I have received a number of emails from constituents regarding both the killing of George Floyd, and the subsequent ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstrations.
First and foremost, the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis Police Officer was shocking, brutal and completely unacceptable. For such crimes to be carried out by those responsible for law enforcement is intolerable and the repercussions have already been significant, with resultant widespread protest in the USA, here at home and around the world. I do understand why so many people have reacted with anger and frustration, and can appreciate that for many people both in the BAME community in particular, and across our wider societies, this will have been extremely painful to watch.
Racism in all its forms is abhorrent and has no place in our society. I welcome how far we have come to tackle racism and discrimination in our country, and understand that there is more that can and must be done to ensure that an individual’s skin colour is not a barrier to achievement, or a reason for unfair treatment.
The right to protest is a cornerstone of our democracy and I am proud that these rights are valued by our Government. It is important that any protest that takes place on our shores is, at all times, peaceful and within the law, and in this unique moment, respects the need for social distancing. These stipulations are in all our interests, ensuring that the right to protest can be enjoyed and maintained to preserve free speech, whilst protecting both law and order and public health. I have no doubt that the vast majority of people who attended demonstrations to make their voice heard about George Floyd this weekend did so in the right spirit, and without creating any disturbance of the peace. Whilst George Floyd was killed in another jurisdiction thousands of miles away, the events have clearly triggered a response from many in this country who feel strongly about the continued need to tackle racism.
Unfortunately, this very noble sentiment of seeking to fight racism in all its forms, which I repeat will have been the overwhelming motivation for most attendees at the weekend’s UK protests, was undermined by the behaviour of a minority who used this moment as an excuse to commit violence and vandalism, resulting in injury to many police officers. Where crimes were committed, they should be investigated and prosecuted where possible. I found it particularly offensive that so called ‘anti-racism’ campaigners thought it justifiable to deface the Cenotaph, our national memorial to the millions of servicemen and women who have sacrificed their lives to defend freedom. This was all the more galling given that it occurred on the weekend marking the 76th anniversary of D-Day, when thousands of young soldiers bravely waded into shelling and machine gun fire from the beaches of Normandy to begin the liberation of Europe – at very great cost. This incredible D-Day action would not only pave the way to ending Nazi tyranny, but to the liberation of the concentration camps in which millions were butchered because of their race. We helped to bring that mass racial genocide to an end, with the British Army liberating notorious camps such as Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank perished. We should be proud of that, and the leadership of Winston Churchill at the time, whose statue was also shamefully defaced.
In terms of what happens next, clearly it is imperative that the judicial agencies in the USA act swiftly to bring justice for George Floyd. I understand that the police officer involved in the incident has been charged with second-degree murder, and that there will be a federal review. The United States is one of the world’s leading democracies and it is important that its constitutional tradition is upheld, with the rights of all protected equally under the rule of law. As far as the UK is concerned, it is clear from footage of the weekend’s events that our police officers operated with a high degree of skill, striking the difficult balance between permitting legitimate protest and stepping in when needed. We should be proud that our police are able to operate in this way, without needing to bear firearms.