Black History Month – Black Lives Now
As we reach the end of Black History Month, it’s a good time to reflect on this year’s events.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the lives of Black people in many ways. The Black and BAME communities have seen a disproportionately high number of deaths from the virus. Health inequalities and the over representation of Black workers in low paid and front line jobs have been chiefly responsible. BAME workers have also been hardest hit by the resulting economic crisis and many work in the hospitality sector and other jobs on zero hours contracts, requiring multiple jobs and higher exposure to the virus.
The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the deaths, particularly of young Black men from police brutality. In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, it was reported that Black people in the UK are twice as likely to die in police custody than any other ethnic group. Most widely reported being the deaths of Leon Briggs in Luton in 2013, Sean Rigg in police custody in Brixton in 2008 and Mark Duggan, shot by police in 2011. It’s important to recognise that no police Officer has been convicted of culpability in relation to these deaths.
Diane Abbott was the first Black female MP elected to Parliament in 1987 and is now the longest serving Black MP. We need to support her in fighting injustice as well as celebrate her achievements. At that time, the Labour Party welcomed four new Black MPs to Parliament: Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng, Keith Vaz and Diane Abbott. The 2020 General Election returned 41 BAME Labour MPs compared to 22 for the Tories.
What now? What of the sorrow caused by the loss of so many Black and BAME people to COVID-19? Lessons need to be learnt now, on how to protect vulnerable people like Black workers.
- We must fight against the inequalities experienced by low income vulnerable families in poorly paid and front line jobs.
- We must campaign for adequate staffing and working conditions in the NHS and sufficient PPE for NHS and care staff, before a 2nd or later waves of the pandemic really take hold.
- Labour must campaign to have open and transparent investigations into deaths during police interventions and custody – Officers must be held responsible for their actions.
The horrors of COVID-19 have reminded us of the preciousness of life for all of us. It should also remind us how little Black Lives seem to matter to those in positions of power.