Across the world Black lives are worth less than any other race and it has always been so. Will it go on forever? Last week the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by US police sparked new uprisings across the country. Now that the whole world is watching, the ugly head of racism and police brutality is more obvious than ever.
Despite the fact police have killed 138 Black people in the US this year, some suggest that Black Lives Matter is a racist movement. On the contrary, it highlights that the experiences of Black people interacting with the police is barbaric, horrific and senseless and tragic deaths have become an everyday occurrence. This is why we urgently need to recognise that our lives matter too. Why do some people not understand this?
The killing of five police officers followed the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I do not condone these killings, but the response showed that to many the lives of these officers were worth more than the deaths of the two Black men. Police have killed thousands of other human beings heartlessly in the last few decades with more often no accountability. Where is the same outrage and sympathy for their families?
These deaths are not just happening in the US. Here in the UK 1558 people have died in custody or otherwise following contact with the police since 1990. Though on a different scale, deaths at the hands of the British police disproportionately affect the Black community just as in the US. The common factor of race cannot be a coincidence.
Police officers in the US routinely carry handguns, but thankfully this is not the case here. Yes, armed police in the UK have shot and killed people, but often they are dying literally at their hands. The prevalence of positional asphyxiation for example is one of the key factors. This means that despite officers’ duty of care there is a heartless deliberateness to their acts. To choke someone to death takes a longer time. Imagine if our police officers carried guns regularly, how many more deaths would occur when lives can be taken within seconds? This is worrying.
Of course people of all races are dying in the UK following contact with police officers, but to look at recent and controversial cases of police shootings such as those of Jermaine Baker, Mark Duggan, Azelle Rodney and Jean Charles de Menezes we can see the fact that victims are disproportionately Black. These and older cases such as those of Colin Roach and Cherry Groce should be of serious concern to the public, especially as none of these loved ones were killed holding a gun at the time they were shot.
But there are also cases such as those of my brother Sean Rigg, the stories of Joy Gardner, Cynthia Jarrett, Roger Sylvester, Kingsley Burrell, Leon Patterson, Jason McPherson, Smiley Culture, Leon Briggs, Christopher Alder, Ricky Bishop, Demetre Fraser, Paps Ullah, Philmore Mills, Sheku Bayoh, Osaleni Lewis, Adrian McDonald, Thomas Orchard, James Herbert, Ian Tomlinson and many many more who have all died at the hands of the police, but who did not use a gun.
These cases aren’t familiar to many in the UK, let alone those campaigning across the pond. Now is the time to build up solidarity for our families as part of an international Black Lives Matter movement.
When we have protested on the streets across our country we have shouted out the names of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Freddy Gray and more in solidarity with the US. We want the world to be aware of the names of the deaths in the UK too and for them to be remembered during this struggle.
There is currently a worldwide public outcry about deaths in custody, especially for Black communities where the death rate is so serious in comparison to those of our white counterparts. This is why I am proud to say without apology that Black Lives Matter, at home and abroad. We all have a right to protest against these barbaric deaths, black and white. We want equal rights, justice, change and peace. Is that too much to ask?
Black Lives Matter is about showing the world that Black people’s lives are just as important as any other. If as some say ‘all lives matter’, why is it that people of colour are dying more than others at the hands of the police? When Black lives matter, all lives will matter. That is the world we want, where all lives truly matter.
Marcia Rigg is the Sister of Sean Rigg who died at the hands of Brixton Police officers in August 2008 and Co-chair United Families and Friends Campaign.
United Families and Friends Memorial March Sat 29 Oct 2021, Central. Join families and friends in remembering loved ones and demanding justice. Full details will be released later in the year.
You can read the names of 3180 individuals who died in UK state custody between 1969-2011 here. Many more have died since.