Last year, over one thousand people wrote to me about the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter protests and structural and institutional racism. Since then I have spoken to many more of you about the work that you are doing to call out injustice, to protest, and to bring about the radical changes that we need to see in society.
I am writing to you to update you with my thoughts about the past year and recent events. I would like to reflect on nearly a year since the Black Lives Matter movement brought protests to Bristol and around the world after the murder of George Floyd. He was not the last Black man to die because of racism, and especially today, we recognise that the UK is not innocent either.
The last year has been so difficult and painful for people for all sorts of reasons. As we start to come out of the worst of the crisis we all need the hope that we are going into a better world we can all help to create. One piece of positive news came from the US, where the trial of Floyd’s murderer Derek Chauvin came to an end, and thankfully and in this instance, he was found guilty of murder on all counts.
Today is Stephen Lawrence Day and we remember Stephen who was killed in a racist attack 28 years ago, on 22 April 1993. We also remember all of those who died because of racism.
I welcome the crucial guilty verdicts in the Chauvin trial. George Floyd’s murder had reverberations around the world – through protests, sparking conversations, and action. In Bristol, long-overdue action was taken to remove the name of slave trader Edward Colston, from buildings, schools, and our concert hall, after the statue was removed by protesters. This is positive, but not enough. Real justice and change will be when Black people and people of colour do not die at the hands of the police. It will come when we all have equal maternal, education, employment and other life outcomes.
The anxiety felt across the world that a guilty verdict wouldn’t be returned, even though millions of us saw the video, shows that there is so much still to do.
My thoughts are with the family and friends of George Floyd. Sadly, we know far too many others have been denied this accountability. This is why on Stephen Lawrence Day I think about all families that are still fighting for justice.
Following the Black Lives Matter movement last year, the Sewell Commission had the opportunity to meaningfully consider structural racism in the UK. Instead, the Race and Ethnic Disparities Commission recently published a divisive and misleading report which appeared to glorify slavery and downplay structural and institutional racism. I know that structural and institutional racism exists: I see how it affects Black people and people of colour in Bristol West. We must confront it and remove it from our institutions.
This report has been discredited by experts including the British Medical Association, the UN, and Baroness Lawrence said that it ‘gives a green light to racists’.
I’m worried about the report undoing the work done by so many on institutional racism, for example by great organisations that are working in Bristol West.
Nonetheless, I’ve been pleased to see private sector organisations come to me with constructive ideas about their own work, where we have been able to work together.
Labour recognises that Black people and people of colour start from a system of disadvantage. The government must start by implementing the 231 recommendations from the Timpson, McGregor Smith, Williams, Angiolini, and Lammy reviews.
Over the last year, I’ve been taking views and ideas from constituents about how we can do more in Bristol to fight structural racism and institutional inequalities. Take a look to see some of the work that I have done, and leave a comment if you would like to say something.
I’m glad that organisations and individuals in Bristol have drawn attention to the structural injustices, stretching from our history of colonial exploitation and slavery, to the current and entrenched racism in the city. I will continue to represent your views and work with institutions, organisations and individuals to make our society more equal.
Another sad reminder of the changes needed came this week, with a report by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission which shows the failure to properly commemorate Black and Asian troops who died in World War One fighting for the British Empire.
I will continue to represent your views on this and work with institutions, organisations, and individuals in our city to make it more equal.
On Stephen Lawrence Day, we must never stop challenging racism wherever we see it. Stephen’s legacy lives on through the work of the Stephen Lawrence Trust, who are committed to a more equal society. You can support the work of the Stephen Lawrence trust here.
I’ve been moved by the energy, commitment and determination of people across the world to end racism and discrimination. Even though we have a way to go, this intensity of purpose was unimaginable when I was young. Equality seemed like an impossibility. Decades on, I have hope that I will see it in my lifetime and that my nephews and nieces and young people of colour will experience living in the world I want for them and all of us.