I have not surprisingly received a number of emails from constituents on various aspects resulting from this heinous crime and I thought it would be useful if I set my thoughts down as comprehensively as possible for all to see.
I was absolutely appalled by the footage of what happened to George Floyd in the lead up to his death at the hands of the Minneapolis police. There is no excuse for the clear brutality that he suffered, and I have already condemned it without reservation. It is absolutely right that those responsible are now facing murder charges, and there will be a federal review.
Beyond the unjust killing of one individual, this has raised serious questions about the underlying racism in parts of the United States and certain of its institutions that allowed such a tragedy to happen. This is of course just one incident in a long list of other deaths of citizens of colour in the US at the hands of law enforcement and other agencies.
I have no hesitation in condemning the response of President Trump as well which has been crass and inflammatory. Rather than pour oil on troubled waters and seek to foster reconciliation and understanding he appears to have just fanned the flames. I am no supporter of Trump and I fear that we should not be surprised by his response which is all too typical of his presidency.
I fully appreciate the strength of feeling that this has triggered not just in the US but across the world, and I empathise with the feeling of many in the BAME community in the US, the UK and my constituency who see this as another manifestation of the prejudice that too many fellow citizens have to face on a daily basis. I join others in repeating that of course Black Lives Matter.
I entirely understand the strength of feeling over this situation and of course fully support the right to protest peacefully. I am glad that those who came out to show their solidarity in Worthing did so peacefully, without incident and by the looks of it, observing social distancing guidance which was sorely lacking elsewhere. I fear however that the scenes of raw violence against the police by a small number of thugs who hijacked the otherwise peaceful protests in London especially, have only sought to undermine the legitimate cause and I am sure you will agree were reprehensible and counterproductive.
It is important to remember that the killing of George Floyd happened in the US at the hands of American police officers, not the UK. Some people seem to have sought to conflate the two, but the record of our law enforcement officers is radically different in this country. That is not to deny the incidents of unlawful violence or discrimination against the BAME community in the UK, but the problem is of an altogether different scale and more importantly it is readily called out when it happens and much progress has been made to take action to combat it in the future.
The Home Affairs Select Committee is currently undertaking an enquiry into ‘The Macpherson Report: twenty years on’ and as a member of that committee I have been instrumental in making sure we look again at some of the hard truths that were learned from the police handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder. Whilst many attitudes have changed over that time the progress of attracting more BAME officers into senior positions within the police service has been painfully slow and this could also be said about many other institutions and businesses too. So clearly there is much more work to do.
However, I was struck by the number of demonstrators holding up banners attacking the police in London last week aside from the small minority who resorted to violence. The difference in the UK is that we have a proud tradition of policing by consent by officers who are mostly not armed. As we have seen with the policing of Coronavirus, enforcement action is the last in the line of a series of actions to engage and educate the public rather than arrest, or worse still - shoot first and ask questions later.
That is why the treatment of the police in the demonstrations by a small number of violent thugs was completely unacceptable. Police officers were there to maintain order, protect all the members of the public and allow the freedom of speech we hold so dearly in this country. They did so without guns, rubber bullets or tear gas and long may that continue. This contrasts with the scenes we have witnessed across France over the previous months for example , with common incidents of appalling police brutality against the ‘Gilet Jaunes’ making one grateful for the professionalism of our police in the UK. I also take this opportunity to wish a speedy recovery to all the police injured at the hands of the aforementioned thugs over the weekend.
The minority of protestors that desecrate war memorials (which a few days earlier veterans had honoured to commemorate D-Day), throw bikes, bottles and bricks at police and their horses and burn flags appear to have the sole motivation of wilfully distracting from the broader movement against racism in order to suit their own perverse ideology where violence comes first. The irony of vandalising war memorials that pay tribute to those who gave their lives to protect freedom of speech and the right to protest seems to have been lost on some!
Whilst I applaud the sentiments demonstrated by most of those at the protest marches in the current pandemic conditions it was regrettable that they took place in this form. Clearly social distancing went completely out of the window for most people crammed into city centres and I share the frustration of NHS workers who are concerned that all the good work during lockdown has been reversed and a second wave of the virus has now been made more likely.
We know that the BAME community has been disproportionately hit by COVID-19 and I welcome the Government’s work to look urgently into the reasons for this, and the report that was published last week. In the wake of the report, Public Health England has been commissioned to carry out further work to better understand the key drivers of the disparities identified in the initial report and the relationships between the different risk factors.
Disregarding social distancing therefore is surely the worst way to help the BAME community and I would hope that we could find more imaginative ways to express our views en masse in the future. Over recent weeks people have come out in their masses to clap for the NHS and carers. I am sure we could devise an event for people to show their solidarity against this act of racism simultaneously outside their own front doors, safely and effectively.
Another area where I am proud to have played a part in fostering better race relations is the work we did on the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children, which I chair, to expose the large differences in the use of stop and search across the country. As a result, changes in the law were made and more safeguards were brought in to make sure that stop and search is subject to strict controls where the targets are disproportionately young black men. Whilst again the system is not perfect and there is more to do things have been improved and it is worth remembering that the biggest victims of violence on the streets are young black men.
At a local level it is important to do more to make sure that the BAME community is more fairly reflected in positions of responsibility and amongst elected representatives. I am particularly proud of the part I played in recruiting the first black councillor and later Chairman of Adur Council and the first Muslim councillor and later Mayor of Worthing – both Conservatives incidentally.
Many constituents have written to me querying the exports of tear gas and rubber bullets to the US in light of the response of American police to the fallout from George Floyd’s killing. I know the Government takes its export control responsibilities very seriously. Indeed, the UK operates one of the world’s most robust and transparent export control regimes.
Each export licence application is considered on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. The Consolidated Criteria provide a thorough risk assessment framework, requiring the Government to think very carefully about the possible impact of providing equipment and its capabilities. My understanding is that the Government will not grant an export licence if doing so would be inconsistent with the criteria. I have ensured Ministers are aware of the points constituents make about these exports.
To sum up therefore, I have been heartened by the solidarity shown in the UK, whether that be by colleagues in Parliament, the lighting purple of buildings or people from many walks of life ‘taking a knee’. I have also been struck by the number of British people wanting to demonstrate their support for the Black Lives Matter campaign. But the strength of feeling in the wake of George Floyd’s killing serves as a reminder that work remains to be done here in the UK.
There are some good national and local initiatives out there with great people involved in them. There are also well-established mechanisms in place in Whitehall and the police to address racially motivated discrimination, improve policing and stamp out racist bullying in schools, some of these flowing from a Hate Crime Action Plan (which you can read more about here: www.gov.uk/governm…/publications/hate-crime-action-plan-2016). At this time, we must not only draw on these resources, but also examine whether they are sufficient.
I have always been appalled by all incidents of racism wherever they appear. I have always been impressed by the very inclusive and welcoming spirit that has been the hallmark of my East Worthing and Shoreham constituency. Recent events have therefore only served to reinforce my determination to root it out wherever it rears its ugly head and do more to make all of our BAME citizens feel included, appreciated and subject to the same opportunities that many of us take for granted. I hope you agree.
Tim Loughton MP