Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Why Black Lives Matter Resonates Around the World
By Joel Gunter
BBC News

Photo: Demonstrators from the Black Lives Matter movement march through central London on July 10. Black Lives Matter has chapters in Toronto and London.

The power of the Black Lives Matter movement to galvanise people concerned about police misconduct has not stopped at America's borders.

It has extended to the UK, Canada and other countries where the number of people killed by police is a fraction of that in the US.

In the UK, members of Black Lives Matter London marched to the US Embassy. In Canada, Black Lives Matter activists brought Toronto's gay pride parade to a standstill in protest. In Germany, protesters staged a "die-in" in Berlin and read the names of black people killed by US police.

In the US, the Black Lives Matter movement gained prominence after deaths of black men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police. As the movement has grown, so has its goals and its reach.

"Black Lives Matter is not just about black lives, it is about the quality of black lives," says Janaya Khan, a founder of the Black Lives Matter Toronto chapter.

'Solidarity with the US'

Among the protesters in London was Maryam Ali, an 18-year-old student from west London who helped found the movement's London chapter.

Ms Ali has never experienced police violence first hand. Just two people have been killed this year by British police, one of them black. US police have killed at least 512 people in the same period, according to a tally by the Washington Post.

So what prompts a student in London to throw herself into a protest movement about police shootings thousands of miles away?

"Part of it is solidarity with the US," she says. "I have family in America, and I fear for their lives.

They could just been walking down the street and their lives could be be taken away.

"But the UK isn't innocent. There have been police killings here," Ms Ali says.

She mentions Mark Duggan, a black man whose death at the hands of police in 2011 sparked the riots in London that summer.

More than just police shootings

Like the UK, Canada has relatively few police killings, but Ms Khan says racial bias affects the country's criminal justice system.

"We really have to pay attention to what we mean when we say less anti-black violence," Ms Khan says. "Take our prisons for example; we make up only 2.9% of the Canadian population but 10% of the federal inmate population."

Black Lives Matter Toronto began, late last year, with two goals: express solidarity with what was happening in the US and apply the cause to Canadian issues.

To that end, the Toronto chapter is branching out into policy and education. This year it is running a pilot summer school in an attempt to reduce the numbers of young black people getting caught up in crime and to "teach a history that is more balanced".

The Freedom School was created and is run entirely by the Black Lives Matter chapter and the community, Ms Khan says.

"Some Black Lives Matter chapters focus on policy change and legislation, while others understand that their specific context requires them to be on the streets. The cultures in every city are difference and Black Lives Matter responds to those cultures."

The Toronto chapter sees its place as both on the streets - controversially it brought the city's gay pride parade to a standstill after being invited as guests - and at city hall.

It has made specific political demands, including the overhaul of Canada's Special Investigations Unit, which is tasked with holding police accountable but which Black Lives Matter campaigners say is too dominated by former officers to be independent.

The chapter has also called for the demilitarisation of Toronto police - an issue that came to the fore in the US when police deployed military-style vehicles and weapons at the Black Lives Matter protest in Ferguson, Missouri.

Back in London, the movement is less focused but no less passionate, Ms Ali says.

Ms Ali says the issues that drive the Black Lives Matters movement are not limited to the US.

"There is internalised racism everywhere. There is a system that targets young black people because of a stereotype that they are dangerous, without actually looking at who they are. It's a terrifying cycle."

Breaking that cycle is about raising awareness everywhere, she says, whether there are police killings or not. "We are trying to build an awareness of black lives worldwide, not just for those in close proximity with racist law enforcement."

When she is not at school, Ms Ali is working on organising new protests and actions.

"This is about trying to make a change for those who don't have a voice," she says. "And for me as well."

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