Dozens of anti-racism and Black Lives Matter protestors gathered across London on Sunday, the day which would have been this year’s Notting Hill Carnival – recently cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. This carnival is of historical importance for the Black community in the UK, given its roots in the Notting Hill riots in the late 1950s. It has since then become a celebration of Caribbean culture, arts and heritage, showcasing the richness of the region and its people as well as their contributions to British culture and history. For these reasons, Sunday’s demonstrations in the Notting Hill area and beyond held added symbolic value for many.
About 3,000 police officers were deployed around London because of fears of public disorder. Other groups were expected to demonstrate on different issues, from vaccinations to lockdown policies. Commander Bas Javid focused his calls for order on the Carnival goers, urging them to “watch the celebration of Carnival from the comfort of your home, online” because “where there are large gatherings of people, officers will be deployed to interact with those gathered.” He added that unlicensed music events “are a blight on our communities and cause untold distress and fear, often attracting criminal behaviour and violence.” The direct link made by the Commander between the Carnival, the most popular event in the British Black community, and criminal activity is in direct opposition to the actual purpose of these demonstrations. Organizers stated that they were “incorporating the Carnival spirit, which is to celebrate emancipation from slavery and also to express what freedom means to us as a minority.” Their aim, they continue, is to “bring all the different groups calling for change under one roof, on a global stage, to a global audience to put further pressure on the UK government.”
These statements came amid weeks of controversy around the British government’s handling of cases within the asylum system. At the beginning of August, stories on recent Channel crossings made headlines as people died in the UK and France and Home Secretary Priti Patel managed only to express her condolences through a tweet, completely failing to address a system that she supports and that continues to kill asylum-seekers and refugees. Early this week, for example, Mercy Baguma – a refugee from Uganda – was found dead in her flat in Glasgow. Reports claim that she was living in extreme poverty and relying on charities and friends to support herself and her one-year-old son, who was found alive but malnourished next to her body.
The Black Lives Matter protests that begun 3 months ago with the killing of George Floyd have been sending waves across continents, as demonstrators continue to demand better for Black people. The events held in London on Sunday are evidence of lasting hope and the need for change. Within this context, the deaths of asylum-seekers and refugees like Mercy cannot be forgotten. They remind us of a system that has crushed them and the reasons why we march, why we write articles like this and why we engage in activism generally.
The principles, ideas and visions behind the Black Lives Matter movement are similar to the ones for the Notting Hill Carnival, focusing on uplifting and demanding dignity, acknowledgment, respect and equality for the Black community. This Bank Holiday weekend we should remember these values as we mourn and continue to honour those we have lost in the fight against systemic racism.
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