Thank you to everyone who has emailed be about Black Lives Matter. This month has been the busiest I’ve ever had for correspondence from constituents and I’m honoured to represent a constituency for whom black lives matter so much.
I have received hundreds of emails relating to the protests in the United States and as time has passed emails have focussed more on racial inequality here in Britain, including the report into the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minority groups and the tragic death of transport worker Belly Mujinga. At the core of these concerns is racism.
The murder of George Floyd was truly shocking. I know watching footage of his arrest and death many of you will be feeling hurt, scared, and angry.
I share those feelings. My full support and solidarity is with the Black Lives Matter movement across the US and the UK. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade who were all killed by police in the US in recent weeks, and I stand with all those protestors who, in the midst of their grief, are fighting for a better world.
This feels like a watershed moment in the fight against racism, but we have seen other watershed moments come and go with little tangible change. It is up to all of us to make sure this time is different.
As the protests continue, the silence of the British Government and in particular our Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, is deafening. This is not the time for silence, this is the time for action.
Our Government must not be complicit in the violent oppression pursued President Trump. That is why Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, Emily Thornberry MP, has written to the Government calling for the export of British-made riot control equipment being used in the perpetration of violence by police against unarmed protestors and journalists in the US to be halted. I have also signed a similar letter co-ordinated by my friend Dawn Butler MP.
The Leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, has written to the Prime Minister calling on him to urge President Trump to respect human rights and the fundamental democratic right to peaceful protest. The UK has a moral obligation to speak out in defence of these values, no matter where in the world they are challenged.
Watching the events unfold in America, it would be all too easy to assume Britain is immune from insidious, institutional racism of this kind. We dismiss this as an ‘American problem’. But, to do so is wilfully ignorant. The British history of anti-blackness has a different story to that in America, tied up in the history of empire and racism but no less lethal or corrosive. Britain has its own shameful list of men and women of colour who have died in police custody: Mark Duggan, Rashan Charles and Sean Rigg, to name just a few. I believe this is a moment when the Government could take tangible action to weed out the pervasive institutional racism in our own policing and criminal justice system.
Over the last few months, I have been forced to raise concerns directly regarding several incidents involving Greater Manchester Police and people of colour. In these instances, I am pleased to say that Chief Constable Ian Hopkins and senior officers engaged constructively and took appropriate action. I will continue to call for Greater Manchester Police to work with communities, to build trust and foster relationships. I believe policing must be subject to scrutiny and oversight, and I will continue to monitor these matters closely.
The injustices suffered by BAME communities extend beyond policing. I was shocked to read reports that the Government were delaying the publication of a Public Health England’s review into the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities because of “concerns around global events” and the “proximity” to the Black Lives Matter protests. Following pressure from myself and Labour colleagues, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, later that day (on 2nd June) announced in the House of Commons the publication of the report.
The report tells us what we already knew – that death rates from Covid-19 in England are higher among men and women of Black and Asian origin, than any other ethnic group. We have always known that there is a social gradient in health. The poorest and most deprived have unequal access to healthcare and inequality in health outcomes. What this report has confirmed is that Covid-19 thrives on inequalities.
After apparent censoring of this report, the Government then on 16th June also published COVID-19: understanding the impact on BAME communities. The second report provides even more evidence of the structural and racial inequalities which have led to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting BAME communities across the UK so very hard. Thousands of people and organisations have made it clear that urgent, collaborative and decisive action is needed.
We know that people of colour, including many first-generation migrants, are over-represented in so-called ‘key worker’ roles. People of colour staff our supermarkets, our care homes, our National Health Service, and keep our public transport moving. Sadly, many of these key workers have lost their lives during this pandemic.
One such public transport worker was Belly Mujinga, who died from Covid-19 days after she was abused and spat on by a passenger claiming to be carrying the virus while on shift at Victoria Station in London. My thoughts are of course with her family and friends. I am aware British Transport Police concluded their investigation into this matter with no charges, and it is disappoionting they are not pursuing a prosecution. I believe the British Transport Police have invited an independent review by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) of the available evidence.
This tragic case makes it clear that all our key workers and frontline staff need access to the appropriate protective personal equipment (PPE) during this pandemic. The Government specifically excluded transport workers from being allocated PPE back in April and I hope they reconsider the guidance to ensure those working on our buses and trains are protected.
I am pleased to hear from all Manchester Gorton constituents who have been in touch with me on these incredibly important issues.
As an Asian man I’ve been forced to stand against racists my whole life, and it gives me hope to see so many of my constituents standing together now.