Black Lives Matter in Wales too – so let’s make our justice system reflect that
On May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man from Minneapolis, USA, was brutally murdered by a white police officer.
His death has triggered a wave of demonstrations in the US and across the world and a new awareness of the global movement Black Lives Matter (BLM).
The killing of George Floyd is the latest case of extreme police brutality borne of a white supremacist system in the USA, but it is also prevalent in many other parts of the world, particularly in the UK.
Mark Duggan, Dalian Atkinson, Rasharn Charles, and Sheku Bayoh are the names of just some of the members of the BAME community in the UK who have been killed as a consequence of police actions.
This is why the BLM movement doesn’t just apply to the US. This is why there have been protests with thousands taking part across the UK. And this is why we too in Wales must be accountable and address the systematic and extreme racism present in our communities and institutions. This racism is interlinked with the UK’s history of slavery, and consequent white supremacist systems.
In the context of slavery, Wales cannot claim that it is blameless. During the age of industrialisation for example, when there were huge demands on the Welsh copper industry, copper was imported from all over the world, including from copper mines worked by slaves. Slaves were also brought to Wales from British colonies, and Wales contributed to slaves being moved using the so-called “Triangular Trade” routes, where goods were traded for captured slaves on the West African coast, and they were sold at profit for labour plantations in the Caribbean.
It would also be wrong to assume that racism in Wales is a thing of the past. A survey by the charity Show Racism the Red Card surveyed 800 teachers and educational staff across Wales, and [as reported in yesterday’s Western Mail] found that nearly a third of respondents knew of a child in their school being bullied on the basis of their skin colour. A 2019 survey from BBC Wales and ICM Unlimited found that of its 1,000 respondents, 40% felt there was more racial prejudice in Wales at the time compared to five years previously.
The England and Wales justice system is another area where racial discrimination is evident.
Research from the Wales Governance Centre shows that imprisonment rates among BAME communities are more disproportionate relative to the population in Wales than in England and Black, Asian and minority ethnic people have the highest average sentence length. White people however, are underrepresented. The research also showed that Wales has the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe, demonstrating the sheer volume of imprisonments in Wales. Rates of imprisonment also reflect that Wales’s most deprived communities have higher rates of incarceration – there is a clear link between poverty and crime, and the treatment working-class offenders by the courts.
The Lammy Review, an independent review into the treatment and outcomes for BAME individuals in the Criminal Justice System published in 2017, found substantial areas of inequality, including shocking incarceration rates; the review found that young black people were at the time nine times more likely to be in youth prison than white people.
Inequality is built into the heart of our justice system – not only racial, but also gender, class or geographic inequality, and this is no accident. A privatised probation service and lack of confidence from the courts in community based responses, coupled with austerity-driven cuts to legal aid and not being able to access justice has resulted in more people in Wales being sentenced directly to prison – with a clear link between the privatisation of the probation service, the pursuit of profit and poor performance in supervision and monitoring.
You need not look far to find examples of the disastrous management of cases by the justice system. In July 2019, Christopher Kapessa, an 11-year-old black boy was killed after allegedly being pushed into a river in Mountain Ash, Rhondda Cynon Taf. In a case that was compared to the case of Stephen Lawrence’s, no one was prosecuted for his death, and it was deemed an “accident”.
In my opinion, another example of racial prejudice in the criminal justice system in Wales is evident in Siyanda Mngaza’s recent sentencing. Twenty-one-year-old Ms Mngaza was handed a four-year prison sentence for GBH after defending herself in an alleged racially motivated attack by a woman and two men during which her head was stamped on and she herself received significant injuries.
These examples, and many other like them, demonstrate why the justice system of “England and Wales” is racist and is not fit for purpose.
If we truly want to show that black lives matter, then we need to do things differently in Wales. We need to demand power over criminal justice and reject systematic racism and discrimination in all of their forms. We need to work towards making our Welsh justice system a beacon of equality throughout the world.
We can stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Minneapolis by recognising we have our own battles to fight against injustice in Wales, and actively making that stand now. International solidarity means recognising there’s a problem here, and working to solve it.
Justice matters, and Black Lives Matter in Wales.