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"This is the people against racism’’ - Writer and Musician Jack Benjamin on Nottingham's Black Lives Matter Protest

8 June 20 words: Jack Benjamin
photos: Tom Morley

As hundreds of people gathered on Forest Rec to support the fight against racism, local musician and writer Jack Benjamin shares his thoughts on what the protest means, and how the day's events unfolded...

This is the people against racism

Since the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in the US, people across the world have taken a stand against the crimes committed towards Black people and people of colour. These are protests against unchecked police brutality. Against the countless years of inequalities that exists in our social and economic systems that have kept the door shut on allowing Black people to improve their own lives and live in safety. Against those standing under the banner of "All Lives Matter’’ and white supremacy. Against the demonisation of Black men in the media. Against the oppressive demands on Black women to conform to European beauty standards. Against the violence against the Black trans community. And against the verbal and physical acts of overt racism as well as the micro-aggressions inflicted upon Black and Brown individuals.

Many of us still remember being horrified by the murder of Eric Garner in 2014 and the protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and UK. We hadn’t forgotten this. Kendrick Lamar’s Alright became the next summer's anthem of resistance and perseverance. Unfortunately, the world moved on and these injustices continued.

No Peace. No Justice

This weekend, notable protests had already occurred in London and Manchester. Thousands of people had turned up to peacefully protest and make their voices heard. Despite the miserable weather, the people of Nottingham made themselves visible too. Sunday’s event was organised at the Forest Recreation Ground by activists in Nottingham. Politicians and right-wing groups told them to stay away. We are still in the government recommended lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Protesters are apparently going to cause another surge in cases of coronavirus. However, many were quick to point out this hadn’t stopped people going to Cheltenham races, meeting for tea parties on VE Day, packing the beaches and parks during the recent spells of decent weather or the Prime Minister from shaking everyone’s hands. Nor was there any condemnation of that behaviour.

I can't breathe

It was impossible to count but several thousand people poured into the Forest from each side of town. People young and old. People of all backgrounds. They peacefully made their voices heard.

Many had brought banners "Silence is betrayal’’, "Racism is still the biggest pandemic’’, "Racism made in the UK, exported to America’’ and of course "Black Lives Matter’’.

There were many passionate speakers touching on topics that for many of us in the Black and Brown community are very familiar. The pleas for the continuation of social activism and to keep applying pressure. To recognise this is not a hashtag or fad to move on from. To call out and recognise racist behaviour and activity. To educate yourself and understand that the legacy of racism in the UK comes from imperialism. The very foundation of many of our established systems is racist.
To recognise the pressures applied on young Black men and women. To see the public’s ignorance towards our mental health. And how we need to celebrate "you" and see the royalty that exists within. Between the speeches the crowd chanted "no peace, no justice’’ and "fuck racism’’.

The protest later moved on to observing eight minutes of silence. This was a time for us all to reflect on ourselves, those around us and across the world who have been affected by countless acts of violence and what real changes we can make in ensuring a fairer and safer future.

In observing the whole eight minutes, as individuals, we were able to fully take in just how long George Floyd suffered at the knee of his murderer.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds

As the protest gradually ended and people slowly left the Forest, the PA system blared out the music of Bob Marley. His music has a legacy of bringing together communities and highlighting social injustices all over the world.

As I made my way back home, I found that about a few hundred young protesters had already made their way to the Old Market Square with a little PA system. Peacefully lining the steps of Nottingham Council House and sitting on the flanking lions, their energy was endless. Their demands for change are justified. It’s their future that this moment depends on.

The protests on Sunday afternoon demonstrated the beauty of contemporary Nottingham. There exists a genuine community in our small city, who see that there’s still a lot of work to do and in order to make any changes we have to support each other.

Nottingham is this writer’s hometown and as a member of Nottingham’s Black and Brown community, I hope we can all continue to fight making this a fairer and safer world.

I ask that you educate yourself on not just the injustices in the US but also in British society. To press for changes to our school curriculum so that young people learn the actual impact and legacy of the British Empire. To support charities and art movements supporting the Black community. To have those uncomfortable conversations with your friends and relatives who hold racists views. Most importantly, to listen to our concerns and allow us to speak. If you are an ally of this movement, your role is absolutely key – your help has certainly not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. However, to bring about a fairer society means the Black community need to be allowed to speak and make decisions.

"The legacy of (of nonviolence) is not that of an individual legacy but a collective legacy of vast people who stood together in unity to proclaim that they would never surrender to forces of racism and inequality.’’ – Angela Davis.

`You can see a full gallery of photos from Nottingham's Black Lives Matter protest here

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