How will the new West Yorkshire mayor address the needs of the community?

People in West Yorkshire have voted for a new regional mayor – which includes the role of Police and Crime Commissioner. With the incoming regional mayor, and the current conversations around policing (heightened especially in light of the recent attempt at passing the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill through parliament) – we think this would be a good opportunity to discuss community related issues in West Yorkshire and how the future Mayor hopes to represent the region.  

Set up five years ago, The Racial Justice Network is a West Yorkshire based antiracist charity committed to fighting racial injustice in our communities and addressing colonial legacies. The Racial Justice Network (RJN) brings together groups, organisations and individuals from across the West Yorkshire region to proactively promote racial justice.

Within the last few months, The Racial Justice Network has published two reports: ‘Hate Crime & System(ic) Injustice’ and ‘Stop the Scan(dal): A Report on the public perception of police fingerprint scanning’. Both have outlined the ineffectiveness of policing in protecting our communities as well as the continuous violence and criminalisation of communities, (particularly racialised communities) by the police itself. Given that whoever is elected will inherit PCC functions and responsibilities, along with our work on policing we think issues around policing is a crucial point of discussion for this election. 

This discussion is even more pressing in current circumstances, and especially given that marginalised communities are increasingly discriminated against. Hate crime has become a growing public concern in recent times. Our report emerged as a result of individuals seeking out support through RJN as a last resort having experienced hate crime and police inaction themselves. We observed the similarities in their experiences of hate crime and thought it imperative to tell their stories. 

This report is not only attempting to remind us about the intersection of oppressions but begins to question what actions are being taken by the government, police and wider society to address these vital and important concerns of the intersection of Brexit, Covid-19 pandemic and the hostile environment policy as we move forward.

Along with Yorkshire Resists, we have been working to draw attention to the impact of biometric services gateway (mobile fingerprinting) on both the communities targeted by police and the wider public. Mobile biometric devices are handheld fingerprint scanners that police officers can use to check, on the spot, a person’s identity by matching the image of the fingerprint taken against the IDENT1 criminal record database and the Home Office IABS database without taking the individual into custody. We know this technology is used to disproportionately target Black and Brown people – as the head of the PCC we recognise that the future mayor will never be on our side. But we want to know how the Mayor hopes to combat disproportionate police targeting of minoritised communities. 

The Racial Justice Network’s Race & Climate Justice group was set up just over a year ago. The group aims to address the international impact of climate change on a local level through a framework being referred to as the 13th recommendation. 

It was recently revealed that nearly £10bn worth of investments in fossil fuels, including oil and gas companies such as BP and Shell, were found in local government pension funds in the last year. Councils in Greater Manchester, Strathclyde, West Midlands and West Yorkshire had the biggest investments in fossil fuels, accounting between them for nearly a fifth of local government pension fund fossil fuel investments in the UK. West Yorkshire’s investments alone amounted to £504 million. 

While councils have declared ‘a climate emergency’ it’s vital we interrogate their commitment to climate solutions. Our mantra – Leeds is not an island – demonstrates the importance of engaging with internationalism. A focus on individual responsibilities deflects from the biggest climate destroying players, and fails to provide a wider and truer understanding of climate destruction and resistance to it. The failure to expose the wider conversation around carbon emissions is too a problem, with calculations on a local and national level ignoring the outsourcing of carbon emissions is too a problem, with calculations on a local and national level ignoring the outsourcing of carbon emissions to the Global South, for the vast amount consumed by communities in the UK. 

Oil companies such as Shell have wreaked havoc on communities in the global south, damaging the environment and devastating the lives of millions. For example, over the last five decades, oil and gas extraction have caused large-scale, continued contamination of the water and soil in Ogoni communities in Nigeria. The continued and systematic failure of oil companies to clean up polluted rivers have left thousands of Ogoni people facing serious health risks, struggling to access safe drinking water, and unable to earn a living. Divestment is one way we can resist against oil and gas companies, as well as ensuring that we’re holding our councils accountable for climate justice. 

Across the UK we have seen councils commit to divest from fossil fuel investments – we want the same for West Yorkshire. How will the new mayor ensure that climate justice is implemented beyond just rhetoric?

The Racial Justice Network aims to raise awareness about race inequality and injustice by listening and working with disempowered communities to challenge and hold powers accountable. We hope the incoming Mayor of West Yorkshire listens to the needs of the community. 

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