Written by Remi Joseph-Salisbury
The UK Ferguson Solidarity tour is set to commence this Saturday 24 Jan opening in Luton and Brixton. The tour visits a number of major cities in the UK before concluding in Leeds on the 4 Feb.
The tour emerges on a wave of ongoing protest across the US and attempts to show the transnational solidarity of the global black community and its allies. As Marcia Rigg, of the Sean Rigg Justice & Change Campaign - a speaker on the tour - puts it, 'an injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere’.
The tour not only demonstrates British solidarity with US families and campaigners but also attempts to bring to light the impunity and insidious racism that continues to pervade the British criminal justice system.
At times, focus on US injustice has led to a sense of complacency about the importance of persistent struggle in Britain. We must remember that here in the UK, much like the US, black males are more likely than any other group to be stopped and searched, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be put on trial, more likely to be remanded in custody, more likely to suffer police brutality, more likely to die in custody, more likely to be tried in crown court and more likely to be given harsher sentences. This tour provides the opportunity for the masses to hear the often unheard stories of the victims of police brutality here in the UK, including Cherry Groce, Olaseni Lewis, David Oluwale, Mark Duggan, Christopher Alder, and more.
By including the voices of those who campaign against racist policing in Britain alongside US campaigners, the tour attempts to present a collective and global message that, wherever they are in the world, black lives do matter. For Reverend Sekou - a leading activist in Ferguson protests, who is due to speak on the tour – this ‘is part of a global uprising against all forms of tyranny’.
It should be noted that the tour has not been without controversy. London Black Revolutionaries (LBR), who were originally involved in the organising of the event, have withdrawn their support stating on their Facebook page that they ‘no longer have a working relationship with Defend the Right to Protest (DTRTP) and feel that the event is no longer black-led, grassroots or democratic’. They continue, ‘[w]e must be critical of the co-opting and blunting of black political movements and issues that has occurred at all points of our struggle, and hope that young black activists attending the Ferguson Solidarity Tour meeting fight for a perspective that is rooted outside of the insular political left and in the heart of our communities’. Given the long history of repressive Conservative policies, the inclusion of Rachel Toussaint, a black Conservative candidate, on the tour brings into considerable doubt the anti-racist sentiment underpinning the movement. This is further amplified by Toussaint’s apparent support for increased police funding and protection.
The co-option of black and anti-racist political movements has a long standing and troubling history. It is therefore imperative that the voices of LBR, who have done and continue to do important work in the struggle against police brutality amongst other social injustices, are not silenced. For LBR this has been an attempt from DTRTP to use LBR’s stature to gain popularity for the tour, and subsequently and rather cynically for their own organisation. The co-option of the tour, for the personal and organisational gain of DTRTP has taken away an important chance for black-led action through LBR and the NUS black student campaign. This was a chance for black activists to learn and grow. In light of these developments, it would be interesting to hear from DTRTP how many black members it has, and how many of these lead the organisation.
Here I am not suggesting that the Ferguson tour should be boycott, it is still important that the voices of the tour are heard and that we appreciate the work that the NUS Black students campaign and other local black-led organisations continue to do, but rather that we need to think critically about the role race plays in anti-racist and leftist political movements. We need to simultaneously show support for the campaigners due to speak on the tour but remain critical of its organisation and shows support for LBR for speaking out at this time. As we continue the struggle for racial equality, white allies must listen to and take direction from black voices about black struggle. White allies can play an important role in the struggle and I hope there are plenty in attendance across the tour but it is time to listen, not to lead. At the event at Leeds West Indian Centre for instance, it might be the time for many to realise that the West Indian Centre is not just the venue for a popular club night but is a community hub that has played a fundamental role in the lives of many.