I attended my first ever protest last night.
Having witnessed the horrifically graphic visuals of Alton Sterling—a man from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who was selling CDs in his regular spot (to support his family, his young black family) a few minutes prior to being gunned down—laying on the ground, hands by his side, with two police officers sitting on top of him before letting off six shots inside of him—I couldn't sit at home and do nothing when there was a call for a "peaceful protest" in London. Philando Castile from Minnesota, too: shot through his car window as he drew for his driving license, with his girlfriend's 4-year-old daughter sitting in the back seat. These two murders hit me like a tonne of bricks. When Mark Duggan was shot dead by police in North London in 2011, I let the protests slide and I've always regretted it. I wanted to take part, I really did, but something told me to stay inside.
Although those events eventually turned into one of the biggest, most expansive riots the UK's ever seen (taking place over several nights across several cities), it was necessary for the authorities to understand that shooting an innocent black man dead will never again be tolerated. Being a young black man myself—one familiar with the background of Duggan—I felt helpless, almost to a point where I felt ashamed for not doing or saying anything but RT the odd home truth on Twitter. And that's to say nothing of the less-publicised murders and assaults of other black people (i.e. Sarah Reed, Julian Cole, Sheku Bayoh and the rest) who have felt the wrath of police here in the UK.
All lives matter—of course they do—but right now, black ones are more in danger than you could ever imagine.
There comes a point in life when seeing people that look like you being treated like animals, pieces of meat, takes a toll on your mind and every part of your soul. I'm a strong believer in God. I pray daily. I pray for strength, and that these situations will never come my way. But I've come to learn how selfish that is, because it's not about me; it's about my brothers and sisters who didn't have a choice in the matter, or long enough to even put their hands up when asked to by the feds before they sent bullets straight through them. Even writing this, my heart bleeds, because I know this nor any other article is going to stop innocent black people from being slaughtered by the hands of the law. But we, as an international people, must continue to push this message of hope forward.
"Why is there a #BlackLivesMatter march in London?" questioned some on Twitter the day before the trouble-free, well-attended protest took place on July 8th. Kicking off at Southbank skate park at 6.30pm, proceedings went through Central London, to Westminster, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly, and back down to the U.S Embassy. Seeing thousands of black, brown, and white people—young and old—unite for this protest was super-emotional and extremely powerful. Folk were crying, hugging each other as they stood tall in the fight against those who use their power to oppress.
Speaking with black British newspaper The Voice, 18-year-old student and Black Lives Matter London founder Maryam Ali said: "By these people coming here to stand and unite, they are showing that they are against police brutality and that's the most important thing. I think people forget that racism is a worldwide thing. It's still very prevalent. This is ultimately a cry for help." Grime artist Stormzy added to that sentiment on social media, saying: "Don't be the stupid idiot who thinks because we live in the UK that this isn't an issue for us to take on. Don't be the stupid idiot who thinks because we live in the UK that black people don't experience racism from the police—don't be so flipping naive. We have black brothers and sisters dying in the States and we'd be cowards to just brush it off. This is all of our problems."
All lives matter—of course they do—but right now, black ones are more in danger than you could ever imagine. So get behind the cause, stand up and let your voices be heard among the millions around the world who, more than anything else, want equality and a show of basic human rights for their people because we've had just about all that we can take.