Black Lives Matter

A black background, with a black and white image of Equality Officer Jo Hooper and the hashtag Black Lives Matter written on it

Our Lead Member for Equality and our Corporate Equality Officer respond to #BlackLivesMatter, how it resonates here in Devon and what support is out there for staff and communities.

Cllr Barry Parsons, our Lead Member for Equality says:

“BlackLivesMatter.Councillor Barry Parsons

“The kneeling on a young man’s neck with a posture above of hand in pocket is sickening to say the least. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated, ‘An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.’ He said: ‘There comes a time when he must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right’ – and that, ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’

“Let us all to be a part of a world which doesn’t rely on how we look or where we were born. Let us celebrate individual difference in all its forms and in a world where there is, surely, a complete focus on inclusive acceptance rather than exclusive fear. The foundation on which this can happen is only through our efforts together; not to hurt one another, but to move forward together in order to really earn the title of “Humanity” and to demonstrate once and for all that ‘Black Lives Matter’.”

Our Corporate Equality Officer, Jo Hooper continues:

“#BlackLivesMatter has hit our social media feed, this time in response to the death of George Floyd – a Black man murdered by a police officer in America. You may have even taken part in #BlackoutTuesday like I did.

“Some people respond with #AllLivesMatter. Yes, all lives do matter, but this is missing the point of #BlackLivesMatter – it’s there to raise awareness of the systemic racism which has existed for hundreds of years which, at its worst, results in the death of people because of their skin colour; something that White people are unlikely to ever experience. Behind the hashtag is the message: “stop treating Black lives as worthless”.

“I received a call from Councillor Parsons, our lead Member for equality, who asked me “I’m feeling especially sad at what is happening in America, what can we do locally ?”. In some respects I felt this was a difficult question. How is what is happening in America relevant to the UK, or even Devon?

“I reflected on our country’s journey in addressing racism through my lifetime – from the 1976 Race Relations Act to the Brixton Riots in 1981 which led to the Scarman Report and then a decade later, the murder of Black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and failings of the Metropolitan Police which led to the Macpherson Report and subsequently the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 which placed additional duties on public authorities. Ten years later this developed into the Equality Act 2010 where the additional duties were applied to all protected characteristic groups. It is because of this history that we have duties (which we welcome) to monitor for inequalities and pay attention to how we can advance equality and eliminate discrimination and poor community relations in all that we do – assisted through a process called Impact Assessment.

“And now we are in the middle of a pandemic which is showing that people from Black and Asian ethnicities are experiencing a disproportionately high number of deaths from Covid-19. The reasons are not fully explained but some factors could include inequalities such as health outcomes, housing, socio-economic and job segregation. We are keeping a watchful eye on the data and recommendations that will arise from the more detailed research being carried out nationally and globally.

“In response to the early indications of increased risk, we quickly adjusted our Staff Risk Assessment to include BAME as a category and ask all managers to have a discussion about health and safety concerns with BAME staff.

“We all have a role to play in addressing racism and inequalities – individually and organisationally. For one, the County Council is signed up to the police #ZeroTolerance2Hate campaign and the Plymouth and Devon Racial Equality Council sit on our community advisory panel the Equality Reference Group.

“This is probably also good time to remind you all of the initiatives we have in place to support good practice and understanding in equality, diversity and inclusion including:

“I also particularly like this humorous You Tube – TedX video which explores Unconscious Bias – a term you may well hear being used in the context of #BlackLivesMatter. I’d highly recommend watching it.

“Usually the summer season is an opportunity to take part in the wonderful cultural diversity festivals held in Devon including Exeter Respect and North Devon Diversity Festival. In addition, this year, we were making plans to celebrate Windrush Day with the help of the Global Centre. Lockdown restrictions have meant that these festivals can’t take place in the usual way so they are all planning online alternatives.

“And finally, a reminder of two staff networks that BAME staff can join:

Message for Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall Police

Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, Devon & Cornwall Police, released a message in which he says – “Racism and all forms of discrimination undermine our common humanity and are not acceptable in any civilised society”.

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