Hundreds of people from Leeds and neighbouring cities assembled on 14th July to stand in solidarity with people killed in racist acts of police brutality worldwide. The Leeds based Black Lives Matter march was one of many similar demonstrations held in the UK recently and was organised and led by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people as a response to the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille; as well as numerous other people whose lives were taken in racist attacks by the police worldwide and the issues around racism experienced day to day, many of which have been amplified by the way in which the right capitalised on the Brexit debate through racist and xenophobic rhetoric.
#blacklivesmatter has been active in several countries, especially the United States to address issues of police brutality, largely against African Americans and other minority groups. In the United States in 2015, at least 102 unarmed black people were killed by the police in the United States, 10 of which led to the officer(s) being charged and only 2 of which led to convictions. The UK paints a similar story, where of the 1500 deaths following contact with the police, a third were of ethnic minority backgrounds, despite making up only 14% of the population . One speaker, Janet Alder spoke of how her brother died in police custody restrained with his arms behind his back and his trousers around his ankles and of how she was then supplied the body of an elderly woman for burial. It turned out that campaigning for justice had made herself a target of the police, leading her to be spied on and followed for demanding answers as to what happened. Besides deaths in custody, racism is rife in policing in the UK; in some regions a black person is 17 times more likely to be stopped and searched, black people are over represented in prison systems and incidences of racist abuse from police officers have been widely reported.
Following the powerful speeches given and the touching poetry from black kids from Leeds’ communities, a well attended and lively march set off around the city centre, with chants such as “racist cops, off our streets”, “black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace” called out in unison by the protestors taking a stand against these atrocities. It advanced down Boar Lane and to the BBC studio, then back to the gallery steps where we had originally assembled at the rise of the demonstration. #itstopstoday created a visible momentum of people opposing police racism and a show of solidarity for the individuals, family and friends hurt most. People can keep up to date with this campaign on their Facebook page.
No justice, no peace.