On 2020/05/25, George Floyd died in police custody after an arresting officer placed his knee on Floyd's neck for nine minutes while Floyd was cuffed and lying face-down in the street. The resulting community and social action have seen protests emerge across all fifty States in the United States of America, as well as demonstrations abroad. In Bristol, crowds toppled the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th century member of the British Parliament and a slave trader. In Nashville, Richmond, Denton, and Franklin, statues commemorating soldiers of the Confederate States of America have been brought down as well. In Australia, tens of thousands took to the streets on 2020/06/06, protesting the deaths of First and Indigenous Australians in custody.
In the current social climate, defined by a pandemic, generational economic uncertainty, and spiking unemployment, the death of George Floyd seems like the spark applied to a powder keg of tensions which have all burst and are surging out at the same time. They are repeated across digital, print, and radio media. It's easy to dismiss these protests because of the way things are going now. It's easy to say that people are scared, that people need something to do, that people are bored. It's hard to take a look at the way that we do things and realise that the tensions that have exploded across the globe in one week, spreading far faster than the Coronavirus could, have been percolated as a result of institutional practice and societal inertia.
In the United States, June is also Pride Month; a time when the sacrifices of the LGBT community are remembered, and when we remember their struggles for representation and societal equity. Pride Month specifically remembers the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which followed when the police raided Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. Again, protests and rioting overnight led to the organising of LGBT marches on a broader scale, which spread across cities and other states. In 1971, marches were taking place in the United States, as well as in London, Paris, and West Berlin, against the backdrop of the market crashes and anxieties of those days. Again, it's easy to say that people were scared, that people needed something to do, that people were bored. Just as today, the Riots of 1969 were a spark applied to a powder keg that had been packed by generations of institutional injustice and societal indifference, this time against those in the LGBT community instead of those in the African American community.
The protests we see now and the Stonewall Riots have so much in common with the Occupy Movement, the Ferguson Riots, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, and the Global Climate Change Rallies in early 2020. On a timeline, they all represent points where the pressure of an issue has risen past people's ability to ignore them, and where these grievances have spilled over into the social and political milieu of the day. These problems have always existed, they have merely been catalysed into their present form by virtue of an event. A stone's throw, a bushfire, and a death are all transformations of state that have reformed spoken and generationally lived grievances into present physical realities.
The global Black Lives Matter movement does not exist in a vacuum. It is in the same vein as the global struggle for LGBT representation and the need for societal and economic reform in the face of Climate Change. All of these struggles and more, be they racial, social, societal or existential, have grown as the result of systemic injustices that have provided for some but not for others. It is easy to dismiss the Black Lives Matter movement as the frustrations of the unemployed, the criminal, or the aggravated. It is hard to understand the Black Lives Matter movement as the voice of generations of people who have been the victims of a machine of state whose purpose to provide security, but which engages in the disproportionate extrajudicial murder and incarceration of its minority populations as a side effect. It is hard to realise that the same mechanisms of societal access that have elevated people like myself to positions of professional and social power have, by their nature and by accident, disadvantaged others. It is hard to realise that minority populations in wealthy democracies like Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and more have been used as political demons or political lynchpins instead of being known as people; sometimes for longer periods of time than those democracies have existed. This disadvantage exists across multiple spectra: education, health, policing outcomes, home ownership, incarceration and rehabilitation, and access to social and political capital are all domains of inequality, maintained in their present balance by societal inertia and laziness.
It is easy to dismiss the grievances of others, so long as those others exist in the periphery of your social circles. It is easy to keep things going the way they are, so long as they're going your way. It is easy to say All Lives Matter, until you need to say My Life Matters. The lives of the poor, the disenfranchised, and under-represented and the over-incarcerated matter. It is hard to accept that change isn't about posting a black square on social media. Change, real change, is sticking your hands into the guts of a system that hurts people and reforming things into a New Normal, even if you yourself are toppled in the process.
A death makes a Riot. A Riot makes a Movement. A Movement makes a Change.
It's like this because it's easy to keep things the way that they are and to not call out injustice. Injustice matters. Inequality matters.
Black Lives Matter.