Nick Lowles reflects on the fight against racism and the violence the Black community has faced, and the role of anti-fascists in the anti-racist struggle.
It’s been a week since George Floyd was killed by a Minnesota police officer who knelt on his neck for over eight minutes. In the intervening time, we have seen dozens of protests take place across the US, thirty cities issuing curfews, and a Presidential call for looters to be shot.
The anger of the African-American community, which has been dehumanised, brutalised, criminalised, marginalised and disenfranchised for so long, has become a sea of rage. The spark might have been the murder of George Floyd, but the simmering resentment and anger that has exploded in recent days is deep-rooted and systemic.
The United States has a shameful history of white supremacy and racism. The country was built on the roots of slavery, Jim Crow and more recently systemic racism and discrimination. African Americans are much more likely to be unemployed and in low paid and less stable jobs than their white counterparts.. It’s no shock that Covid-19 has impacted on the African American community more severely, with more dying and more losing their jobs than the national average.
A 2018 report to the UN, found that African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; and once arrested are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences. African-American adults are six times as likely to be incarcerated as whites, and one of every three black boys born in 2001 can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, compared to one in every seventeen white boys.
No wonder the community is angry. No wonder they are demanding action. The open wound of racial discrimination runs deep in the US and the murder of George Floyd, caught on camera, while bystanders tried to intervene and were ignored, exposed it brutally once again. The focus might have begun with yet another killing of an innocent black man by the police, but the anger is far wider and deeper.
We understand the pain of the African-American community and we stand in solidarity with them.
Added to this we have a US President who has chosen to respond by pouring fuel on the flames. He is complicit through his incitement of the violence aimed at peaceful protesters. President Trump, with both eyes firmly on November’s election, has decided to play to his base and present himself as the so-called law and order candidate. He has called for looters to be shot, told State Governors to aggressively target violent protesters and threatened to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act and send the military onto the streets.
There have certainly been incidents of violence and looting, but the vast majority of those who have taken to the streets have done so peacefully and with a determined desire for political change.
The United States is at the precipice. It can change for the better or it will change for the worse – and by worse it could get a lot worse. At the weekend I spoke with Eric Ward, Executive Director of the Western States Center, and one of America’s leading anti-racist and anti-fascist activists. He sensed the importance of the occasion. “We knew this day was coming but [I] was hoping it would delay for at least another decade,” he told me.
In an article he penned that same day he wrote: “Whether we go over the edge into the abyss of a full-blown authoritarian state or find firm ground on which to construct an inclusive democracy depends on what we do right now.”
With the US elections now less than five months away, President Trump is going to stoke tensions further. That is his playbook to win. Against the backdrop of his appalling handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has already caused 100,000 deaths, and an economic collapse which has seen 40m Americans lose their jobs, his route to victory is through creating external (China) and internal (“Antifa” and African-Americans) threats.
We might be appalled and shocked by his incendiary statements but Trump is playing to an audience which is surprisingly big and is both consciously tapping into their fears and whipping up their anger. For Trump, more trouble is good. Generating fear and hatred is good. And, depressingly, it is cutting through with the public – the majority of whom view the protests as disorderly riots rather than political statements.
The next five months is going to be incredibly dangerous in the US. Trump, and his supporters, will stop at nothing to win in November. And if that means bloodshed and more violence, then so be it. And we will all feel the consequences.
HOPE not hate stands in full solidarity with those taking a stand against police brutality and white supremacy. We join those who say loudly, angrily and with resolve that Black Lives Matter. Over the next few months we will raise money for organisations fighting racism as and when we can. We will encourage supporter education, with podcasts and articles that we think are interesting and useful. We will use our research resources to monitor online hate and transatlantic networks that will seek to intervene in the US elections with their hatred and lies, and we will put pressure on politicians here to take a stand against the politics of hate.
We will also use these events to take a moment to pause and reflect on racism, prejudice and discrimination over here. On Monday, HOPE not hate activist and former staff member Maatin Patel wrote a very personal and moving article on his own experiences of racism. Yesterday Public Health England finally released a report showing that black and Asian people were twice as likely to die from Coronavirus as their white counterparts. Overcrowded households and neighbourhoods making transmission more likely, low pay and insecure employment meaning that BAME are more likely to have been working during the lockdown, and lack of PPE in the workplace have all greatly contributed to this high death toll – and all are symptoms of structural racism.
This might not be the same as the white supremacy that has underpinned the US, but it is racism all the same and urgently needs addressing. HOPE not hate will increase its work in this area, building educational resources to explain and confront racism, to better understand and address unconscious bias and support BAME organisations in raising their concerns.
The death of George Floyd, and the resulting protests, has shone a light onto the different Americas out there. Even if the immediate protests subside in the coming weeks, the underlying issue of systemic racism will remain and will be exploited and further revisited by President Trump in his re-election campaign. The battle between an inclusive democratic society and an increasingly authoritarian state is one that will affect us all.