I was there–admittedly, on the other side of the world, but the pattern was the same, with the addition of some more tightly organized idiots, the Weatherpeople. We had our nut cases. Every movement does. The solution isn’t to back away from change because of them.

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      • Agreed. Removing the statues won’t erase the scars, but they will make a huge symbolic change. But I do hope the focus on statues doesn’t keep us all from going deeper and making the changes that will address the long, long term damage to our society.

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      • It seems odd to me that there is outcry over “erasing” our colonial history, from the same people who refuse to admit we are still accountable for it. How about we just don’t celebrate the kidnapping, ownership and abuse of human beings in any form, sell the statue for scrap and donate the money to BLM?

        Liked by 2 people

        • That would work for me. Somehow I doubt it would for the people who worry about erasing a history they don’t want to talk about. It’s a funny thing, how when you teach or write or remember history, what you’re doing is picking one path through a multitude of facts. Saying, “That’s it. That’s history,” is just silly. They’ve chosen their heroes. As new generations look at them and say, “Them? Are you kidding”–well, it’s no surprise.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Why did Colson have a statue in the first place ?
    It was a former slave ship captain – John Newton – who wrote “Amazing Grace” – but he wrote it because he had reformed. What had this guy done ?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the post Ellen. I’m rather melancholy about the tattered flag of anarchism getting dragged through the mud. You know the history, pacifist as much as violent and everything in between. The important point is that Antifa does not represent anarchists. Nobody does. I actually read the Antifa handbook. It’s mostly rubbish. But now I know it’s rubbish in case I wondered. Check out The End of Policing by Alex Vitale. I

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    • Thanks, Flo. I didn’t think to get into the discussion about the range of anarchisms, not just from nonviolent to violent but also from left to libertarian right (although you might disagree with stretching the definition that far; I don’t know). I’m impressed that you actually read the Antifa handbook. I don’t know much more about them than their name. I’ll take a look at the article. Again, thanks.

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  4. I tend to agree with Poet Jericho Brown about the monuments. From a recent interview: “He pointed out the tendency in our country to want to move forward without telling what really happened. “We want to erase the past rather than address it. The pain needs to be addressed.” He wondered what it would be like to encounter every monument in the Southern landscape with an honest depiction of what it truly represents. Just edit them, he suggested. Let them stand with placards that tell the truth: “Traitor, Slaveholder, Rapist.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s one approach. I tend to go with taking the damn things down. But I could live with either. The people who talk about them as our history are forgetting that by making them into statues, the city fathers (and I use the word advisedly) have pushed them on us as heroes. Which is why people want them down.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. FOX news was replaying rioting and looting, which thankfully stopped pretty fast in DC, over and over with whatever peaceful demonstration had happened, so a lot of people are thinking there was more violence than there was (and I don’t know if they showed the police violence against peaceful protesters, but…). Good for the protesters taking the statues down, I say. As for Antifa, it seems right wing organizations have been spoofing them to make it look like they’re involved–the Administration has evidence of this, but likes to stir the pot. I like that Tweeting cat. Have you read The Cockroach by Ian McEwan? very short and definitely a hoot.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post straight from the heart! Discussing racial issues is tricky because it is such a sensitive subject and it is very polarized, still, I decided to write about it and throw my 5 cents into the mix. I wrote an article recently titled “Unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness looking back at history and where it all started https://authorjoannereed.net/rights-of-life-liberty-and-the-pursuit-of-happiness/. Feel free to check it out.

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  7. >>I can’t help wondering how many people who worry about erasing history mentioned it when statues of Lenin and Sadam Hussein were pulled down. <<

    My first thought too (though also I thought of the statues of Stalin in Budapest 1956). There had been a long campaign in Bristol over Colston's statue and other commemorations of him, but somehow the statue issue had been swallowed up in the Department of Grinding Slowly, AIUI.

    None of this excuses opportunistic looting and the like, but effective social policy would have reduced the opportunities and occasions for it in the first place. These things don't come out of nowhere.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And I just now read that attempts to change the plaque on the statue had also disappeared into the Department of Grinding Slowly–which in the interests of speed we should probably take to calling the D of GS.

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  8. Oh my, my. Thank you so very much for your update on the Black Lives Matter movement in Britain. I hadn’t heard of the statue going down in Bristol, although from the sound of it, seems worthy of toppling. Check out the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama which opened in 2018 – statues of slaves lynched in America deserve more remembrance than the slave owners.
    400 years of slavery in this country…in one form or another…time’s up, history writers.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I always think of a quote from Orwell when I consider this issue: “The first thing that we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. … And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp.”

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I dont care how much “good works” these men did, they were involved in the slave trade. They don’t deserve statue in public places. Take them down. Jimmy Savile raised a lot of money for charity but the wooden statue that was put up to him in Glagow was taken down and destroyed.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Himself showed me a clip of a BLM march where we used to live. Watching it gave me shivers. I wouldn’t have joined due to increased susceptibility to the virus, but I had a warm feeling that even in sleepy, leafy Surrey, people were marching. As for the statue, I don’t condone violence, either to people or things, but nor can I get all aerated about it. I think Larry the cat has a good take on it. (Nice pic of Fast Eddie btw – I’m sure he’s a smart feline too).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eddie’s pretty apolitical, to tell you the truth. You know how it is. You discuss things over dinner, but you just can’t control what’ll interest them and what won’t. On the other hand, even here in very white, very rural Cornwall, five cities have had demonstrations.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m American and the “but my heritage” argument just pisses me off. We don’t need statutes of slave traders just like we don’t need statues of Hitler.

    Demonstongue.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m going to take a wild guess and say that any group of people who had power at some point left their descendants some things that they’d be wise not to honor. What’s happening isn’t erasing history, it’s telling a fuller version of it. Since the Bristol statue came down, there’s been talk of installing it in a museum–along with some of the placards from the demonstration. That strikes me as a great way to handle it. It invites discussion, which is how real history can be learned.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s pretty much how they’ve treated everything relating to World War 2, and I think that’s fair. If we’re going to preserve our monuments, then why not preserve them in a way that highlights true and factual history.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m with you, but a lot of people see history as a simple exercise in flag waving, in which we (whatever we we’re talking about) are the heroes and for the most part no one else gets a mention. It’s not real history, but a lot of them don’t give it up without a fight.

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    • It’s amazing how they’ve spread. In Britain, they’ve called attention to British racism. In New Zealand (we have family there, so I follow the news) people marched in solidarity. Like a spark to dry straw.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I had no idea what racism looked like in other countries. But I’m glad to see that BLM is getting WORLDWIDE attention. This is the most passionate reaction I’ve seen so far. Maybe it’ll lead to some real legal changes??

        Are there any talks about reform happening in Britain as well? Just curious!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Before I try to answer, I should say that I live in a very rural, very white part of Britain, so I’m not where things are happening. On top of that, I’m an immigrant here–I’m American–and even after 14 years there’s a lot about British politics that I can’t make sense of.

          Having said that, yes, I think there is talk about reform. A lot of it is focused on policing. Stop-and-search is legal here, and predictably black boys and young black men are stopped disproportionately. So that, along with deaths in custody or during confrontations and policing in general, are one focus.

          Another is on statues. The country’s full of monuments to the people who made the British Empire what it was. A third is on immigration issues. I’ll say a little about that in the next paragraph.

          What I see in the papers, though, is largely the jaw-flapping of the Conservative government, defending statues in the name of history, deploring violence and lawlessness, etc., and making a few pious nods to the need for equality. What’s happening organizationally, behind the scenes, in the Black Lives Matter movement, I don’t know. Plenty, I expect, although it will involve many organizations, many communities, many different approaches and needs.

          When you talk about racism in Britain, you’re talking about African immigrants and their descendants, Afro-Caribbean immigrants and their descendants, and other ethnic groups–middle eastern, south Asian, including large numbers from India and Pakistan–and their descendants. The phrase I keep seeing is black and ethnic minority–BAME. So the picture’s complicated and the communities are very different. Immigration’s a huge part of it, and in recent years the country’s deported people who have every right to be here. Google “Windrush scandal.” Or Windrush something–deportations, generation. “Generation” may be the best second word.

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          • First off, THANK YOU for such a detailed comment! It’s very interesting (but obviously sad) to hear how BAME communities are being affected.

            I googled the Windrush scandal and the story reminded me of India’s National Register of Citizens – in the sense that the government was trying to deport India-born Muslims b/c they didn’t have the paperwork to “prove” their citizenship.

            Of course, that story is a bit off-topic, but I think it shows another example of a government body altering the rules in order to target a group of ppl they deem as “less than,” but framing the new rule in a way that hides its malicious intentions.

            In regards to our current situation, U.S. politics seems to have hit a stone wall. Democrats in Congress have put forth a police reform bill, but they don’t have the votes to actually pass it through the Senate =( The legal hurdles in this fight towards racial equality feel insurmountable. I don’t know how we as a nation could even begin to approach it. Maybe we’ll have a better opportunity if Trump doesn’t win re-election?

            Liked by 1 person

            • Your summary of the Windrush scandal’s right on the target, and the parallel to India is one I didn’t think of, but I do think you’re right. With Windrush, not only did they suddenly require impossible levels of documentation (records from schools that had closed decades ago, for example), but the Home Office had actually destroyed the documents that would have proved people’s right to be in the country. If you made that up for a novel, I’d probably tell you it was too heavy handed and suggest toning it down.

              If Trump doesn’t win, if the Republicans lose the Senate, yes, I think there’s a chance of some change. I don’t think the Democrats will turn out the be heroes, but I do think they can be pushed in a way that the Republicans can’t. The challenge is huge–completely restructuring how the country’s policed, for one thing. Overcoming what will inevitably be a vicious pushback from people some of whom are heavily armed. And that doesn’t even touch economic issues. But for all the things that haven’t changed, I have seen change in my life. I feel tired just writing about it, but it can be done.

              I’ve enjoyed trading comments with you. I don’t get to have serious conversations here very often.

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    • It’s interesting that, in spite of how the last few years have emboldened racists, they don’t seem quite ready to make their stance on the basis of full-out racism. It’s still about remembering history. Hell yes, let’s remember history, but not just one highly edited version.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I just saw this post. Re: confederate statues, it just doesn’t make sense, why people would defend the statues. I don’t hear people advocating for Benedict Arnold statues because “it’s my heritage” so why Lee and confederate generals?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Ellen, thank you for your thoughtful post. I have very mixed feelings about the removal of statues. Men like US presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Grant were men of their times in the practice of owning slaves. I am glad that slavery and Jim Crow Laws were abolished, and I believe that racism is evil. These Presidents, though, are giants in our history, in spite of their flaws!

    In some places, controversial statues are being placed in museums. That may be a workable solution. I don’t approve of destroying works of art and historical monuments. I am sorry that recently a statue of Fredrick Douglas, the famous abolitionist, was destroyed. If one side destroys Confederate generals, it is not surprising that the other side destroys a statue of an Abolitionist.

    This is a world-wide problem that should be approached rationally.

    Cheryl Batavia

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with you that we need to look at Washington et al in nuanced ways, but statues aren’t nuanced–and they’re not works of art, really. They present us with heroes, no nuance, no shades of gray. So much of the history we’re taught works that way–saints’ lives, essentially.

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  15. Interesting perspective, Ellen. I do believe there is some truth in what you say, although a great deal of artistic ability went into creating those statues. I think if they are found to be offensive, removing them to a museum as part of a historical exhibit could help tell a more accurate view of history.

    Cheryl

    Liked by 1 person

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