Saturday, September 26, 2020

This is not That (but they are connected)


The murder of police officer Sgt Matt Ratana is an absolute tragedy. My heart goes out to his family, his colleagues, and the families of all police officers who will sleep a little more fearfully for a while.

But today I am seeing a disgusting meme circulating, asking, rhetorically, whether Black individuals in the public eye will take a public stance, and answering that they will not. I should not have to point out why this is wrong, but, apparently, it is needed.

First, this meme implies that the named individuals lack a shred of human decency: of course they do; they are sub-human, after all. Not like us.

Second, this meme accuses them of double-standards: of speaking out at the death of a Black man or woman at the hands of the police, but not at the death of a police officer at the hands of, it is assumed, a Black man. But these are not the same.

Police officers are called to protect the public, a calling that at times brings them face-to-face with criminals, and danger; not to criminalise, or endanger the public. We can argue that what happens to Black Americans has nothing to do with British Blacks, but that is to fail to attempt to understand the complexity of their different and yet connected life experience. We can argue that police officers who kill unarmed men or sleeping women are ‘bad apples’—so why are they not held responsible?—or that their victims were far from innocent—so they don’t deserve a fair trial? Both these moves are excuses, to justify racism. We can argue that this is the UK, not the US, but that is to deny that racism is an issue here. Here, where a Black, female barrister was assumed to be a defendant three times (and a journalist once) on the same visit to a magistrates court. And yes, that’s just one example, so, listen to the experiences of Black people in England, both British and other nationalities.

It has already been pointed out to me that the reason this police officer was shot inside his own station was because the Met’s hands are tied because of the media profile of a ‘semi-famous athlete and her boyfriend’ who were ‘legitimately’ stopped and searched. Why does it matter whether they were semi-famous, world-famous, or unknown? That’s just a put-down. And, in the absence of the results of IOPC review, how can it be claimed to be legitimate to stop and search those guilty of owning a nice car while Black? But, worst of all, such a view puts the blame for the death of Matt Ratana on the Black community and their allies. Because, again, it is the Blacks who are the problem.

Again, the murder of a police officer is a tragedy. If the suspect, who, apparently, turned his weapon on himself, survives, he will be charged and tried and sentenced according to law. There will be an enquiry into what happened, not to point the finger of blame, but to see what lessons can be learned; with recommendations that will, in turn, be considered, and, perhaps, implemented. The family of the officer will not get their loved one back, but they will at least get the justice they need and deserve. No, this is not the same as for other families.

All lives matter, and police lives matter. But to use Police Lives Matter, like All Lives Matter, as a response to Black Lives Matter is not to support the police—it certainly does not honour a Maori officer—but to take a stand against those who experience systemic racism every day. To stand with racists, in a sick, manufactured competition. You wouldn’t want to do that, unthinkingly.

The murder of a police officer is a tragedy. People using it to stoke racial hatred is a disgrace.


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