The death of George Floyd has mobilised people across the world, Getintothis’ Billy Vitch knows that some are on the wrong side.
Waking up on the morning of May 26 was no different to most of the mornings I’ve had during lock down.
Even when I read the headline that an African American man had been killed by the police in the US, even being a black British man myself, nothing about it really seemed to shock me.
The reason is: reading that a black man, woman or child had being murdered by a police officer in America has become, sadly, really quite normal to me.
I don’t say this for dramatic effect, but instead to point out that to me, it has become such a regular occurrence that I had given up hope that things would change. I had just accepted this was now the way things are.
After a short time, the story of George‘s final moments became more apparent, due to the fact that his arrest and the moments before his death had been filmed.
The footage was shared across the world, and it began to bring home to us all just how horrific this murder was.
A murder by the very people who were paid to protect him and us.
It’s a fact that black people have been disproportionately killed by police in the USA for decades.
So why did the death of George Floyd feel any different?
I feel this was different in many aspects.
Firstly, the arrest and events that ensued were filmed.
We know from that footage that he posed no imminent threat to anyone, including the police.
We know he told them he couldn’t breathe. We know he actually begged them to help him and it’s reported that Floyd was still refused medical care until he had died.
We know that his crime, if you can call it a crime, was attempting to pay for goods with a fake $20 bill, a bill that the shop owner themselves argued Floyd may never have known he was in possession of.
The thing that he paid the ultimate price for, though, was being a black man in America.
The reverberations around the world from this gathered pace quickly.
People of all colours and creeds took to the streets and social media to express their anger, shock and horror at this senseless murder.
People across the world quickly adopted the now well known slogan of Black Lives Matter to try and highlight that black lives are in general less valued than white lives, and that this needs to change until they are equal. Workers who feel discriminated against because of their ethnicity, gender, age, etc. should not hesitate to fight for their rights and start confronting job-related bias.
And so the story should have ended there, right?
With an arrest, an ensuing court case and the conviction of his killer and those that aided him.
But no, that is not what happened.
Over the course of the subsequent hours and days I began to see more and more people start a vain attempt to counteract the“Black Lives Matter” slogan with “All Lives Matter”.
More people than I ever expected.
People I love, care about and class as my family and friends.
Even one of the top music schools in the country, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), posted a tweet stating that, “Every life matters”.
Although the tweet was taken down, and a public apology was made, it still left a bitter taste in my mouth.
An institution in a city that has such dark historical links to the slave trade and the abuse of black people that culminated in the Toxteth riots could be so misinformed and so insensitive.
My shock at this was almost greater than the shock of George Floyd‘s death. I couldn’t understand how so many people couldn’t see why this was so fundamentally wrong.
I really believed they would have known this.
Time and time again I have messaged and phoned people to try and explain why this was wrong.
But mostly I have just received abuse or accused of “playing the race card”, and that all people matter, and “why should black people be more important than whites”, that other races are abused so why do we keep talking about black racism.
People even stooped so low as to compare it to the killing of Lee Rigby in 2013.
This, the family of Rigby, have denounced, saying: “Seeing his image used to cause hate of any kind, especially for those exercising their freedoms in protest against this issue, hurts.
“We find these posts extremely heartbreaking and distressing, and in complete opposition to what Lee stood for.”
To try and explain the heartbreak I felt from this is impossible.
I felt totally helpless, my explanation fell on deaf ears.
But one person I found to explain the situation perfectly was British comedian Jason Manford.
He said: “The point is, George Floyd wasn’t killed by a random act of terrorism, he was murdered by the very people whose job it is to protect him.
“He was treated differently because of the colour of his skin.
“As a race, African Americans were ‘looted’ from their country of origin and enslaved in the States for 400 years, they have gone on to contribute in all aspects of American life and culture, from music, to food, to science, to sport, to countless other areas.
“Fighting in wars they never started and defending an ‘American way’ that does not defend them.
“They suffer oppression every single day from workplace banter to outright vitriol and yes, sometimes death.”
He also went on to explain how African Americans are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic due to having front line jobs, travelling on public transport or not having access to health care insurance.
He continued: “So when you witness an actual murder of an unarmed African American man, on screen, not written about or spoken about, he was literally killed in front of your eyes by a white cop that even your own president won’t publicly condemn, then yeah, on occasion you might feel like putting through a f**king window of the local target just to be noticed.”
He signed off with: “I hope this helped to educate you a little.”
“Folks, It’s okay to be angry and upset at more than one thing you know. One thing doesn’t negate the other.
“I thought I’d post this response (or ‘virtue signalling bandwagon jumping nonsense’ if you’re one of those types!) here as a way to explain what I’ve learnt over the years from making similar mistakes and not quite realising my own privilege (even as someone who has come from a below poverty line childhood).
There are several reasons why Jason‘s post resonated with me.
Firstly, I felt that it was everything I wanted to say, but struggled to articulate because of my anger and despair.
But I also felt that because he is a white male who can plainly see what is wrong with the reaction to Black Lives Matter that I have talked about.
He is aware of the institutionalised racism within the UK and US and is not afraid to stand up and fight for us without feeling insecure that his whiteness or race is being threatened or attacked.
So I add to that – this is why we are saying Black Lives Matter.
It is plainly obvious that right now we are far from all lives mattering, but we are not trying to take anything away from you or imply that you have not suffered.
All we are saying to white people is that right now, we are suffering.
We are suffering at a disproportionate level compared to you.
We are suffering because of our of skin colour.
We are suffering, and we need you to hear us, to listen to us and to support us.
LIPA has issued the following tweets since their original statement on social media:
Message from Mark Featherstone-Witty: pic.twitter.com/h3n9UEhTnB
— LIPA Liverpool (@LIPALiverpool) June 5, 2020