by Florence Eshalomi MP for Vauxhall
Thank you to everyone who has written to me over the past few days. I have received hundreds of emails, which have been arriving in my inbox at a rate of 2-3 a minute. I am overwhelmed by what I can only describe as an outpouring of solidarity and rage following the appalling murder of George Floyd in the US state of Minnesota. And it seems to have motivated so many of you to also share your deep seated concerns about the tragic death of Belly Mujinga, and the Government’s delay in publishing Public Health England’s report on the impact of Covid-19 on people from a BAME background.
Many of you have asked me for my own views on these important issues. Given the sheer volume of emails I have received, I will not be able to reply to each of you individually anytime soon, as much as I would like to. So I have decided to write one letter to you all that addresses each of the points you have raised. This does not mean that each issue isn’t important enough to be considered in its own right – because they are each important in their own way. But taken together, these separate events encapsulate the deeply entrenched social and structural inequality and discrimination in society that has moved you to become part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The events in the US in recent days are shocking. We have all watched the distressing video footage of George’s arrest and murder and I share in the anger, hurt and sadness that so many people in Vauxhall and all over the world are now feeling. I am devastated for his family and I would like to offer them my condolences. I am proud to represent a diverse constituency which is home to a large vibrant Black African and Caribbean community in and around Brixton in Lambeth, and I stand in solidarity with everyone speaking out against racial injustice and police brutality.
The treatment towards protestors and reporters across the US has at times been difficult viewing and I wanted our Prime Minister to use his position to call out this unacceptable treatment to his friend Donald Trump. Sadly, to date, our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have refused to condemn the actions played out on our TV screens and on social media. I believe that as a country we cannot sit back and watch these human rights abuses across the United States and not act. I support calls for a ban on the sale of anti-crowd gas, riot equipment, rubber bullets and other arms to the US.
The events in Minneapolis hit a nerve for many of us in the UK, however we must be honest about the events in our own country over the years. The issue of policing and race is a very real subject for us here in Vauxhall constituency which as you know includes Brixton, Stockwell and Kennington. The 1985 Brixton Riots started after Metropolitan Police officers raided a property on Normandy Road and shot Cherry Groce. This was the second major riot in Brixton after growing tension between the police and the community. There are other examples closer to home including the tragic death of Sean Rigg in 2008, a 40-year-old Black man who died following his arrest while in police custody at Brixton Police station. The tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993 shocked the nation and led to the Macpherson report which found that the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist. I was honoured to join Lawrence family at a special service to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death in April 2018 at St Martin-in-the Fields. It was at this mass that the then Prime Minister Theresa May announced that a national day of commemoration for Stephen Lawrence will take place every year on 22 April.
I have worked with young people and the wider community on the issue of community relations and disproportionality of stop and search towards Black men, however it is important for us to recognise that in the UK policing is by community consent. As a London Assembly Member, I have challenged the Metropolitan Police Commissioner about the use of stop and search and the recruitment of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) officers. I supported the roll out of body worn cameras for Police Officers and I am proud to have campaigned for the introduction of this alongside the late Dame Tessa Jowell and Baroness Doreen Lawrence. I hold regular meetings with the Police Borough Commander, and I will continue to stand up and speak out against disproportionate use of police force and call out all forms of racism and bigotry.
The recent report from Public Health England (PHE) highlights the clear disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people from a BAME background. I welcome that the Government has now published this report, after a long delay, but it shows that they didn’t have a plan to address this imbalance. Locally Lambeth Council has recognised the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities and has launched its own investigation which will track the equalities data of all registered deaths. My own view is that the inequalities that already existed within the BAME community have been amplified by Covid - and this must be addressed. It is very worrying that the Government removed a key section from the PHE report, and I am calling for all sections of the report to be published with clear recommendations.
So many of you expressed your sorrow at the tragic and untimely death of Belly Mujinga. Her passing brings home just how risky it has been for our key workers on the front line of this destructive pandemic. In the end, it matters less that the reported incident did not directly lead to her death. What matters is that her husband and 11 year old daughter receive justice, and I will do my utmost to ensure that their personal sacrifice is not forgotten. I remain deeply concerned by the continued lack of protection for all our key frontline workers.
I am one of 6 Black women elected to Parliament in December 2019 and in total there are 12 Black Female Labour MP’s. On two separate occasions I have been confused for another Black female MP. This has also happened to my black female colleagues. The frequency is worrying and lends itself to a lazy racist view that all Black people look the same. I believe that it is important for us to continue to listen to the experiences and concerns of our diverse community to better understand how best to address some of the long-standing injustices they face.
One way of doing this would be to teach our young people about Black history. Before I became an MP, I worked in a variety of campaigning and public affairs roles. In my role as the Public Affairs Manager for the Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading Race Equality Think Thank, I worked on a report that investigated ethnicity and participation in Higher Education. This report published in 2015, focused on the admission, attainment, student experience and the underrepresentation of BAME staff in Higher Education. A section of the report outlined the need for a Black perspective in British academia and the introduction of Black Studies. I firmly believe it is important to introduce Black history into our National Curriculum, to bring a broader and more inclusive and balanced account of Black British history. We also need to look at addressing staff diversity across our schools to ensure that BAME teachers are properly reflected in our teaching profession.
I’d like to again thank you for sharing your views with me, and for using social media to offer your support to, and solidarity with, the BAME community locally, and the Black Lives Matter movement globally. And I hope that I have addressed some or all of your concerns. We need to increase awareness of people’s real-life lived experiences if we are to bring about the long-term changes we want in our society. As a Black woman involved in politics, my own personal experience includes being subject to racist and sexist abuse. As your MP, I know how important it is to listen to those lived experiences so that I can better represent you.
I am proud to be the MP for such a vibrant, diverse and compassionate Vauxhall. We all want to live in a more just and equal society. And I will continue to use my role to represent your views and press this Government for the change we want to see.
You can read more of my views here in an article I wrote for the Cooperative Party: https://party.coop/2020/06/04/inequality-is-killing-our-black-communities-and-it-is-time-for-change/