Yeah! Yeah! If you actually asked the Black Lives Matter activists whether all lives matter, they would agree. But the “All Lives Matter” slogan is just a way of hiding the message that the Black Lives Matter activists want to put across: “We have noticed that no matter how much it does protest, this society treats Black people inferior to others in matters up to and including lethal force”.
You can criticise the slogan “black lives matter” for not saying “black lives matter is much as white lives” (or similar). But it’s a slogan not a manifesto, and slogans are never as accurate as they could be – it’s in the nature of using few enough words to be catchy.
Personally I think that the BLM campaigners over-estimate the problems of racism and under-estimate the problems of economic disadvantage (which applies to all ethnic groups). People with poor parents are less likely to do well than those with rich parents; and yes exceptional people will do well regardless.
In the wake of the tearing down of many US statues of Confederate generals and in the UK, the removal of a statue to a slave trader in Bristol, there is an ongoing debate about the status of statues in the public space.
And some pretty daft things have been said about it.
One of the daftest is the notion that they represent our history and destroying them is destroying our history; no they don’t and no it isn’t. History is a lot bigger and more diverse than the handful of historical (in some cases) so-called heroes.
The best a statue (almost always of an old white dude) can achieve in that direction is to spark an interest in history. And replacing the Bristol statue of Edward Colston with a statue of Paul Stephenson would have very little effect on this “sparking effect”. From a purely ancient history perspective, I might prefer one to Robert Fitzharding, but given that there is no shortage of statues to old white dudes, someone else can take centre stage.
In the US, it is rather peculiar to say the least that many US cities have statues to traitorous (not to mention racist) Confederate generals. Even ignoring the political question of why they are there, a fair few of them have little to no aesthetic value – if I were one of those dead Confederate generals, I’d be saying “Look, I may have been pretty ugly but at least I looked human!”.
But it gets on to an interesting point – we don’t so much worship the real people depicted in statues as our idealised version of them. In the case of Confederate generals (and ignoring the conscious and blatant racists), some view these as heroes of states’ rights which is more than a little invented – those making up the Confederacy were quite happy trampling on states’ rights when it came to achieving things they wanted (such as the return of run-away slaves).
In some cases the myth of the man (and woman in some rare cases) is enough to justify their statue despite what they were like in life – for instance Churchill was a racist and an imperialist but he also represents anti-fascism, Britain’s war leadership, and the initiation of the European state project.
There are those who would point to the Bengal famine of 1943 as a reason why he should not be venerated in statue form. He certainly deserves criticism for his handling of that famine and bears some responsibility for it, but he hardly caused the famine and there was plenty of other things going on at the time.
Back to the Confederate generals … I don’t think their myth is sufficient to justify the continued existence of their statues in the light of their very real crimes.
In the case of at least some statues, their origin story can be more interesting than expected – for instance there is a statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the British parliament that was put up in the late 19th century. At the time, it was felt that putting up such a statue was rather provocative given the situation with Ireland at the time.
So no public money went to funding the statue; a ‘benefactor’ paid for the statue, but it was put up in the public space anyway – kind of missing the point!
But is the violent removal of such statues justified?
Normally, no. But in some instances, yes.
In the case of the Bristol slave trader, people have been trying to have the statue removed through official channels for over twenty-years! If you do not have a sensible way of handling reasonable objections to questionable statues in a reasonable time frame you can’t get too upset when people resort to direct action.
There must be a sensible, timely, and semi-democratic mechanism by which statues in the public space can be removed – perhaps if 25% of the local electorate vote to remove it, it should go. Whilst this is not properly democratic, if a statue is offensive to a quarter of the local population it seems not unreasonable to remove it.
Just recently I have seen some posts from right-wing nut-jobs (or racist fascists) declaring that according to their statistics, there isn’t an imbalance between deaths to whites by the police and deaths to blacks by the police. At least one of which looked at shootings by the police which is kind of missing the point; and leaving half of the killings out.
So I had a look at digging up some statistics myself which turned out to be somewhat more difficult than I imagined. It seems that recent data is difficult to find – not least because not all states report on these killings.
The figures I have are from 2003-2009 :-
| | Deaths in Custody |
| White | 2026 |
| Black | 1529 |
| Hispanic| 949 |
| Other | 150 |
| Unknown | 159 |
| Total | 4813 |
(Source: Table 3 of https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ard0309st.pdf)
So according to these figures, more whites get killed by the police than blacks; ignoring the racial issue for the moment, why is this not a problem on its own? The UK had a high of 23 deaths in custody in 2017; multiply this by 7 to get the same number of years and you get 161 deaths in custody over the same number of years (actually an overestimate).
But the UK is so much smaller? Okay we’ll compensate for the population disparity – multiply that figure by the US population (330 million) divided by the UK population (63 million). Which comes out to multiplying out UK deaths in custody figure by about 5.2 – coming out to 843 deaths in custody compared to 4813.
So the US police kill at almost six times the rate of the British police – the US has a serious problem even before considering race.
According to Wikipedia (also the source for the population figures), 72% of the population of the USA is white and (to meet the demands of my laziness) 28% is non-white. So let us calculate what the deaths in custody figures would be if they were in proportion of the racial mix :-
| | Percentage | Proportional Deaths in Custody | Actual DiC |
| White | 72% | 3465 | 2026 |
| Non-white | 28% | 1348 | 2787 |
Now this is a rather simplistic analysis, but shows that the USA not only has a problem with their police using excessive force against all segments of society, but has a particular problem with anyone who isn’t white.
Now this isn’t a proper analysis – just a quick back of the envelope calculation. And there are plenty of problems with this analysis; not least is the dated nature of the figures.
But it should at least be reasonably obvious that anyone claiming there isn’t a racial bias in police killings is off their rocker or has a racist axe to grind.
You could think that it all started with the killing of George Floyd; you would be wrong. There has long been a problem with extra-judicial killings by the police in a number of US cities for a long time.
Not all police forces, and not all of the police. But enough to qualify this killing as one of many.
Racism in the police? In many cases I tend to argue that “something” may not be racism but more to do with letting “sociopaths” be in control of the hierarchical capitalist economic system. Not that I am necessarily right, but it can be a point worth considering.
But in this case? It’s hard to argue against it in this case.
But it isn’t just racism; some of the police initiated incidents during the protests have targeted white people as well. Leading to the suspicion that some police regard themselves in some situations as above the law and willing to go too far in controlling certain segments of the community.
The community they are supposed to serve.
Just to highlight just a few incidents :-
Arresting a news team where the journalist was black.
Indiscriminate use of rubber bullets which has led to a photojournalist being blinded in one eye, and another journalist receiving minor injuries.
Firing a tear gas round directly at a news camera.
Drive-by attack on peaceful protestors with pepper spray.
Of course it hasn’t all been bad from the police.
A part of the community has been targeted by the police for a long time and that part of the community (the black community) has been protesting about that for a long time. And apparently ignored all the time.
If part of a community has a grievance that cannot be settled through conventional politics, they will resort to protest politics and eventually pitchfork politics.
We have seen something along those lines with the widespread disturbances in the US over the last week. There are numerous aspects to these :-
Not all protests have resulted in arson and looting, but some have. And despite the impression that some of the media portrayed, protestors don’t all set buildings on fire (it’ll be a tiny minority) and protestors won’t be looting (again a tiny minority – very often people who didn’t take part in the protest at all). Protestors have been known to complain about looting and violence.
Violence is never good, but if you think that property damage is more important than violence against the person then you are part of the problem.
Peaceful protests get ignored. If you ignore a complaint by part of the community repeatedly and for years if not decades, then you can expect violent protests. The more you ignore and abuse a part of the community, the more you can expect some to turn to the “cleansing purity of violence”.
This is after all the recipe for a violent revolution.
There are also indications that the violence and the looting is carried out by people other than the protesters. There is a) an arrested arsonist with white-supremacist tattoos, and b) rumours that white-supremacists are speaking about “getting their loot on”.
America: You have a problem, and it has nothing to do with burning buildings and looted shops. Restoring order won’t do a damn thing. Are you going to leave this problem to your children or your grandchildren?