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From COVID to policing: #BlackLivesMatter

“Tory MP Craig Whittaker faced a fierce anti-racist backlash, after he wrongly suggested that BAME & Muslim communities were not taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously… Attention then shifted to attacking a more vulnerable target – refugees.”

Sabby Dhalu, Stand up to Racism

By Sabby Dhalu, Stand up to Racism Co-convenor & Labour Party member.

The US Black Lives Matter movement which inspired black people and others in Britain and across the globe to take to the streets, and the racist backlash spearheaded by Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign, illustrate the importance of anti-racism. Trump has staked his re-election on so-called “law and order,” sending in federal law enforcement agents to clamp down on Black Lives Matter protesters in cities like Portland, Oregon and Kenosha, Wisconsin.

During his presidency, Trump’s racism has emboldened KKK style armed racist mobs. In recent weeks this has included opening fire at demonstrators and killing two people in Kenosha. There have also been incidents across the US of racists ramming cars into protesters, similar to the incident that killed Heather Heyer at a counter demonstration to a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

Ignited by the killing of George Floyd by police officers, the Black Lives Matter movement was the largest and most popular movement in American history with polls estimating 16-25 million attending demonstrations and unlike the civil rights movement in the 1960s, had the support of the majority of Americans. A Monmouth University poll in June showed that 76 per cent of Americans – including 71 per cent of white people – agreed that racism is a big problem in the US. This is a staggering 50 per cent increase since the previous poll in 2015 that coincided with the first wave of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2015.

As the New York Times reported in June:Never before in the history of modern polling has the country expressed such widespread agreement on racisms pervasiveness in policing and in society at large. For the first time in its history, Americans supported the black community against a racist police system rooted in slavery.

As the high profile stops/searches of Dawn Butler MP and athlete Bianca Williams show, racist policing is not unique to the US. In the US African Americans are 2.5 times as likely to be killed in police custody. In Britain Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities are twice as likely to die in police custody where restraint was a factor. African Caribbean communities form 3 per cent of the population but 8 per cent of deaths in police custody.

A worrying trend of criminalisation of black communities has emerged and is now intensifying in Britain. Between 2006 and 2019 the proportion of young BAME prisoners increased from 25 per cent to 41 per cent.

There has been a staggering increase in racist stops and searches by the police in little more than a year of the Boris Johnson government. In August 2019 Home Secretary Priti Patel lifted section 60 emergency stop and search restrictions, which resulted in a massive increase in stop and search. From 2017-18 to 2018-19 such stops and searches increased from 1,836 to 9,599 in the Metropolitan Police. This is why “scrap Section 60” has been a key demand of the Black Lives Matter movement in Britain, which must be supported by the labour movement.

It is no accident that the Black Lives Matter movement coincided with the coronavirus raging across the globe. In addition to racist policing, the coronavirus and its economic ramifications have also disproportionately impacted on BAME communities. In the US round 22 per cent of Covid19 deaths were African Americans and in Britain 34 per cent of deaths were people from BAME communities.

Data from the Understanding Society COVID-19 survey reveals that the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown has had a disproportionate economic impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and migrant groups. BAME migrants are hit particularly hard. While 8 and 10 per cent of BAME British and BAME migrant communities respectively lost their job, only 3.3% of the white non migrant communities lost their job.

BAME British communities were 40% less likely than white British communities to benefit from employee protection such as furloughing. The latter were 5.7 times more likely to experience furlough than job loss, compared to 2.2 times for the former.

As Covid19 cases are sharply increasing again with daily new cases almost hitting the 3,000 mark in recent days and a seven day average of 2,363, it is vital that the government shifts to a “Zero Covid” policy to eliminate the virus, as the British Medical Association, Independent SAGE and the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, have rightly argued.

During the summer the Tories were whipping up racism to distract from and scapegoat for the government’s catastrophic failures in response to the coronavirus and the economic downturn that has seen GDP slump by 20 per cent in the last quarter. In cumulative terms deaths per capita in the UK continues to be the worst of any major country. Covid cases are increasing again because the government prematurely eased the lockdown in a series of measures announced in July.

Conservative politician Craig Whittaker MP for Calder Valley recently faced a fierce anti-racist backlash, after he wrongly suggested that Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and Muslim communities were not taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously and alleged that Covid cases were increasing in areas with BAME communities. Attention then shifted to attacking a more vulnerable target – refugees – with Priti Patel promising to introduce new asylum legislation that would “send the left into meltdown.”

In the absence of a vaccine the only effective solution to the present crisis is for the government to eliminate the virus, achieve Zero Covid, creating the basis not only to save lives but also to safely and most effectively restart the economy. This must include lockdown measures, a working system of tracking, tracing and isolation economic and financial support such as more funding for the NHS and schools to support more home learning, and extending furlough for at least another year. We cannot live with a deadly virus and get on with our lives, and nor can the economy recover. As the flu season approaches a Zero Covid strategy is urgent.

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