By: Jack McClelland
The last 8 minutes and 46 seconds of George Floyd’s life, may well and truly have become the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that changed the world.
On the 25th May 2020 during the most significant time of many of our lives in which Covid-19 impacted the world as a whole. An interaction between four Minneapolis police officers and an unarmed 46-year-old black man led to George Floyd losing his life and sparked the flame surrounding racial discrimination.
From the facts that are known at the time of writing this, George Floyd was arrested for buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill and 17 minutes after the police were called George was showing no signs of life under an officer’s knee. This was captured on a smartphone and instantly grabbed the attention of billions of people, as the video showed an unarmed man beg for breath and cry out for his deceased mother.
The events that transpired included protests that developed into riots and looting by individual groups after the stalling of charges brought against the officer responsible, Derek Chauvin, which eventually came on the of 29th May. Furthermore, Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that the three police officers who were present at the scene and stood by as George took his last breath while failing to act have now been arrested and charged.
After unprecedented support on petition websites with over 19 million signatures for #justiceforgeorgefloyd, the charges for Chauvin were increased from third-degree murder to second-degree murder.
conversation or justification for his murder. In this instance, the Character of George Floyd is completely inadmissible as it plays no role in this case where Derek Chauvin played the Judge, Jury and Executioner.
With today’s tech-savvy generation, it is no surprise that this event was felt across the water in Northern Ireland and beyond. As it has elevated awareness for many in Northern Ireland that the idea of equality whether it be on the grounds of race, sex or sexual orientation, is still not complete.
Northern Ireland is a small part of an even smaller island in comparison to the incomprehensibly massive United States of America. Some may believe that it does not have the same issues that can be seen in images of fire and looting shot onto our televisions. However, Racism and discrimination have been the building blocks for all societies big or small and this continues to seep through the progressive efforts of the many.
If you are from Northern Ireland, you are very familiar with the effects of the troubles and how sectarianism has impacted many people’s lives here. However, this is not the only form of discrimination that rests on the island of Ireland, as the aim to end sectarianism has left many communities feeling forgotten.
Northern Ireland according to The Guardian had 1,062 reports of racist activity in comparison to 938 sectarian incidents during the same period in 2017. This is not a race or a battle between racism or sectarianism, but it aims to highlight the significance of the problem of both. More statistics from amnesty.org showed that in 2017, a third of 18-24-year olds would not accept a Muslim as a neighbour in their local area and the percentage increases as the age follows.
These issues of racism are on a relatively lower scale in comparison to the USA but are still prevalent in Northern Ireland and are not addressed by the seemingly incoherent NI Executive. This can be seen with the request from the Equality Commissions Racial Equality Policy report in 2014 to address racial violence. Yet in 2017 statistics showed that many issues were not resolved and a lack of measures such as no training for the PSNI in dealing with racial incidents, highlights the lack of urgency from the Executive and the Department of Justice.
Further tension is increased due to the introduction of the new Immigration System from the UK Government under Boris Johnson. With no route into the UK for EU or non-EEA citizens who are categorised as “un-skilled” workers from 2021. Un-skilled is in quotation marks as this includes care-workers who are more important than ever during this global pandemic, with 55% of care-workers who have died from COVID-19 being from the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community.
Now many have argued that All Lives Matter and this is true, however, Black Lives Matter is not a movement to make black people more important than any other race. It is a cry for equality… not equality of outcome that many find intimidating, but rather equality of treatment and opportunity.
Black people are coming from a place of historical and societal inequality that continues today……. Where a black person is twice as likely to die in custody than their white counterparts.
It is not seeking to force white people to apologise for the actions of other white people in the past, but rather that we should recognise their actions and help fight against the inherited discrimination and prejudice that still affects those in the BAME community today.
As Dr Martin Luther King Jr wrote in a letter from Birmingham Jail on the 16th April 1963,
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.".
This should answer the question of why people here on the small island of Ireland are protesting about the death of George Floyd to the hands of those who swore to protect him.
In honour of both George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, on the 3rd June and a further peaceful protest on the 6th June took place in Belfast. These events have raised further issues surrounding racial discrimination with protestors being questioned under serious organised crime laws. These laws are in respect to serious breaches of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations 2020. Phoenix Law, a firm located in Belfast that has represented those involved in interviews as a result of the protests have noted that all except for one of their clients were black.
With two files already submitted to prosecutors and more on their way, the contrast of protestors being questioned under caution after the BLM protests in comparison to recent protests during the COVID-19 pandemic only strengthens the argument for racial bias echoing from the PSNI’s actions.
Following the news that a number of protestors involved in the BLM movement were called into questioning under serious organised crime laws. The PSNI noted that no action had been taken against anyone involved in the protest against COVID-19 restrictions, that had taken place outside Stormont.
With Chief Inspector Christian Bradley stating that the officers dealt with the COVID-19 protest in a way that was “consistent” in all such cases. This, however, is a blatantly hypocritical approach from the PSNI as those involved outside Stormont were only spoken with and encouraged to comply with the Coronavirus restrictions. While those involved in the BLM protests were breaching the peace under the new Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations 2020, by speaking to a group of protestors?
It seems like during the BLM protests the need to enforce the Coronavirus restrictions was a top priority, however as of the 2nd of October the PSNI had not provided anyone with a fine for not wearing a face mask in shops, even with it being mandatory through legislation.
Obviously, the current circumstances are serious and the restrictions that are in place to protect our community need to be enforced by the PSNI. However, the deafening question surrounding the equality of treatment and enforcement from the PSNI leads only in support of racial bias. It is difficult to say where we stand in Northern Ireland at this moment in time in relation to equality, but we must continue to speak about and not only speak but we must act to allow change to happen.
We must recognise the failures of the past in order to succeed in the future.