At Black Lives Matter event activists ask Redbridge leaders ‘Will you find yourself on the right side of history?’
- Credit: Archant
The pain following the death of George Floyd and how Redbridge can move towards a more equal society was discussed at a virtual Black Lives Matter event yesterday.
Community engagement officer Yusuf Patel, who is responsible for the equalities pledge launched in January, started the event by saying: “As a society we can and we must do better - there will never been any place for hate in Redbridge.”
Pointed questions were asked about what tangible change the council pledges to do, and why it took so long for the meeting to take place to begin with.
Windrush Campaigner Patrick Vernon OBE asked: “When you say Black Lives Matter, what does it mean?
“How many black staff do you have working in the council in senior management level, or are they all cleaners and porters?”
One highlight of the night was Stephen Addison, founder of BoxUp Crime, who said he was originally reluctant to speak after being traumatised watching the nine-minute video of George Floyd pleading for his life while a police officer kneeled on his neck.
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He said: “When I saw the video of George Floyd gasping for breath it was painful and it really took a toll on me.
“I want to do something about it and not just talk for talking’s sake.”
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He said the fundamental problem was that black people are made to feel like they are second class citizens and before he turned his life around, he felt that way too.
He said: “At BoxUp Crime we strive to help people to know they are first class citizens and they can compete at this game of life.”
He brought up his Christian faith and the idea that everyone should love their neighbour as you would yourself and the heart of racism is not following that simple principle.
“How do you contribute to systematic change in society?
“Look in the mirror and ask yourself ‘Am I treating people unfairly, am I not treating people the way I want to be treated?’”
Cllr Anita Boateng (Bridge), the only black councillor in Redbridge, said the reason she got into politics was to make meaningful change, but it’s a difficult and slow process.
She said: “Protests are absolutely so powerful but we need more than that, we need politics - it’s hard, it takes forever, and it takes resilience and commitment to see things through.
“There are no easy answers and no quick fixes for people in BAME communities to feel like they have a stake in society.”
Council leader Jas Athwal echoed her words and said the process for permanent change might be frustratingly slow but in order to do so, it needs to be done in a slow and steady way.
Fatima Zaman, an advocate at Kofi Annan Foundation and scholar at Obama Foundation, criticised the slow response of the council and asked why it took two and a half weeks after George Floyd was killed to hold the meeting.
She asked the councillors: “When history records this moment what action did you take, and will you find yourself on the right side of history?”
Winslow Green, who runs the social club Caribbean Melting Pot said the issue of racism isn’t simply a matter for white people to address.
He recounted a recent incident where he observed an elderly black woman being treated poorly at the Ilford Sainsbury’s.
He said: “There wasn’t a white person in that room, it was all Asians.”
He added: “The mark of a society is whether it looks after its elderly, and we’re not doing that in Redbridge, particularly with our black and Caribbean people.
“We’re also not doing it with our young people either.”
Cllr Huggett said that though Redbridge may be more than 4,000 miles away from the road in Minneapolis where George Floyd lost his life “that incident has made us pause and reflect on racism.
She said: “We can do better, we will do better and together as a council working together we will do that.”
Cllr Judith Garfield (Barkingside) said in the fight for change we have to remember to hold our friends and political allies up to the same standards we pose for people on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
“The fight is again and again until it is done.
“It is exhausting but it is the only fight worth having.”