Fighting to end injustice and campaigning for greater equality
11 June 2020
Response from Sir Peter to concerns regarding the death of George Floyd and international campaign against racism
The death in Minneapolis of George Floyd while submitting to the control of the local police has shocked America and its friends across the globe, none more so than here in the United Kingdom.
Throughout my time as a Member of Parliament, I have raised the question: when will the colour of anyone’s skin be only as important as the colour of eyes or hair? Something of which I may be described by; but that no one should be judged by it nor treated badly or favourably consequently.
For generations in this nation we have made welcome progress in identifying and challenging discrimination in each of its forms, whether on ability, sex, orientation, religion or denomination or lack of it, heritage and skin hue.
Is there more to do? Yes.
I hear and share in the concerns of the many contacting my team and me.
Many may not understand the fractures of racism still present in our nation - many may be concerned by the protests and not appreciate the reasons why. For some, these reasons are all too apparent - racism is still a toxic barrier in their life.
We know the contributions made by people of all communities, heritage and race make in our society. Here on the south coast in Arun and in Worthing there have been prominent contributions to local life and leadership by individuals in the BAME community. We commend them, we empower them.
We thank Giles York as he retires as Sussex Chief Constable. I report good actions by our local Sussex police tackling cases of racial abuse and threats. Over years I also helped confront a faulty investigation of a racial attack that left my constituent injured and his brother dead.
It is known that I have assisted Black Police Association members facing treatment that could be judged discriminatory. The same has happened in teaching. These are cases that usually I try to work on without publicity. Trust that I will continue to fight from within as long as I can and is necessary.
Racism is not genetic; it is not inherited through biology. It is caught; it is learnt by children - listening to the language and watching the actions of their parents or those around them. Tolerance of racism depends on witnesses neither noticing nor objecting. Roots throughout our society are bad weeds. We must act to destroy it at the root, not simply remove the visible effects.
It is not enough to claim to be ‘non-racist’ just as it is not enough simply to teach the history of injustice and racism in our country. Rather, we must learn from it. We must be the change needed to ensure no one is treated unfairly because of the colour of their skin.
We need to be aware of unfairness, we must see bad treatment and we can act in advance of serious trouble. Before the Brixton riots Report by Lord Scarman, too many of us knew the problems. We did too little about them then. We must not deny and ignore our past but, rather, learn from it. Our focus should not be on destroying remnants of our past - instead we should channel our energy into forging a better future.
I support calls for a reinvigorated curriculum in schools. I understand the value of education as a tool to empower young people to make change happen. I have already signed a cross-party letter to the Education Secretary calling for a review of the curriculum with the aim of diversification of the syllabus to include the history of people of colour in the UK.
On the 10th of June I asked an Oral Question during Prime Minister's Question, with the Black Lives Matters campaign in mind:
"Mr Speaker, I hope you will allow me to ask the Prime Minister also to welcome the birthday of the Primate of England—the 2007 Yorkshireman of the year—the Archbishop of York, who is just laying down his crozier after 14 years of service. His great words were that we can share the glories, the struggles, the joys and the pains of this country. We should remember that John Sentamu was tortured in Uganda, served in Tulse Hill, Stepney and Birmingham as well as York, and was a critical adviser to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. Can I put it to my Rt Hon. Friend that if, in a period of eight years, there are eight interrogations of a bishop, each time John Sentamu, we have got more to learn about making the colour of one’s skin as important as the colour of one’s eyes and the colour of one’s hair—something you may notice but does not tell you any more about them?
Media coverage matters. Black lives matter. We can be in agreement with the words of George Floyd’s brother that protest and demonstration matter, and that violence is wrong and not helpful.
We share the strength of revulsion and the determination to push against the indifference, the habits and the tight minds and hard hearts that allow wrongs to continue when right can be achieved for more people more often and sooner than if we generally care little and react less.
There is an appetite for change.
It is not enough to claim to be a friend of the BAME community.
We must act on our principles and support those facing injustice.
I will continue to do all I can to shine light on this matter at the highest level.