Last night, I attended my very first protest.
Having witnessed the horrific visuals of Alton Sterling, 37—a man from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who was selling CDs in his regular spot to support his young black family a few minutes prior to being gunned down—laying on the ground, hands by his side, with two police officers sitting on top of him before letting off six shots inside of him—I couldn’t sit at home and do nothing when there was a call for a “peaceful protest” in London. 32-year-old Philando Castile from Minnesota, too: shot through his car window as he drew for his driver’s license, while his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter sat in the backseat, crying. These two murders hit me like a tonne of bricks.
When 29-year-old Mark Duggan was shot dead by police in 2011 in North London, I let the protests pass me by and I’ve always regretted it. Although those protests eventually turned into one of the biggest, most expansive riots the UK has ever seen—taking place over several nights across several cities—it was necessary for those in authority in this country to understand that shooting an unarmed black person dead will never again be tolerated. Being a young black man myself—one familiar with the background of Duggan—I felt helpless, almost to a point where I felt ashamed for not doing or saying anything but RTing the odd home truth on Twitter. And that’s to say nothing of the less-publicised cases of other black people (i.e. Sarah Reed, Julian Cole, Sheku Bayoh...) who have felt the wrath of police here in the UK.
All lives matter—of course they do—but right now, black ones are more in danger than you could ever imagine.
There comes a point in life when seeing people that look like you being treated like animals takes a toll on your mind and soul. I’m a strong believer in God. I pray daily. I pray for strength, and that these situations will never come my way. But I have come to learn how selfish that is, because it’s not about me; this is about my brothers and sisters who didn’t have a choice in the matter or long enough to even put their hands up when asked to by the feds before they blasted bullets straight through them. I know this nor any other article is going to stop innocent black people from being slaughtered by the hands of the law, but we—as an international people—must continue to push this message of hope forward.
“Why is there a #BlackLivesMatter march in London?” questioned some on Twitter the day before the trouble-free protest took place.
Starting at Southbank’s skate park at 6.30pm, proceedings went through Central London—from Westminster to Oxford Circus to Piccadilly, and stopping right outside the U.S Embassy. Seeing thousands of people—black, brown, white, young and old—unite for this protest was emotional and extremely powerful. People were crying, hugging each other as they stood tall in the fight against those who use their power to oppress.
Speaking with the UK’s only black British newspaper, The Voice, 18-year-old student and Black Lives Matter: London founder Maryam Ali says that “by these people coming here to stand and unite, they’re showing that they’re against police brutality and that’s really the most important thing. I think people forget that racism is a worldwide thing—it’s still very prevalent. This is ultimately a cry for help.” Grime star Stormzy added to that sentiment on social media, saying: “Don’t be the idiot who thinks because we live in the UK that this isn’t an issue for us to take on. Don’t think because we live in the UK that black people don’t experience racism from the police—don’t be so flipping naive! We have black brothers and sisters dying in the States and we’d be cowards to just brush it off. This is all of our problems.”
All lives matter—of course they do—but right now, black ones are more in danger than you could ever imagine. So get behind the cause, stand up and let your voices be heard among the millions around the world who, more than anything else, just want equality and a show of basic human rights for their people. Some of us have had just about all that we can take.