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RJN’s long read on the Policing Bill: The Impact on West Yorkshire and beyond

Content warning: this piece contains discussion around sexual violence, police violence, war, murder, and death

Earlier this month, the much anticipated Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC) was published by the Home Office. Since then, it has passed its second reading in parliament, but the parliamentary process has been delayed as a result of the huge outpour of rage and solidarity that arose after the police violence witnessed at the gathering to mourn, grieve and protest Sarah Everard’s tragic murder. Most recently, protests in Bristol have renewed the conversation and put the spotlight on the Bill, as well as the role of police in our communities. 

The Bill

Rushed through parliament by the government, little time had been allowed for the PCSC Bill (nearly 300 pages long!) to be properly scrutinised. Regardless, many campaigners and community members have picked up on strikingly draconic aspects of the Bill, that increase already violent police powers to an extreme. Some examples include, the risk of ‘annoyance’ or disruption that could allow police to shut protests down and jail protestors for. Both dangerous and ridiculous in expecting a demonstration or protest not to disrupt (what is the purpose of a demonstration?!), the addition of ‘risk’ raises the questions of how and who will analyse what could be a disruption. Refusing protests to take place near the symbolic centre of power (parliament) is among other aspects highlighted in the Bill. Another, is the increased sentences for defamation of statues (like that of slave trader Edward Colston) to 10 years in prison, with reference to the ‘emotional’ value that these statues hold.

Whilst the state should not dictate to us how we protest, nor expect us to seek permission from the state to protest, these examples and the way this Bill has been rushed through parliament exemplify how this government has continued to erode our rights and legitimise the increase of powers that protect them and their interests. Legislation no longer even wrapped up with the language of rights, the government has been audacious enough to reveal their intentions.

We protest for the survival and life of our communities. Is the death of our communities not an ‘annoyance’? Do our communities, our youth, our elders not have emotions that deserve to be respected, or even just recognised, like that which the state and police forces are willing to give to statues of men that supported, upheld and profited from some of the most heinous acts?

A holistic demand for justice

Much of the conversation that has followed the murder of Sarah Everard has importantly exposed the links between gender violence and police violence. The distrurbing facts around sexual abuse within the police itself has been again exposed to the public, although not a new revelation. Locally, only last week a police sergeant in Bradford was charged with rape and sexual assualt. Similarly, the violence presented at the Sarah Everard vigil, and the following protests by the police, which included the use of batons, police horses, the arrests of legal observers, and the targeting of BLM activists exposed the violent ways in which the police police. 

Whilst there has been an outpour of renewed rage in light of the scenes witnessed at Clapham Common, we must recognise that the violence of policing and the police has been experienced and resisted for as long as its existence as an institution. In the UK, campaigns and groups like INQUEST, the United Families & Friends Campaign (UFFC) and Black Lives Matter UK have long campaigned against deaths and violence at the hands of the state and police. Last year’s uprisings saw, again, the especially discriminatory violence of the police against protestors, as documented by Netpol’s report on the policing of BLM protests

The implication that Cressida Dick’s role is important in the fight for ‘all women’ by one of the organisers of Reclaim These Streets exposes a shallow understanding of police violence (amongst so much other violence, Dick’s involvement in Charles de Menzes’s murder cannot be forgotten). This trampling on so many of our communities for superficial changes that fail to deal with the underlying oppressive structures precisely ignores most, and harms all women. It allows the state to exercise it’s oldest and most harmful ‘trick in the book’ – to divide and rule.

This conversation around police violence and gender violence is inseparable to the violence of racism and class, and our solidarity must extend to women failed and assaulted by the state, and forgotten by a lot of the public, like Blessing Olusegun, Shukri Abdi, Belly Mujinga, Bibaa Henry & Nicole Smallman, as well as those killed directly by the state, in custody or in prison like Sarah Reed and the 194+ women whose deaths have been recorded. It must show in our campaigning to resource facilities and institutions of care and safety from the horrors of domestic violence, and in the fight to end carceral systems that kill our sisters and communities, whether in custody, in immigration removal and detention centres, on borders, on our streets or in our homes . This rage and solidarity must be inseparable from our fight for an end to the hostile environment, for justice for Grenfell, and justice for Moayed Bashir, Mohamud Hassan and Christopher Kapessa,

Patterns of Policing

This Bill is by no means an aberration from the practices of policing, nor from the increasing legislation introduced by this government that has legitimised and expanded the abuse of power from forces that police. Let us not forget that whilst it is in its final stages of approval now, the Overseas Operations Bill  introduced last year, was ‘designed to protect UK soldiers from prosecution for crimes committed abroad after five years’. The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, or more commonly referred to as the Spycops Bill, has received huge criticism for authorising rape, murder and torture

Policing powers have also been increased and deployed to criminalise already criminalised communities as seen throughout the pandemic under emergency powers and the Coronavirus Bill. With this context, it is easy to identify the limited ‘solidarity’ and care that many politicians have expressed with women, especially in the ways shock, disappointment and anger at the Met’s policing of the Clapham gathering was conveyed. Whilst abstaining from or voting for the Bills mentioned above, the Hostile Environment or for literal wars, their ‘care’ for women is clearly deficient of substance. It is crucial therefore, to realise that although the PCSC Bill is particularly outrageous in its clarity on the clampdown of protest, this type of legislation is not new, nor contradictory to the purposes of policing institutions, nor to the attitude and actions of this government.

The Local-Global

These policing practices are not isolated to the UK – they have also been used to surveil, control and harm communities across the globe for centuries, from their very inception.  Earlier this month, we saw the return of the annual Security & Policing fair hosted by the Home Office. At this atrocious event, in which delegates from across the world are invited, police techniques, equipment and technologies are shared and sold, whilst officials ‘network’. Beyond the sharing of policing tactics, sales of police equipment or/and trainings offered to state institutions later to be used on populations (in sometimes lethal ways), the practice of policing also extends to and beyond borders. This is evident for example, through the continued legacies of colonialism (as explained in our #ENDSARS video), through the operation of arms corporations in policing European borders, or through paramilitaries and state actors that provide direct British global policing. Policing on borders, and of migrants which will no doubt be extended under Priti Patel’s most recent asylum plans are not to be sidelined in this conversation. Locally, massive investments in arms and fossil fuel companies by West Yorkshire councils (amongst the largest in the country) have funded and profited from the policing of communities at home and abroad, reminding us again that our struggles are inseparable. 

Britain’s historical and ongoing role in policing the world, to accumulate wealth, crush dissent and surveil communities needs to be part of this conversation. A reckoning with this bloody and ongoing picture and a holistic understanding might help expose problems in attributing ‘violence’ to acts of protest. One of the most symbolic representations of this contradiction was evident in Boris Johnson’s condemnation of protests in Bristol and calls for protesting to be done ‘peacefully and legally’ whilst he was visiting one of the world’s largest arms companies, BAE Systems, that has played a huge role in the war on Yemen, even throughout the pandemic


In our local communities, we continue to see money being poured into policing whilst our living and community services are underfunded. Earlier this month, West Yorkshire police announced the building of two new police stations in Kirklees. Just over a week ago, it was also announced that West Yorkshire police would be receiving £1.5million from the Home Office. And a few days ago, West Yorkshire Police declared a surge in the deployment of police bikes in Calderdale. This is not to mention the investment in policing (often racialised) communities beyond those in uniforms, through schemes like Prevent in schools, hospitals, workplaces. Where is the investment in education, housing, health, and leisure, that could radically better our communities and contribute massively to the prevention of problems the police claim to deal with?

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 (particularly racialised) communities by the police. Considering this criminalisation and ineffective nature of dealing with hate crime, and the fact that victims of hate crime do not receive monetary compensation, questions continue to be raised around the consequences of increased policing of our communities, especially with the recent announcement of an £8million investment to reduce crime and support victims in West Yorkshire. Importantly, within these reports, we shed light on new technologies of policing like fingerprint scanning and the transfer of data between the police and Home Office, and how it is clear that for example, border and police violence are entangled, and can only be resisted together.

Whilst we outlined attempts at dividing our struggles above, a collaborative understanding of the ways in which gender-, border-, racist-, colonial- violences are inherent to police (violence), can allow us to continue the call and organising for a radical, collective resistance and movement in which we prioritise our communities and life rather than violence and death, leaving no-one behind.

The delay of the Bill, the pressure that changed the Labour Party’s abstaining stance into opposition, and most importantly the mobilisation of thousands in the last weeks are huge victories. With this, comes the opportunity to grow our movement collectively, fighting against institutions and practices that are killing our communities in different ways. 

It is not enough to call for reforms or promises from institutions dedicated to the protection of institutions and bodies that kill and harm our communities, at home, on borders, and abroad.

Instead we must fight for an end to structural violence for which these institutions are fundamental to, and invest our capacities in building our communities, looking out for and protecting one another, and investing in community resources, facilities and practices that foster and flourish life.

Immediate things you can do:

Further Readings/Resources:

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Free Speech and Sanitising History

Over the past couple of weeks there have been an onslaught of worrying news with regards to freedom of speech and the role charities should play in the UK. As a Black led charity seeking to address racial injustice and colonial legacies, our very existence is political. Last year we saw a surge in donations towards anti-racist organisations in the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd by police officers in the United States. While these actions go on to resource and support grassroot organisations, we need acts of solidarity which extend beyond what some might call ‘performative allyship.’ We need a collective response to the attempts to silence hidden and distorted historical actions that explain the state we are in particularly in relation to those located at the margins by systems of oppression. We need a collective response against those who are comforted by wealth amassed through plunder and exploitation but are quick to call in the free speech brigade or encourage those still relieving generational traumas to move-on to ease their own discomfort. Collective action is resistance.

Kenyan scholar-activist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1986) argues the university and the education system more generally are key in the foundation and continuation of colonialism today. That is, the narratives and practices utilised by and within the education system are colonial legacies which uphold a white supremacist system. White supremacy is used as Azeezat Johnson describes it: “the context within which whiteness can remain a neutralised and privilege racial positioning” (2018: 18). It comes as no surprise the government is pushing back against increased public pressure to come to reckon with the UK’s colonial and racist history. It is not a question of *if* these histories are true but *how* they make white people feel. What are the histories they are trying to silence?

At RJN we want to express our grave concern about the encroaching powers the government is having on freedom of speech, education and charities with the aim to silence and bury history. Motivation behind this is to avoid discomfort and cover up how wealth was amassed during the British empire and at the expense of former colonies, who until today continue to bear the brunt of this history. Furthermore, these latest government moves perpetuate the false narrative of meritocracy, those who are poor are so because they are lazy and those doing well have been due to hard work. This is concerning because it not only silences marginalised voices but this will have a major influence on who and what receives funding within the charity sector.

As a Black led organisation being underfunded is not new. Since our inception, we have seen how funding bodies undervalue, overlook and under-resource radical anti-racist efforts. The fact there are very few of us in existence is an example and consequence of lack of resources. As mentioned above, last year we saw a surge in donations to Black led and anti-racist organisations. The government’s recent announcement that charities should remain neutral is a political act. A countermove to the (re)awakening of a racial and social justice movement across the globe, of acts of solidarity which are slowly but steadily demanding change.

This is not about “waging a war on political enemies” rather as anti racists we have an obligation to raise our voices against injustices. Who decides what is freedom of speech? Who determines what is and isn’t political? As we have stated before, as a Black led, lived experience informed anti racist charity addressing legacies of colonialism, our very existence is political. What are some concrete actions people can take in solidarity:

  1. Fight against the erasure and whitewashing of history.
  2. Sit with the uncomfortableness of history. Ask yourself why you feel this way and what you will do about it? Challenge what you are being taught and fed by school, the media and politicians. 
  3. Disrupt overwhelmingly white spaces using your privilege to bring voices into the room that are sidelined and silenced. Pass the mic. 
  4. Counter the narrative of free speech which simultaneously silences the marginalised while protecting, give rights and licence to be racist, xenophobic, sexist, Islamophobic, transphobic, classist, ableist, homophobic, climate denial and other phobisms out there.
  5. Continue to create, attend and support spaces, individuals or groups that teach unsanitized history (including non-traditional classrooms) spaces that attempt to repair harms. 

Sources:

  • Johnson, A. (2018) An academic whiteness: white supremacy within and beyond academia in Johnson, A., Joseph-Salisbury, R. and Kamunge, B. (ed.) The fire now: Anti-racist scholarship in times of explicit racial violence, Zedbooks: London, pp: 15-25
  • Ngugi wa Thiong’o. (1986) Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, Heinemann Educational

Article by Laura Loyola Hernandez and Penny Wangari-Jones

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Dying to Live: Patel and Posse Policies

Flashing images of protesters, police, far-right supporting the police, fire burning and mentions of Jacob Blake returned a short focus on Black Death and Black Pain all whilst the debate about the relevance of the words in rule Britannia are in contemporary times was going on. A couple of weeks ago, a few of us had started to wonder if the furore, outrage and pledges following the murder of George Floyd had been forgotten. Had we moved on? And now after yet another incident of a Black man at the hands of the police, the first think that came to mind was.. really? Where were the officers when the whole world erupted because of police racism and brutality? 

Looking at racial injustice closer to home and I find myself swinging between outrage and apathy, between demanding change and being overwhelmed by the amount of injustice everywhere. Like the recent reported deaths of 5 people seeking sanctuary. I say ‘reported’ deaths as I imagine there are others who do not make the headlines or to the media. Others are dying as you read this article. Four were in the UK  going through the asylum system and  Abdulfatah Hamdallah drowned before he arrived. The horrific image of  Mercy Baguma being found dead with a toddler beside her lingers and I wonder what this child would think or ask of this government when he grows up and learns his mother died because of a piece of paper. 

This paper for most of individuals risking their lives crossing the English Channel, the meditarenean, climbing over fences, freezing at the back of lorries, surviving in camps, this piece of paper means life or death. And the majority of people who take on the treachaorous journeys are fleeing situations which are most likely instigated by colonialism meaning Britain had a hand in those conditions. Some are probably tired of hearing but it is iperative to keep foregrounding colonialism and coloniality because the past is really not the past and if anything there is a debt that is owed to the maangamizi and the like. They are running to the UK to survive and somehow dying to live. 

So whilst we point to the US and the visible racist institutions like the police (yet again), as calls and echoes to defund the police grow louder, we need to be looking at ourselves and at the invisible institutionally racist policies that come in the form of a paper. Policies and laws that dictate that one life is worthy and another unworthy, that one is believed and another is not believed and therefore results to preventable and unnecessary loss of fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, sisters and mothers like Belly Mujinga, Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah Alhabib and others.

We should go further and question the rest of the institutions that stand by and do nothing to fight for those whose statuses are not legalised. Who have been criminalised because of socioeconomic factors, birthright lottery and ethnicity. There are a lot of questions like; Where are the children charities, feminists, mental health organisations, education institutions, local councils and authorities? ..some of whom have immersed themselves in ‘race and anti-racism trainings’. Where are those who stand or swear by the equality act but step back from those with no recourse to funding which equals to being bystanders and complacency. Does all humanity have to be monetised? Are we humans before we are citizens? Where is the collective pressure on lawmakers? Why are they not supporting or reinforcing work that is challenging Patel and posse policies? Why are individuals who have defied odds and arrived in this country dying to live? 

Bob Marley asks, ‘how long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?’ Listening to Jacob Blake’s sister Letetra Widman poignant words ‘ I am not sad, I am angry, I do not want pity, I want change’ should be a rallying call to everyone out there. Because if you are not with us, you are for them. Time and time again we as Black activists, organisers involved in movements have said everyone should be actively doing something, racism is not a Black problem and pathologising whiteness would go along in overstanding that white supremacy has a lot to answer for. Those benefiting from the system should be doing more, much more because your silence is compliance, choose courage over comfort and this includes dismantling structures that continue to dehumanise and kill like the migration policies.

Article by Peninah Wangari-Jones

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The Innocence of white women

Following the current situation involving Amy Cooper, it felt appropriate to repost this article published here two years ago… Anaïs Duong-Pedica reflects on white fragility, white women’s tears, and the innocence of white women.

Taylor Swift, Lena Dunham, Rose McGowan, Mary Beard… What do these women have in common apart from their popularity, especially within western feminist circles? They are white women who take advantage of their whiteness and who centre it in their feminism. Taylor Swift’s career capitalises on “playing the victim”, a status she can only claim because she is a white woman.  Lena Dunham has been in the middle of several controversies with regards to her questionable racial and feminist politics. Most recently, actor Zinzi Clemmons branded her a “hipster-racist”. Rose McGowan’s activism around sexual violence has been challenged by women of colour, especially Black women, who have demonstrated the ways in which McGowan’s feminism only supports white women.

Similarly, Mary Beard’s recent tweets have prompted many to pay attention to the continuing existence of racist and colonial ideologies among British leftist intellectuals. Her tweets sparked responses for two reasons: First, the wilful ignorance behind her tweets on the cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by Oxfam staff in Haiti and second, Mary Beard’s reactions to being challenged online. She first tweeted that she was crying, and then shared a selfie showing her crying and visibly upset. While this seems to have appeared childish to some, this type of reaction will not be unfamiliar to people of colour. In fact, while we have seen a few takes on white feminism emerge out of this, many people, especially women of colour, have written about this in the past.  

Crying, being visibly upset or stating that one is upset is a strategy used by white women when they feel at threat of being perceived as racist or accused of racism. These strategies can be called “moves to innocence”. They are emotional responses which are in part related to white fragility or the fact that white people’s ability to endure racial tensions is very low. Not having to think about race or to think of themselves as racialized render white people “fragile” to these conversations, as opposed to people of colour who grow up and live seeing themselves through the eyes of white people. 

These demonstrations of emotions are also due to the fact that some white people know or, at least, have an idea that they benefit from white supremacy and racism while at the same time understanding that it is unfair. White people, including white women, are invested in avoiding being seen as racist because of these conscious or unconscious understandings of racism as being unfair.

However, because white people are socialised and live in white supremacist societies, they are more invested in upholding white supremacy (which will ensure that their privileges are safe) than they are challenging it. This is why rather than prioritizing continued engagement, constructive exchange, reflection, and learning from their mistakes when they are challenged on their complicity in racism, too many white people prioritise deflection and avoidance.

 White women’s tears act as a shield against accusation of white privilege.   The white woman’s tears work both for the white woman and against the person who is making her uncomfortable (usually a person of colour). In this way, their function is twofold. First, they re-centre the white woman through her emotions and create feelings of empathy and compassion for the white woman. Consequently, race and racism are no longer the focuses, the white woman’s emotions are. After Mary Beard made her emotions visible, many replies showed support to her and called for those who engaged with her to be more compassionate.

Similar responses were triggered at Rose McGowan’s reading at Barnes & Nobles after having been challenged by Andi Dier, a white trans woman and activist, on her antagonism with regards to trans women. Rose McGowan became angry, stood up, raised her voice, then cried while Dier was removed by security. The audience tried to soothe McGowan by telling her she was “amazing” despite her clear abuse of power. In a similar fashion, many white women were quick to remind everyone of the importance of Mary Beard’s work, achievements and of her right to be human and imperfect despite her show of racism, therefore prioritizing her protection over a constructive dialogue around racism.  

The second function of the white woman’s tears is to shift the roles. If the white woman feels accused of racism, her tears turn the aggression towards the accuser. The one who is seen to have caused the white woman’s tears is now an “abuser”, a “troll”, a “bully”, a “harasser”. David Olusoga, a historian and friend of Beard’s, used the term “lynch mob” with regards to those who addressed Mary Beard’s racism. In these instances, the white woman and her feelings are centered and any attempt to remove her from the centre will be met with resistance by her and those invested in maintaining her (white) power. Moreover, because white women’s display of emotions is a strategy that deflects one’s attention from the issue at hand and re-centres the white woman as a victim, the creation of the victim, through tears, also creates, by association, a perpetrator/offender. If the individual who makes the white woman uncomfortable happens to be a woman of colour, and especially a Black woman, the binary victim/abuser will be reinforced. The white woman’s tears act as a way to differentiate her from the Black woman. The tears exacerbate the social differences between them. The white woman is innocent and upset, the Black woman is aggressive and angry. Even if the Black woman who challenges the white woman cries, her tears will not be valued as much as the white woman’s. Individuals are not equally assumed to be or seen as innocent.

Likewise, the display of emotions in order to appear innocent isn’t accessible to all equally. Maybe we can speak of a racial hierarchy of emotions that determines who can display emotions within particular social interactions and how productive or counterproductive these emotions will be. In this context, we need to question whose emotions matter and whose emotions are so valuable that they can be weaponized. In this sense, white women’s moves to innocence and fragility, more generally, are ways in which the status-quo is upheld. They are deployed to silence those who speak against racism (usually people who are not racialized as white) and to safeguard the privileges and comfort of white people, including white women. Many white people believe that western societies are post-racial in that all individuals seem to have the same rights and access to the same opportunities.

To believe that racism only manifests through extremely violent policies such as racial segregation, normalization of physical harm against racialized bodies or racist name-calling is naïve. Racism and whiteness are continuously changing. They adapt to their socio-political environments. If a racist practice becomes unacceptable (Racial segregation for example), acceptable racist practices will continue to exist and new racist practices will appear. In fact, in postcolonial western and predominantly-white societies, racism and white supremacy become less and less visible because anti-racist social movements have made many people conscious of the fact that they were unacceptable. Therefore, not seeing racism and white supremacy does not mean that they are not there. They may have taken more subtle forms, like white innocence and fragility.   At this point, it should be said that I am not problematizing the fact that white women have feelings. Being upset, sad, frustrated, angry are normal and expected in these situations. Social change is an emotional business. Rather, what I am problematizing is what is done with these emotions. If one has been socialised as white and as a woman, these strategies will come naturally. White women just do it, without necessarily thinking about it (although some do think about it).

Therefore, two important take away messages would be that white women realise and honestly acknowledge these behaviours and their consequences for those who are on the receiving end of white women’s innocence. White women have to internally resist what pulls them toward innocence, what tells them to interpellate particular racial narratives about themselves and the individuals who are making them uncomfortable. If the white woman makes herself a victim by the use of emotions, then she is responsible for also making someone an abuser. White women urgently need to engage, reflect on and be accountable for their actions without centering themselves. While many think that emotions are only “natural” and personal, they are also very much social and political and can be dangerous. As Aisha Mirza writes, white women are dangerous “because they’re allowed to be soft – innocent until proven innocent”.

Crying, being visibly upset or stating that one is upset is a strategy used by white women when they feel at threat of being perceived as racist or accused of racism. These strategies can be called “moves to innocence”.

Follow Anaïs on twitter here –  @anaisdpedica  

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Let Go of the Baby

Repost date: 03/11/2020

NOTE: THE RACIAL JUSTICE NETWORK WROTE THIS BLOG 03/03/2019. WE ARE REPOSTING IT IN RESPONSE TO COMIC RELIEF’S DECISION TO NO LONGER SEND CELEBRTITIES TO AFRICA.

As another Comic Relief approaches, now in it’s 33rd year, Black and Brown communities all over the UK brace ourselves for a narrative that presents us, our worlds and ancestries through a white, smug, self obsessed lens. As the Black film world rocks at yet another white saviour film has won an Oscar, sometimes we have to ask ourselves, what’s up with white peoples?

Why is it that stories not centring whiteness will shoe-horn it in at any cost? Why when this is pointed out by Black and Brown peoples isn’t there an “ok, sorry, we messed up”. From Driving Miss Daisy to The Help and Green Book, the white saviour trope holds so much traction that a white personality, holding a Black baby, displayed across the media and social media, under the guise of helping the unfortunate, incapable Black people is still something that becomes heavily debatable. Whiteness doesn’t want to let go of the Black baby. It’s laughable in its irony. It’s depressing in its consistency. We hold our breath, we curse underneath it, we hold back tears and anger, dodge the build up and the evenings worth of shallow programming and are expected to interact in a normal way the next day.

You’ve agreed to “loan us our black art” but not all of it and at the same time insist that we’re again grateful. Black gratitude or a lack of it sits in the middle of the discourse about Comic Relief like badly made jerk. No one listens. And that’s perhaps the most telling thing of all, that our voices continuously get silenced whilst the fund raises money for ‘us’ and at the same time we’re offered training schemes and ‘diversity’ concessions when perhaps listening is the very beginning of all of that. Guilt pays, not reality. And that’s not our fault as communities have been vocal about Comic Relief since its inception. As it pits communities against each other and sets up a charity dynamic that further supports Britishness as benevolent helper, rather than exploiter. That might never change. A snapshot of the issues when you read David Lammy’s Twitter responses is all you need to know about where we’re at… He was respectful of Dooley, he commends her on her good work, he says he is in no way trying to put down Comic Relief’s work, just how the message is delivered. And yet. People claiming that it’s putting them off from giving, “since you don’t want our money, I’m giving elsewhere”, that calling someone white is racist, that without a white saviour, people wouldn’t give because Black pain has to be framed by whiteness? That he’s a bully (a big Black one) attacking a small white girl. And crucially, where would these countries be without white benevolence? But it’s hard to watch a whole country giving itself a pat on the back for ‘helping’ to solve the problems it helped create. If we do not understand Empire and its colonial legacy as real life, then whiteness can continue to pretend it had nothing to do with the problems in the first place.

What every Black and Brown person knows after hours of footage of diseased and plague ridden Afrika is that this view of Afrika directly relates to us in the diaspora. That kids in school the next day will be told how ungrateful they are, workers will have to put up with colleagues that ‘never knew it was so bad’. That white celebrity doesn’t concern itself with racism on a daily but will put up with going over ‘there’ to make a film and then go back to the plush hotel afterwards. And importantly that those over there are those that are seeking asylum. That those seeking asylum are those same ones that are being helped. That those people in the ‘country; Of Africa are a homogenous whole. That Afrika has no cities, no roads, libraries, universities or banks. That Afrika corrupted itself into poverty. None of the programming discusses colonial legacies. That once a colony was granted ‘freedom’ the British left and took out all that it could, extracting wealth and resources as it left and continued to try to influence governments, with brutality if necessary. Remember Mark Thatcher trying to pull off a coup in Equatorial Guinea? That those countries that are war torn are being sold weapons from British manufacturers. Britain continues to make money out of Black and Brown suffering. Since Comic Relief is stuck in a model that it refuses to change, let the films reflect all the histories and let go of the baby.

By Desiree Reynolds @desreereynolds @racejustice

From structural vulnerability to resilience: A reflexive essay on refugee-led responses to COVID-19

Introduction

There is no doubt that Covid-19 has taken and continues to take a huge global toll on all lives and livelihoods. As of March 27, 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) report shows that there have been over 125.5 million confirmed cases of the novel virus, with approximately 2.7 million deaths worldwide.  Obviously, the UK is not an exception to the pandemic. In fact, it is one of the worst affected countries in Europe with the number of infections, hospital admissions and deaths soaring across the country. As of 27 March, 2021, according to figures from the WHO, the total reported infection cases in the UK passed 4.3 million while over 126 thousand deaths were recorded since the start of the pandemic.

In an attempt to ward off the socioeconomic and health impacts of the virus, the UK government introduced drastic measures, subjecting its people to state-imposed restriction. People’s rights, liberties and freedoms have been suspended, giving way to the imposition of emergency laws as the norm. The application of emergency laws has been particularly difficult for the already exceptionalised categories of refugees and asylum seekers. In fact, refugees have always lived under the ‘rule of exception’ in which they are treated as unwelcome, ‘illegal’ and undeserving categories of migrants. Their systemic precarity is rendered invisible by the state in the same way the virus is invisible to its host. Placed at the threshold of the law with limited access to basic needs and rights, these groups of people are exclusively subjected to, among others, abject destitution, precarious status, loneliness and isolation. These challenges were further compounded by the closure of local charities, which offer invaluable social spaces for refugees by allowing them to use their internet facilities and stay connected with their loved ones. 

So, how do refugees and asylum seekers cope with the multiple axes of precarities weighing down on them? In this blog, we reflect on refugee-led initiatives among Eritrean refugee communities in the UK. We start with the stories of Hayat, Helen and Hagos, the names being anonymised for confidentiality and ethical reasons while other identifiable data are deidentified. 

Hayat’s story

Sorry, I’ve been in bed all week battling with Covid-19. I could only stare at the mobile ringing because I feel broken, exhausted. Do something to help the community understand the dangers this virus causes. Keep fighting for your rights. And please remember your sister in your prayers.

The above words were retrieved from the last text message sent to us by our late friend and colleague, Hayat, at the end of March 2020. A week after the text message, Hayat was in hospital gasping for breath. She could not flex her fingers to text a message, but, instead waved by raising her left hand to say goodbye for the last time. We yearned to be there and put our arms around her, but that was not possible under the lockdown. A few days later, Hayat lost her battle to Covid-19 and died in peace in the presence of the selfless healthcare professionals who were with her until her last gasp. We neither could bury our best friend and colleague, nor could we console her bereaved family in person; instead, we succumbed to a visceral pain of grief in solitude.

Hayat was a lifelong advocate for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. Eritrean by birth, her community work particularly resonated among Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and elsewhere. Working from the UK, Hayat was extensively engaged in mobilising local communities across Europe to help asylum seekers and refugees integrate in host society. She linked distressed asylum seekers across Europe to reunite with their families and relatives. When teenagers were stuck in the freezing jungle of Calais or in the remote refugee camps of Lesvos, Hayat did her best to help them reunite with their relatives in Europe. In Hayat’s death, we lost a sister, a mother, a colleague and a community leader. 

Helen’s story

Helen works as a cleaner in a busy shopping centre in Manchester. When COVID-19 cases started to rise in early 2020, many of her British colleagues decided to leave their jobs, citing that the work environment was not COVID-19 secure. For Helen, however, leaving her job was not an option. Helen came to the UK under a family reunion visa with a ‘No Recourse to Public Fund’ remark attached to her residence permit. She is entitled to neither a sustainable residence permit nor state benefit. Her status means that Helen has to apply for residence permit every two and a half years until she becomes eligible for a settled status. It’s worth noting that every application incurs huge financial costs, including application fees, NHS surcharge and fees for immigration advice. 

Caught between abject destitution and deadly pandemic, Helen contacted us with the following text message: “Please advise me what to do. I really do not know whether I should continue going to work or stay at home and lose my job. You know, I am not eligible for public funds at all.” By going to work, Helen knew she was exposing herself, her family and the public to COVID-19 infections. Alas, she had a choice but to continue going to work. She is, as the adage goes, ‘between a rock and a hard place’. Consequently, a few weeks later, Helen called us to say that everyone in her family had contracted the virus. 

Hagos’ story

Hagos was an asylum seeker in the UK. He arrived during the peak of the pandemic and was housed in a temporary accommodation in London without any internet access. Thus, when the refugee organisations moved their services to online, Hagos was unable to find a solicitor for assistance with his asylum claim. Nor was he able to seek any help from the charitable sector. His mobile phone was the only lifeline he had. “It was a scary and lonely world”, he recalled, adding, “here, I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t know anything about my case. Nobody seemed to know what tomorrow holds for us. You know, I feel like an encased dog to be honest.” 

Hagos is an outgoing and positive person and wanted to make the best of his time while waiting for determination of his asylum claim. He wants to learn English and be ready to move on when he receives a positive decision on his case. He asked us if we could help him with English language registration, which, for him, was not only about learning English, but also a coping strategy against the state enforced exclusion and bureaucratisation of his life. While we were consulting with local charities to arrange English lessons for him, Hagos was transferred to a remote disused military barracks in Wales.  

Structural vulnerability and COVID-19

Covid-19 does not choose its host, but it operates in a way that exploits our socioeconomic and cultural differences, health conditions, age and gender, and so on.

However, there is one other factor that exclusively exposes people like Hayat, Helen and Hagos to the deadly virus: their precarious immigration status. Viewed by the state as “disease-carrying threat to the nation state” and, therefore, a threat to ‘national security’ and ‘public health’, asylum seekers are being pushed away from public and political spaces. They are seen as the anomaly of the imagined health society and are being warehoused in geographical and political peripheries of the British public. 

Thus, the rhetorical sloganeering of ‘we are together in this’ seems to imply nothing but a mere political posturing. It has become increasingly clear that the ‘we’ is conceptualised by exceptionalising asylum seekers and refugees. 

Placed at the thresholds of the state response to the pandemic, these groups of people are systematically marginalised from accessing essential guidelines, basic services, and fundamental rights. Asylum seekers, for example, are forced to live on £39.63 per week and often pushed around between private companies contracted by the Home Office and local governments for basic services such as accommodation. Notably, new asylum seekers have been subjected to immigration detention by transferring them to remote military barracks or even putting them in vacant hotels. Most worryingly, asylum seekers whose claims are refused (and appeal rights exhausted) are effectively placed outside the law – and, therefore, subject to unconditional elimination from the UK. 

Moreover, as highlighted by Helen’s story, immigrants with a ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ remark on their residence permits also fall into the category of the naked life placed at the threshold of the legal protection. Deprived of public funds, Helen was exposed to multiple layers of exclusive discrimination. On the one hand, she had to work to avoid abject destitution and was required by the state to self-isolate  on the other. The fact that Helen’s immediate family members contracted the virus meant that she might be spreading the virus to the public if she had continued to go to work.

The irony, however, is that the state-imposed destitution on immigrants with precarious status such as asylum seekers and family joiners has never been fit for purpose. It not only fails to protect the vulnerable members of society, but also risks public safety. In fact, this orchestrated systemic injustice remains to be the hidden matrix of the ‘hostile environment’ that is designed not only to exceptionalise immigrants, but also to render them rightless. Hayat’s last plea in her dying moments, “[please] do something to help the community”, emanated from this deep sense of lack, absolute nakedness and rightlessness. Below, we highlight some of the community work we have been doing to help our community survive the multi-layered challenges. We would like to clarify that our work is only part of inspiring community led-initiatives by Eritrean migrants in the UK. This piece should therefore be seen as part, and not representative, of all community-led initiatives to confront the virus. 

Resilience in vulnerability – galvanising community response

We have relied on the community’s exceptional acts of solidarity and collective response to confront the spread of the deadly virus. Yet, mobilising community response was not without its challenges. As services in the statutory and charitable sectors moved to remote service delivery, refugees and asylum seekers, already at the margins of the existing digital divide, either as a result of gaps in digital skills or because of lack of financial means to afford adequate forms of communication technology, were left with the daunting task of navigating a new online world Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in the UK were no exception. 

COVID-19 guidance and related advice provided by the government were not readily accessible, either in  language or format. Barriers to communication, including limited English language skills among refugees and asylum seekers, were not considered important public health issues. As one Eritrean asylum seeker put it: “we are dispersed in an isolated location with no internet or TV access. We do not have access to COVID-19 policy guidance. Sometimes, I ask my friends for information about COVID-19 rules lest I breach the law.” 

In their attempts to negotiate the challenges of the digital gap, some refugee parents were forced to push their children into “adultification” – a phenomenon that involves “contextual, social, and developmental processes in which youth are prematurely, and often inappropriately, exposed to adult knowledge and assume extensive adult roles and responsibilities within their family networks” .  Yet many others were left on their own.


In the hope of filling this gap,we started by setting up a public Facebook page titled COVID-19 Taskforce where we have been sharing COVID-19 ‘Key Messages’ and other relevant information. The page provides summary translation, in one of the Eritrean languages, of new COVID-19 guidance, including social distancing, face covering, and test and trace. We also assisted community members with welfare applications and provided guidance on the immigration and asylum matters. Through our dedicated telephone helpline, we have been supporting members of our community with online form filling, such as job, housing, travel document and benefit applications. We also offer limited support in remote education and online learning for parents whose children are asked to stay at home because of COVID-19 cases in their schools. And for services that need specialised professions, we direct people to qualified service providers while also offering to interpret for them.

In addition to promoting government guidelines and raising awareness, we have actively developed community-centred best practices aimed at reducing the spread of the virus and supporting those who have contracted it. In consultation with some active community members, we devised what we call the TIME—Test, Isolate, Message, Eat—messaging system. Embedded in the TIME messaging system are an informal and yet efficient contact tracing system, adherence to isolation rules and reliance on local support networks. People with the virus voluntarily message their friends and community members with whom they had been in close contact and advise them to isolate and follow the guidelines. As implied in the choice of the acronym TIME, the time, speed and consistency with which the messages are delivered are crucial.  

Once the COVID-19 guidelines were translated to a language the community members understood, it was easy to disseminate the government guidelines and messages. We used popular social media platforms and large virtual groups to target community members having COVID-19 symptoms and encouraged them to adhere to the government guidelines and follow the TIME messaging to reduce the spread of the virus. With every contact traced functioning as a contact breaker, the informal community contact tracing system contributed to containing the spread of the virus within the Eritrean diaspora community in the UK. 

Since the start of the pandemic, our community has been gripped by a palpable pain at the loss of some members and contraction of the virus of others. When the tragic news of deaths such as Hayat’s broke, many Eritreans asked about the funeral procedures. Funerals and burial rituals are important cultural practices in  Eritrean society; surrounded by relatives and friends, the family of the deceased say their final goodbyes, followed by days of people gathering in the bereaving families’ house. Burial rituals are held, prayers said and bereaving families encouraged not to fall into perpetual grief. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has suspended these important aspects of the community’s human-to-human relationality. However, a section of the Eritrean community gathered online to discuss  comforting bereaving families and people regularly made financial contributions, conducted memorial services and offered bereavement counselling to families.

Supporting individuals with the virus during isolation has been the easiest task and a heartening experience, mainly because of the community’s inherent values of radical solidarity and resilience. Following a successful recovery from the virus, Helen described the support she received from community members as follows:

The side of my main door was always filled with bags full of food, toiletries and other essentials bought by well-wishers in our community… With our community, you do not feel that you’re in quarantine.  There is always someone at the door with cooked dishes and your phone rings 24/7. This kind of community spirit and solidarity played a crucial role in helping me and my husband see through the difficult times of our isolation.

These acts of social solidarity are rooted in community trust, relations and collective actions. While the refugee communities continue to remain constitutively excluded from the mainstream society, we rely on our community cohesion, social solidarity and long-established coping strategies. 

Furthermore, alongside other active community members, we were involved in laying the foundations for community-led initiatives such as Shama Baytona. As part of our effort to mitigate loneliness and isolation during the lockdown, we initiated a virtual community space for people to stay connected. The initiative started with a small group of Eritrean refugees and has now developed into an online YouTube channel, Shama Foundation, an important online site where we discuss socio-political, economic and community issues that concern our communities, both in Eritrea and in the diaspora. It is this unique social space that nurtures genuine sociality and communal relationality which, in turn, serve as a cohesive social glue  that brings people together. 

Alongside our community responsibilities, we are also involved in co-organising academic workshops and seminars. Among others, we led an online discussion entitled ‘Spotlight Eritrea’ on the 75th anniversary of UNESCO’s founding in London and co-organised the Decolonising Forced Migration seminar series. Organised by UNESCO Chair Refugee Integration Through Languages and the Arts (RILA), the 75th UNESCO anniversary celebrated Eritrea’s tangible and intangible socio-cultural contributions. It was an honour and humbling experience for Eritreans in the UK to have Patrick Grady MP tabling an early day motion in the UK parliament and Professor Alison Phipps roasting traditional Eritrean coffee in zuria dress. The event created a warm social atmosphere where host and guest communities discussed ideas and shared gifts. Professor Alison Phipps opened the inaugural lecture of Decolonising Forced Migration – a seminar series we co-organised with colleagues at the University of Leeds – with her fascinating talk on the theme of Why Integration is a Delicate Art that Needs Everyone’s Language. 

These events and seminar series were the highlights for many of our community members. As stated, the collective acts of solidarity and unconditional hospitality overshadowed the prevailing ‘hostile environment’ against undesirable immigrants and, undoubtedly, contributed to the refugee community’s resilience. 

Conclusion

As shown, structural violence operating in tandem with COVID-19 has deprived the Eritrean migrant community in the UK of the very meaning of community life and their right to an orderly life. Despite the multi-layered structural vulnerability, however, the Eritrean refugee community has shown extraordinary resilience in dealing with the deadly virus. Carrying out  Hayat’s last exhortation to  “do something to help the community” and in fighting for our rights, we continue to make what Groeninck et al. call  “resilient moves” or “relational practices based on negotiation between practitioners from, and in various relationships to, refugee families and the material world.” The support we have received from the Eritrean community in the UK, the host community, professionals and local charities was exceptional and humbling. 

With the extraordinary work of scientists in developing a protective vaccine against the virus and the NHS successful inoculation campaign, we hope the end of the pandemic is now in sight. However, as migrant communities adapt to new ways of living in a post-COVID-19 world, it is important that they are not again left behind. And, we also believe that our work with marginalised communities is essential, and given the necessary financial and scholarly support, we hope to develop the work we have started even further.

References:

Mieke Groeninck et al., “Resilience in Liminality: How Resilient Moves Are Being Negotiated by Asylum-Seeking Families in the Liminal Context of Asylum Procedures,” Journal of Refugee Studies 33, no. 2 (June 1, 2020): 5, https://doi.org/10.1093/jrs/feaa031.

13th Recommendation, Grounding and Provocation

Summary

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://racialjusticenetwork.co.uk/2020/12/21/13th-recommendation-grounding-and-provocation/

Transcription

5 years of the Racial Justice Network

Greetings!

This year we, at the Racial Justice Network, are celebrating our 5th anniversary as a charity! We thought this would be a great opportunity to recollect and reflect back on what the 5 years have been in 5 minutes.

The Racial Justice Network was registered as a charity in 2016  – a huge achievement in itself being one of the few anti-racist charities to exist in the North. Whilst this was a huge accomplishment, it was also daunting given  the responsibility that came with it. 

Having become frustrated about how superficial equality and the language of diversity had taken away the tools of understanding and challenging the injustice of race, racialism and racism, there was a drive to change that. 

The first year saw us work from home as there were no funds. We embarked on finding radical trustees who could see the vision and support a growing organisation.

This was also the year we were involved in undertaking transformational training with Training For Change, taking on national and international platforms as a Black-run organisation based in the north of England. 

Notable moments include speaking at Roundhouse in Camden, and at changehow in Islington, as well as putting together the 5 Ways to Disrupt Racism video that has since garnered over 35 million views, been translated into over 5 languages and continues to be used as a training tool to this day. 

With a dynamic team of trustees and skills, 2017 became a year of digging in and defining who we were and what we wanted to achieve. We decided that our who, what, how and why would be inspired, shaped, and rooted in Black radical tradition and liberation. Seeking racial justice and addressing colonial legacies as our  foundation. 

Our values and mission focused on repair, learning and resistance. Focusing at least 80% of our efforts on Black and Brown communities, our core was (and continues to be) centring race and how it intersects with other oppressions and different identities. 

We delivered a 6 month racial justice campaign course to Black and Brown communities based in the north of England. The course involved pastoral support that would assist individuals and communities achieve changes they were fighting for. From this course, the amazing Sisters United in Halifax was born. We also delivered national talks and began publishing articles, attracting audiences, influencing and informing on a local and national level.

Despite the many rejections for funding applications we received, 2018 was an opportunity to refine and lay our commitments and concepts that grew into projects. This was also the year we began to embark on international reach and strengthen solidarity with communities  in the Global South. 

We were extremely honoured to co-host former Black panthers Kathleen Cleaver with the Northern Police Monitoring Project (NPMP) in Manchester, and Bob Brown in Chapeltown Leeds. We formed Yorkshire Resists and shared our model with siblings in Glasgow. We were invited to speak about our organising at a global conference *women in movement* in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. As director of RJN, I received a year’s fellowship, giving more focus to RJN.

2019 saw us define our projects and align them well with our objectives, revisiting strategy and evaluating what was working well. There were reinforcements and serious time put towards  the emergence of the collective conversations projects, Unlearning Racism Course, and the Stop the Scan campaign. 

There was more focus also to work with committed volunteer activists and organisers who stepped forward. Training and pastoral support, as well as partnerships with organisations and individuals continue(d) to be offered throughout. Further cementing and tightening of relationships and siblings in Brazil occurred this year, as well as an invitation to speak at a conference in Nairobi. Nairobi reinforced and reignited our call and efforts on transnationalism.

2020 started on a high beginning with a trip to Kenya that followed on from the Nairobi university conference. It involved a week of action in the community, high school and university. In May of this year we released our short documentary Resist Remember Repair! Decolonising Education Kenya 2020. We facilitated the emergence of our new Race and Climate Justice working group and the launch of our #13recommendation . Last year also took a toll on our communities. With the global pandemic that further exposed and exacerbated the inequalities of global racist and capitalist structures, as well as the brutal murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that served as *another* wake up call to the treatment of Black communities across the globe, last year took a toll on our communities. It was however, also a year that saw beautiful bonds of solidarity and creative means of resistance being formed which no doubt renewed our faith in our fight for justice.

We launched new campaigns, reports, papers, redesigned training, recruited a new team and trustees. We were able to offer donations to over 600 hundred individuals and families in West Yorkshire and offer antiracist training to over 600 people, gave over 100 talks, interviews and workshops. 2020 was the busiest we have ever been but also painful as there were many losses.

For the next five years we plan on:

  • Staying radical and true to the cause, learning from our ancestors whose shoulders we stand on.
  • To decenter whiteness and address coloniality and seek justice. 
  • To listen and engage with marginalised communities.
  • To centre intersectionality in all the work and organising, ‘there are no single issues.’
  • To continue building radical alternatives/imaginaries, built on radical love (rather than our exploitation) – i.e. something that is not simply grappling and ending the negative but building a positive?

Thank you for your continuous solidarity and support; for being part of the Racial Justice Network family.This wouldn’t have been possible without you!

Toast to the next 5! Tuko pamoja!

Penny Wangari-Jones

Director

Report on the public perception of police fingerprint scanning

A graphic of people from different races looking at the viewer wearing face masks. Blue text above their heads on a beige background reads: '"For years I have been fearful of accessing public services, including the NHS or the police, because of their association with the Hostile Environment. This would merely add to that." - WALES NON-EU MIGRANT PARTICIPATION.'

The Racial Justice Network and Yorkshire Resists have written a new report to draw attention to the impact of the Biometric Services Gateway (mobile fingerprinting) on both the communities targeted by police and the wider public. The report discusses issues that arose from an online survey (115 participants) conducted on the public’s perception of the mobile fingerprinting app, as well as new data obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

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. The scanners can be connected to any mobile phone or tablet that also runs the corresponding app which allows the biometric databases to be searched.

After listening to concerns coming from the communities we work with, the Racial Justice Network felt a report was needed to draw further attention to the mobile fingerprint scanners. Among the most pressing concerns was the damage to relations between racially minoritised communities and police who were seen as carrying out Immigration Enforcement checks, as well as the dissuasion of reporting crimes by those with precarious immigration status, seeking asylum and visa holders. We were also motivated by the general lack of awareness and meaningful public consultation on the new measures. As highlighted in this report, due diligence, ethical procedures and impact assessment were not adequately conducted by the police. It is worrying then that no consultation with communities was carried out before equipping thousands of officers who are insufficiently trained to properly handle immigration matters with the ability to run on-the-spot immigration checks.

Our analysis of data obtained via FOI on the use of mobile biometrics in West Yorkshire during the latter phase of the pilot from October 2018 and March 2019 revealed that:

  • “BAME” (term used in official information) people were more than 3 times more likely to be stopped and have their fingerprints scanned than white British and Irish people. 
  • Black people were stopped and scanned at a rate of 7 per 10,000 people in comparison to 2 uses of the scanners per 10,000 for white British and Irish people. 
  • Asian Pakistani, which are the biggest non-white ethnic group in West Yorkshire (8.5% of the population), accounted for 21% of uses of the mobile fingerprint scanners. 
  • The largest non-British white communities in West Yorkshire are Polish, Romanian and Slovakian, which include a sizable Roma population. This group had one of the highest rates of use of mobile fingerprint scanners, 15.3 per 10,000 people.

Key findings from our report include, but are not limited to:

  • 93% did not support the introduction of the Biometric Services Gateway to UK police forces. 
  •  96% believe the Biometric Services Gateway embeds racial profiling. 
  •  89%  felt police should not have access to immigration data. 
  • 88% of migrant respondents said they would not feel safe to go to the police for help or to report a crime. This fear did not only pertain to migrant communities, but also to those who felt they could be differentially treated on the basis of their race or ethnicity.

Key themes identified in our report relating to the Biometric Services Gateway and mobile fingerprint scanners were:

  • They were seen as an extension of racist Stop and Search practices.
  • They were seen as an infringement of privacy, civil liberties and legal safeguards.
  • Major concerns over how this technology affected the scope of police powers and fear of reporting to police.
  • Worry over how the biometric devices led to further criminalisation of migrants.

There have been numerous reports over the past decades that have highlighted the institutional racism and racialism that exists within the police force and the Home Office such as the Macpherson Report and the Williams Review. To hand over even more powers to a force whilst the dust has not settled on the current claims and calls for accountability is reckless and also an insult to the general public. An unchecked police force on matters of classism, racism and xenophobia should not be judge, jury and executioners of the same communities. 

We are not only asking for proper ethical duty and processes to be undertaken, we are asking the police force to listen to these concerns. Our survey ultimately demonstrates the introduction of the Biometric Services Gateway runs fundamentally against public interest and that police becoming a border force means inflicting further harm on racially minoritised who they are required to protect under the Equality Act.

Questions of where public resources are best directed remain a pertinent issue and, in the ‘Recommendations’ section, our report points towards the importance of investing in community advocates, organisations and charities who continuously support individuals experiencing police discrimination or who are victims of hate crimes.

If you have any feedback please email via stopthescan@racialjusticenetwork.co.uk.

13th Recommendation, Grounding and Provocation

Written by Mama D Ujaje

Mama D Ujaje

Find our 13th Recommendation here

Who are we that we can determine what is and what is not relevant to any discussion which concerns the fate of the Earth? We are the Earth. We are, in each element of our being, a part of the substance, feeling and memory of this planetary being. In recollecting this, we re-member ourselves as response-able for retaining the ebb and flow of planetary dynamics. But we are not alone.

Let us move into becoming more present: Now is a time of acknowledgement. We are surrounded by beings with as much right to planetary balance as we each and collectively have, if not more, because many beings have been here, long before we materialised as humans. Consider our elders: the rocks, the mountains, the soil, the trees, the grass and many species of animal, fungi and unicellular and acellular life. Consider each of these as having even older forms in ancestral states of being, going back into the where and when of time making that makes no sense to us – as humans. Yet…Do we respect our elders?

Now, as you are seated, hearing my voice, feeling the air on your skin, the soles of your shoes beneath your feet, or the carpet or floor surface, aware of the weight you place on your seat. Feel also the cloth touching your birth-skin. Then, remember. All of this is from the Earth. It has been sacrificed in service to you. Without being consulted, in the context of aggressive policy making, in the absence of grounded knowledge of the long term consequences of its extraction, as a response to certain individuals’ quests for personal accumulation and greed – in which we are all complicit by following habits, fashion, mindlessness and various protocols of ‘irrespons-ability’.

That it has come to you as various forms of convenience is also due to the ingenuity, repeated practice, application of intelligence and a lot of unpaid or underpaid physical, mental and emotional labour of those who came before us. Those we call Ancestors. Many of whom remain unnamed, uncited, considered irrelevant or whose memories have been erased. Yet -When did you, when did we last give thanks?

Take this opportunity now to move your breath into a place of gratitude. With each breathe, acknowledge to yourself your relationship to the state of things in which we find ourselves and as you breathe in, be inspired to move towards transformational change. As you breathe out, commit to leaving inaction behind, breathe away the staleness of old habits that do not serve you or us collectively, being assured that what we will be bringing today will support every breath you take to be of profound and meaningful consequence. Ase!

In traditional stories we are often enabled a last chance to succeed. Where the hero or heroine can reach their goal, achieve success, escape death or punishment. In many of these cases, the extra chance is enabled by a 13th spirit, the fairy, angel, sprite, witch, or nature being, one that has the power of undoing the spell or enchantment that has been cast by those who have power over the order of things.This extra embodiment of energy has the capacity to dissipate evil, to undo the terrible spell, to revoke the enchantment that everyone is fixated by. Often it has to be invoked to act against a kind of spell which has everyone apparently in a mode of deep sleep.I think you know what is coming!

The Racial Justice Network makes no claims of being magic or even of possessing extra resources of power and energy to undo what has been already done. What we do have, however, is a conviction that ‘another way is possible.’ Or perhaps that ‘Another way is necessary’!

Arundhati Roy said: ‘Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.’ The inevitability of a solution arriving for a problem or challenge that has been brought into being is something we have demonstrated to us in what we refer to as nature: The dock leaf growing where stinging nettles abound. The appearance of the cleansing herb,  cleavers or goosegrass in spring just when we need to detox after gorging ourselves over the winter holiday. Our exposure to healthy soil rewards us with feel-good hormones when we cultivate it in the least harmful way.

So what this 13th Recommendation brings us is an invitation or a warning, you decide, to become aware of the toxicity of the current status quo and to remind us that many things have to change if we are to transform the system in a way that brings balance, stability and security for all being dependent upon our Earth system. And who isn’t? What it states is this: Colonial legacies and International perspectives on climate must be acknowledged and heard and factored in as a form of internationalism that brings Justice. Climate justice must be understood as being as relevant and critical as social justice. The Interconnectedness of oppressions and struggles must be realised across the diasporas and across the globe. Activist solidarity must play a central role in realising our aims.

What we can take this to mean is that in order for any human strategy to work we must recognise the connectedness of the past, present and future. Not as a linear and indefinite concept but as a cyclical feature of our existence. What this invokes is responsibility and accountability. What has happened in the past is brought into the present by simple (and complex) cause and effect. The person who feels this effect most is the best witness to the case: We must recognise that understanding colonialism to be a systemic injury to the Earth and all of her beings defines the beginning of transformation.

When we talk of the climate, we are also talking of the ways in which, during the current epoch, the so called Anthropocene, the entire environment in which we live exists in the form it does AS A RESULT OF HUMAN IMPACT at some time in the past. The claiming and shaping of Earth to suit the purposes of human greed creates what has been called territory. Territory is simply another word for Land. (Think: ‘Landed gentry’, ‘The aliens have landed’. To Land is to arrive and to claim territory!)

When people in the past colonised the Earth and ravaged her in the many different and terrible ways in which they did, what they were doing was territorialisation: creating territories over which they would have control. They referred to these territories as Land. Having control of territory meant creating a sense of having power. This was a power, however, that created trauma as it disconnected the Earth from the people and the people from the Earth.The Earth operates as a system, a delicately balanced system which responds to any and all changes to any and all parts of it.

The process of creating Land erases the integrity of the Earth which in turns creates Trauma: Trauma for the Earth and all her beings (being disfigured and misunderstood is a very terrible thing). It creates imbalances, now experienced as ‘climate crises’. Trauma for the humans involved in the process: those who were totally erased in acts of genocide and damaged through violent acts of separation from the elements of Mother Earth and Trauma for those who had historically experienced different scales of erasure, exploitation and extraction from their own. This resulted in multiple types of traumatised behaviours that have threatened and are threatening to shape our future responses to healing and resolution of the damage caused. Trauma for those who significantly perpetrated much of this violence and who are reluctant to cede control. They too are fixated by TRAUMA. REMEMBER: ‘SHE WHO FEELS IT KNOWS IT’.

People who have stayed committed to a part of the Earth for a long time, have had greater opportunity to witness what this commitment means, and so their knowledge ought to be respected and enabled to define the processes of seeking healing and resolution. We call these people  indigenous (meaning belonging to the Earth they live with) because in our shame/guilt we have lost the sense of responsibility that would otherwise be in place within us if we recognised that we belong to the Earth and not the other way around. So, what the 13th Recommendation brings to us is a reminder, a possibility to re-member again that what is broken, separated, segregated and infiltrated needs definitive acts of HEALING: of being recognised as a system which is being experienced by multiple beings, over time and space. This system has been and is currently still being deformed by trauma inducing colonisation in its many forms. and what this coming together represents is an opportunity for us to ACT, to Act by Becoming decolonial, to Act by developing decolonial strategies, to ACT by embracing our common humanity through an acknowledgement of past harm so that we can all engage in present healing.

Ase!

Find the reading of Mama D’s ’13th Recommendation, Grounding and Provocation’ below:

13th Recommendation, Grounding and Provocation

Hate Crime and System(ic) Injustice

A REPORT: BY THE RACIAL JUSTICE NETWORK

At the Racial Justice Network we understand the gravity of speaking to injustices faced by Black, Brown and migrant communities within West Yorkshire. 

Hate crime has become a growing public concern in recent times. Since the EU Referendum in 2016 we’ve seen a spike in recorded hate crime incidents. Brexit is just around the corner, and with that change happening conversations will begin to circulate through our everyday environments, environments which are inescapable for members of Black, Brown and migrant communities who are most at risk of experiencing hate crime. On top of this we need to look to the media and the discourse surrounding these conversations which are often spearheaded by agenda and profit. 

Our findings evidence police and justice system failures to adequately support individuals from Black, Brown and migrant communities, and have been known to delay or fail to effectively address complaints and reports of hate crime. 

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 this 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.

Content warning: Please be aware, some may find the content of the report distressing as there are real life cases of hate crime documented by participants in the report.

International Solidarity & the #ENDSARS Movement (video)

Project Officer, Sharon Anyiam, explores the #ENDSARS movement in Nigeria. As a Nigerian Diaspora, Sharon delves into what international solidarity looks like to her, and reflects on how the current issues faced by many across Nigeria, could have easily been her reality. 

It is important to address and strengthen our understanding of the global nature of the colonial legacies we seek to challenge, to offer solidarity and support when and where we can, and to share learning and resources within our immediate communities and beyond.  We stand in strength and solidarity.  

Find below our video to find our more about the ENDSARS movement: 

What is #ENDSARS?
Transcript

“Just because I dey abroad, no be say injustice back home no dey concern me!”

Just because I am living abroad, does not mean injustice back home does not concern me

We can be thankful for the incredible mobilising potential of social media whilst simultaneously angered, saddened and left speechless at overwhelming bloodshed of African people. Various hashtags have flooded the internet regarding human rights violations in several African countries.

#EndSARS relating to police brutality in Nigeria has seen protesters take to the streets of Nigeria, and various cities in the UK, demanding the world notice and act on the ongoing violation of human rights in the country.

What is the ENDSARS movement?

SARS is Nigeria’s special anti-robbery squad. The unit was formed in 1984 under military rule and has been rife with corruption in forms of extortion, torture, sexual assault and murder.

The endsars movement, started by protesters in Nigeria and gaining prominence on social media platforms, calls for the end of police brutality, and importantly, better governance of the country. The protest have resulted in casualties with protesters in Nigeria being attacked by armed people and/or police firing tear gas into crowds of protesters.

Unsurprisingly, protestors have been blamed for the increasing violence, but it’s time for the Nigerian government to change this narrative and acknowledge its failure to protect Nigerian people from decades of corrupt governance and police violence. The continued bloodshed has to end! Protesters have a right to be heard without fear of death.

As a Nigerian diaspora, it’s difficult to not imagine how the current issues faced by many in the country, across Africa, could have easily been my reality. This movement, similar to the Black Lives Matter movement, has shown the possibilities of Black solidarity but it has specifically shone the spotlight on the role of the African diaspora in raising awareness of the sociopolitical issues on the African continent. 

We cannot divorce our experiences of racism and oppression from colonialism, no more than can we divorce Africa’s longstanding sociopolitical issues from the remnants of being colonised. Thus, the goal for Black liberation is mutually entangled with the goal for African liberation. As many of us heard and responded to the calls for Black Lives Matter, it’s important we now hear and respond to the call of our African siblings in order for Black lives to matter everywhere.

#CongoIsBleeding relating to the silent holocaust in Congo where millions are losing their lives for Coltan

#ShutItAllDown – relating to protest against sexual and gender based violence in Namibia

#AmINext – relating to high rates and murder of women in South Africa

#AnglophoneCrisis – relating to the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon where anti-francophonisation activists and protesters are been jailed and beaten. 

#RapeNationalEmergency – relating to the increase of rape by 50% during the pandemic against young women and children Liberia 

#ChildTrafficking – relating to an increase in child labour and child trafficking from Burkina Faso and Mali to Ivory Coast and Ghana 

#Arrestcovid19thieves- relating to embezzlement of COVID-19 support funds by elite and senior government officials in Kenya

As the protests continue, we must be mindful to not over share and overconsume some of the violence that we are seeing so we can protect and preserve our energy for the work that needs to be done. 

For the diaspora of African heritage, and all who claim allyship, our role is to: educate ourselves on the various issues on the African continent; use our privileges and resources to amplify the voices and demands of these movements, whilst being mindful that we are not imposing our own solutions; and to engage with and support local and international BIPOC-led organisations doing the work to dismantle legacies of colonialism.

Track and Trace: Police and the Criminalisation of the Marginalised

by Racial Justice Network and Yorkshire Resist

Track and Trace animation source

Police will now be able to access Track and Trace information on people instructed to self-isolate. Those who fail to self-isolate face fines between £1,000 to £10,000. This latest government action will have a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown communities and those from lower income backgrounds (in particular migrants) who have already been bearing the brunt of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 report released by Public Health England in June demonstrates that those in BAME groups (term used in the report) are more likely to die from the virus. Risk of dying is 4 times higher for Black people specifically, and this percentage is increased for people born outside of England. The report found that people from Central and West Africa are 4.5 times more likely to die of COVID-19 while in the UK. The numbers are equally alarming for people from “the Caribbean (3.5), South East Asia, which includes Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam (3.4), the Middle East (3.2) and South and Eastern Africa, which includes South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya (3.1)”. A joint report by migrant organisations and campaigns found the hostile environment is having a devastating impact on migrants’ access to healthcare during the COVID-19 crisis. The report concluded 57% of respondents were actively avoiding seeking medical advice because of fear of being charged, their data shared with the Home Office and other immigration enforcement issues.

Police access to Track and Trace information is just another way the carceral state has infiltrated the healthcare and immigration systems in this country. Instead of addressing the systemic inequalities fuelled by white supremacy, Black and Brown people, migrants and those from lower income backgrounds are seen as disposable. What of those who simply cannot self-isolate? Why are we criminalising those who feel the necessity of having to go out and work because of the very real fear of becoming destitute? This is worse for migrants who have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) which means they cannot access any government help including universal credit. Nearly 1.4 million cannot access public funds due to their immigration status yet the demand to access government help has doubled since March. The police use of Motorola’s PRONTO software (Police Reporting and Notebook Organiser, PRONTO) which includes the biometric fingerprint app which connects police and immigration databases has been updated with COVID-19 penalty functions. This is the result of the emergency police powers granted by the new Coronavirus Bill on March 26th, 2020. This new development compounds the unequal impact of the pandemic with the discrimination and lack of accountability embedded in policing technologies. Big Brother Watch research examined fines given in England under the Coronavirus Bill and found that Asian people received at least 13% of penalty fines even though they represent 7.8% of the national population and Black people were issued 5% of fines despite being 3.5% of England’s population. How are we to trust the police, who are institutionally racist with our data?

This October we learned of the misplacement of 16,000 COVID test results which resulted in around 50,000 people not told to self-isolate as well as people receiving notifications that contradict official government guidelines. These technological “mishaps” combined with police access to our health information will deter people from downloading the app, entrench further mistrust in the NHS and government. But this is not new. Since the implementation of hostile environment policies several migrant organisations including the Racial Justice Network have demanded a firewall be put in place between the NHS and the Home Office immigration database as the sharing of this information deters people from seeking medical attention. Our #StopTheSCANdal campaign has urged for an immediate desist of police being able to access immigration database as it puts vulnerable and marginalised people at risk of being further criminalised such as the case of migrant women victims of domestic abuse.

In May of this year, we wrote a short intervention after receiving thousands of new followers in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests across the globe following the murder of George Floyd by police officers. We wanted to channel our rage into action making 5 suggestions on where to start. We want to recall two points:

“3. Hold systems to account. Hold cultures to account. Racism isn’t one person. It is historical and systematic. The lack of access to healthcare, housing, education, and employment have been embedded into the fabric of a racialised capitalist society for a long time. Change harmful systems to change society.

5. Solidarity can take many forms. Continuously reflect on your positionality, pledge on what you will do and can do and do not demand answers from an already traumatised community. Hold yourself and your surroundings accountable, learn from it and do better.”

This is the time of solidarity. This is time to turn hashtags into material action. Where is the demand that better working and pay conditions be applied to everyone so they are allowed to self-isolate without the worry of becoming destitute? Where are the screams to scrap NRPF? Where is the collective demand to abolish Hostile Environment policies which are putting migrant lives at risk? At what point are we willing to stop the increased turn of our health system into a criminalised one? Who does community care and solidarity extend to and who does it exclude?