Black Lives Matter - of course they do, as do lives of people of whatever colour, race or religion. Discrimination of any sort cannot be allowed, and indeed under very longstanding laws it is not allowed. Not only that, (and it may be that here in North Wiltshire we are shielded from it), but my experience is that the British people are generally a pretty tolerant, easy going lot, and most definitely not by and large prone to racism, sexism, or any other kind of -ism.
So I absolutely condemn any racist outrage in America, and agree that the police officers who played any part in the death of George Floyd must face the full force of American law. All of us were sickened by what we saw on the News, and it is quite right that we should express our outrage at it. However, I am also clear that the accused must also be given the protection of the law, in particular the basic right of ‘Innocent until proved guilty.’ It is, incidentally, a matter for the Government of the USA, and not something over which we have any influence.
I strongly support the right of free expression of our views, and the right to demonstrate. Peaceful protesting has always been part of our DNA. How it can be justified under the Covid social distancing rules is another matter; but I suppose that the Police are right in their view that people were going to turn up anyhow, and short of arresting tens of thousands of peaceful protestors, there was not a great deal that they could do about it. Good British policing has always meant calming things down rather than stirring them up.
However, I am absolutely at one with the whole of British society, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister at our outrage that the legitimate desire of people to condemn racism, should have been hijacked by brutish thugs in the way that it was. Thirty or so police officers injured by flying missiles including bicycles is simply unacceptable. So are people desecrating the Cenotaph by climbing up it; so are the morons who defaced Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square. The destruction of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol was equally vandalism and the destruction of private property which we should not tolerate.
There is a debate to be had as to whether or not we should allow statues or portraits of historic figures who did things which today would be wholly unacceptable. And if the Bristol Community really do find mention of Colston so upsetting, perhaps we should quietly take his statue down and replace it with William Wilberforce. That might make us feel better, but it would not change history. And any such expunging of unacceptable history must be done by quiet discussion and decision, not by mob violence and destruction. The Policing tactic of ‘casting a blind eye’ to it must anyhow be questionable.
On the other hand, you do have to wonder why these thugs do what they do? At least part of it must be to trigger the extreme outrage which many of us feel. If that is so, then perhaps the best reaction just maybe a power hose and a bit of sweeping up of discarded protest posters as the oncoming rain dispels the protestors. An under-reaction of that kind may be just as effective as the over-reaction which our outraged instincts demand.
Black Lives Matter. Of course they do. But so does law and order and the right of peaceful citizens to decency and respect. If protests there must be, then they must also be peaceful and law-abiding.