Three prominent buildings in the centre of Leeds were lit purple last night as a tribute to George Floyd, the African-American man whose death at the hands of police has sparked international protests.
The Civic Hall, Town Hall and Leeds City Museum were all bathed in purple light, the colour of anti-racism protests worldwide.
In a joint statement issued yesterday Councillor Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds City Council and Eileen Taylor, lord mayor of Leeds, said, “We are incredibly proud of how diverse and multicultural our city is and we stand in solidarity with all those across the world who are struggling against racism or any other forms of prejudice. By lighting up our buildings we join George Floyd’s family in their sentiment of peaceful protest and will continue to make a stand against prejudice in all its forms.”
Floyd died in police custody after videos showed officers kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. He repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe”, a phrase on which former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, based a speech he gave yesterday. You can see the former vice president’s speech in full here.
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The Leeds branch of Stand Up to Racism, a national organisation aiming to combat racism in the UK, said they were “very pleased that Leeds City Council is doing this symbolic event for George Floyd and #BlackLivesMatter.”
Formal marches and protests have been seen in other cities across the UK, including a major demonstration in London where hundreds of people turned out in Trafalgar Square.
Leeds University’s Amnesty International society has urged students across Leeds and the rest of the country to do everything can to protest Floyd’s death. They said:
“As students, we think it is so important at this time for pressure to be put on universities to support a curriculum that exposes the ills of the British Empire and the legacy that has had on race relations in this country.
“Our message to students: In the same way that we think Leeds City Council need to back up their symbolic shows of solidarity with action, we ask students to do the same. They need to write to their MP demanding the immediate suspension of UK sales of tear gas, riot shields and rubber bullets to the US, and issue a statement that directly condemns Trump’s use of force against his own citizens.
“Students are in such a powerful and unique position in this regard, as their voice can have double the impact. They can, and should, write to their MP representing both their home and student constituencies.”
The society also recently held a two-hour virtual fundraising event, Jamnesty UK.
Half of the money raised from their fundraiser will be donated to Amnesty International, with the other half going to Refuge, a charity aimed at preventing domestic violence. You can watch their event on YouTube here, and donate to their fundraiser on their JustGiving page here.
Despite the show of solidarity from Leeds City Council, some people were unhappy and took to social media to voice their concerns.
One user commented on the Yorkshire Evening Post’s story on Facebook: “Where’s all the uproar for the young girls who are being groomed???”. Another on the same story commented: “Why? Just why? It’s got nothing to do with the UK. All it is lately is ‘black this’ ‘black that’. Black lives matter can f*** off too…”
Sadly, both these comments have entirely missed the point of the protests, and the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole. Nobody ever argued that only black lives matter, or that the young girls being groomed in our area are not as important. Grooming cases, particularly in our region, have been a hugely important aspect of Yorkshire’s policing agenda for years now.
The issue is that black lives are the ones currently being taken in America, by bad policing; the people that we should be able to look to for protection. Many American police forces have adopted the motto ‘To Protect and Serve’. Kneeling on an unarmed man’s neck for nine minutes and killing him is neither protecting him nor serving his community.
George Floyd is not the first African-American in the United States to have had his life taken from him at the hands of white police officers. Sadly, he probably won’t be the last. To say that Black Lives Matter should go away (the polite version of the comment above) shows a lack of empathy and awareness of real-world problems.
Racism will never just “go away”. We have to make it go away. We can all play our part in that together.
You can read more about the murder of George Floyd right here on our website.