The demonstrations across the US are some of the largest I can remember in decades. Spreading around the world – from France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland to Australia, Japan and Senegal – the death of George Floyd has become a truly global moment. Young people in this country especially have been taking to the streets to protest racial injustice in our own backyard. As somebody who has been aggressively patted down by the police myself, I resonate with the overwhelming sense of weariness and anger. As black communities around the world grow increasingly tired of being excluded from the social contract, more and more white people are waking up. We should ask ourselves, though, will this global moment be a pivotal moment as well?
I say this as someone who has witnessed their fair share of injustice being kicked into the long grass. It took six years for a report to be commissioned into the police’s botched investigation of Stephen Lawrence’s murder. I watched Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham struggle for years to get justice on behalf of the Hillsborough victims. And, three years on, we’re still waiting for somebody to be held accountable for the death of 72 people in the Grenfell Tower fire.
To those whose aim is to merely exhaust these injustices of public interest until they’ve been removed from the news cycle altogether, ‘the review’ has become their most powerful weapon. Following the Black Lives Matter protests, Boris Johnson said he was launching a “cross-governmental commission” which will look at “all aspects” of racial inequality in the UK. The problem is, we have been given no reason to believe this review will be any different to the countless reviews, commissions and reports that lay in its wake. Worse still, we have no reason to believe that the deafening silence that followed will, this time, be broken.
I made 35 specific recommendations in the Lammy Review, which looked into racial disproportionality in our criminal justice system. There are 30 recommendations in the Home Office review into the Windrush scandal. Following the Grenfell Tower Fire, the Hackitt review made 50 recommendations regarding building safety. There are 26 recommendations in Baroness McGregor Smith’s review into workplace discrimination. There are 8 recommendations in the Parker Review into the ethnic diversity of UK boardrooms. The Angiolini Review made 110 recommendations to tackle deaths in police custody. The message from the Black Lives Matter movement is loud and clear: implement these recommendations. Legislate. Act. Do something.
It’s been more than 20 years since the MacPherson report found evidence of “institutional racism” in our police, but you are still 9 times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black than if you are white. It’s been four years since David Cameron commissioned the Lammy Review, and black, Asian and ethnic minority people still make up 51% of the youth justice system, despite making up just 14% of the general population. Three years have passed since the Angioloni review, but you are still more than twice as likely to die in policy custody if you are black than if you are white. The central demand of the McGregor Smith review was mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting. Three years on, no action has been taken.
The time for review is over and the time for action is now. That’s why it’s so important that people continue to take an interest in racial injustice even when it’s not in the news cycle, when it’s less fashionable and less comfortable to stand up to racial inequality. The widespread solidarity we’re witnessing must carry its momentum forward to demand action so that the recommendations made years ago are finally implemented.
We have to find a way to transform people’s righteous anger into meaningful reform, because we cannot look back in five years’ time and find that George Floyd was just a hashtag. We have to find a way to convert a trending spectacle into a radically reformed criminal justice system, which faces up to its undeniable racial prejudice. We have to find a way to translate endless reviews into ending racial injustice.
David Lammy is a Member of Parliament for Tottenham and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice