Many hundreds of people have written to me about the recent terrible killing in the USA of George Floyd.
First, I condemn the killing utterly. No-one who has seen the footage could possibly do anything else. A man died clearly struggling and in pain as a direct consequence of the actions of others acting deliberately.
I also condemn the actions and words of the President of the USA which are stirring up more hatred and division. It is disgraceful that any leader would seriously advocate the use of armed forces against his own civilians, peacefully demonstrating against such injustice. I am glad that members of his own government as well as others are rightly pointing out that he should not be doing this, but disturbed at the potential impact Trump’s words and actions have across the USA and beyond.
While George Floyd died in Minneapolis, many of the problems of racism and inequality are also here in the UK.
This raises many critical questions
People have asked me about suspending sale of UK arms to the USA because they are likely to be used against unarmed civilians.
A lot of people have also written to me, demanding justice for Belly Mujinga, the BAME woman who died of COVID-19 after being spat at in her work in London Transport.
Many people have asked me to support the school curriculum to include mandatory black history and I do—I know many fantastic Bristol teachers do just this, but it needs to be taken on nationally.
All this comes in the week when a Public Health England (PHE) report shows that black, Asian and other ethnic minority (BAME) people are much more like to catch COVID-19 and to die from it.
I’ve read the research and disappointingly it does not go far enough to explain why this is happening or what we should do about it.
So what am I – and Labour – doing to confront these injustices?
- On the sale of arms to the US, Labour’s Emily Thornberry, our Shadow Trade Secretary, has written a strong letter to the government asking for this to stop. I strongly support this. We have laws in this country against the sale of arms to any country which might be using them against their own civilians or otherwise contrary to human rights. From the start of my time as your MP, I’ve proactively lobbied several Foreign Secretaries stating my opposition to arms sales to all regimes where there are human rights concerns. I’ll continue to do this, whoever the foreign power is.
- On the PHE report, Labour has repeatedly confronted the government for acting too slowly in the face of mounting evidence that BAME people are disproportionately affected. After initial government reluctance, following pressure from Labour, the report was published this week, although there are clear gaps in the findings. I will continue to call on the government to investigate these problems more fully.
- Keir Starmer has asked our Race Relations Advisor Doreen Lawrence to lead a Labour review on the impact of COVID on BAME people.
- This week, Labour MPs are continuing to put pressure on the government for justice over the death of Belly Mujinga. We’ll keep doing that.
- On the need for high quality Black history in the National Curriculum, I’ll be writing to the Secretary of State about this and I know my colleagues in the Labour Education team will be challenging the government directly.
How can we support #BlackLivesMatter?
In normal times, we would demonstrate together to show our views, make our voices heard and support each other through this. These are not normal times.
Many of us will want to mark our support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Like Bristol’s Mayor Marvin Rees (I’d recommend his blog here), I support this cause. However, the scientific advice on mass gatherings remains the same – we risk another outbreak of COVID-19 if we come together in large groups.
For this reason, I will not be taking part in any mass gatherings. Many of us will instead show our feelings and views from home, in social media posts and in acts of solidarity similar to those we have been showing for key workers on Thursday evenings, from our doorsteps. I am asking everyone to think of ways of demonstrating their hurt, anger and solidarity, without risking our health at this dangerous time.
Please continue to stay safe and maintain social distancing and other health measures. We all need to take care of each other – it’s what Bristol does best.