All credit to Darian Murray-Griffiths who wrote and performed this speech at the Worcester Black Lives Matter Protest on the 13th June, 2020.
Six decades ago, the world saw everyday people become heroes as they left the tedious humdrum of their ordinary lives to become involved in the fight for change, in the struggle for freedom and in the name of justice and equality. Though we, and even the magnitude of our issues, may be much smaller than those great heroes and titans of the Civil Rights Movement, today it is in their footsteps that we walk. But I don’t do so happily. I don’t do so excitedly. Because I didn’t think that, 60 years on, the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ should be a controversial topic, or that inequality based on race and the colour of skin, should still exist. Frankly, I don’t want to be here, out protesting. I’d much rather be doing something else. But like so many of you, when I first heard of the death of George Floyd, I was struck with the same profound sense of indignation and disbelief that we perhaps know all too well when we hear of cases of excessive police brutality and conduct. The reaction that often starts with ‘Not again?’. ‘Not another unarmed black man dead?’. And yet we see the same scenes, the same scenarios and the same outcomes time and time again. A vicious circle of self-perpetuating fear and mistrust, of anger and aggravation, of pain and inconsolable loss. That same vicious circle has brought us here to today. Where we say together with one voice ‘We are sick and tired of being sick and tired’. When we say ‘Enough is enough’. Because now, more than ever, is the time for a change. Now is the time for our generation to pick up the torch of freedom and justice left by those that went before us.
From what we know, George Floyd was a man, not a black man, but a man, who struggled, as so many people do, to turn his life around after his run-ins with the law. He was not a hero or a martyr, but an ordinary man of African-American descent who deserved justice, who deserved to be treated with decency, dignity and the fair-minded benefit of the doubt. At the very least, he deserved to reach the courtrooms. In short, he deserved to be seen by those four police officers as innocent before proven guilty. Floyd, like every one of us would expect, did not deserve special treatment or special privileges. He deserved to be treated like any other person about to be arrested by the police. He deserved a show of humanity. On that day, those four police officers took the law into their own hands, and through excessive force and a flight from their senses, shamed and stole the dignity not only from George Floyd, not only from people of colour, but from every well-meaning police officer across the world. I’m going to be honest and say that ‘I support our police’, what I do not and can never support are those few rotten apples who persevere in a rotten and wrong culture that reserves brutality and prejudice for a certain section of society. Our police are there to keep us safe; but just as we condemn Derek Chauvin for using ignorance and prejudice about black men towards Floyd, so must we ensure that we don’t prejudicially and ignorantly condemn all police because of the cruel actions of a rotten few. Because we should all know that 2 wrongs will never make a right. We too must not take flight from our senses. It was Gandhi who said ‘An eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind’.
Speaking today as a young mixed-race man, I know that in my life I wish to be seen as Darian, who happens to be black, not as that black boy called Darian. Because if today is truly to matter, it should surely be that society, all of us, see each other as people, that we are not exclusively defined by the colour of our skin or the places our ancestors hailed from. It saddens me that, nearly 6 decades on, I feel a need to repeat MLK’s words from his ‘I have a dream’ speech, that we view each other based on the ‘content of our character’ not the ‘colour of our skin’.
It is in the small things that the rot starts. It’s in the overuse by people of colour of the n-word as if it could ever be a term of endearment when we should all by now know that it was only ever a term of supremacy, abuse and disempowerment, a foul word that was the last thing to be heard as blacks were lynched and suffocated to death in the Deep South of the USA. The rot starts when race is used as a form of everyday comedy or tasteless humour, when we feed on that which separates us. The rot starts in the glorification of violence, gangs and hateful music rather than in the glorification of a decent education and a well-meaning career. It starts with the rot of substance misuse and alcoholism becoming a way of life.
We should know that true liberation, true freedom, starts from within, starts with the person you see in the mirror. Success and opportunity can never be handed down as a gift, but earned and worked for. It’s not glamorous but, with education, tolerance, self-respect and hard work, then we as a people can open up the path of success and equality. Floyd was turning his life around, and perhaps he too realised that his earlier life’s misdeeds were fruitless, worthless and unnecessary. Though it wasn’t always a straight road, Floyd saw that the way to success, the way to happiness, lay in doing what was right. It makes his death more tragic. Let us learn from his example, not repeat his mistakes. And draw the right lessons.
If anyone here today seriously believes that the answer to his death, and to his life, is to spread more division, more hate, more blame, I say think of what George Floyd left behind: a 6 year old daughter, now fatherless. Is the world, in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, in which she grows up, to treat her based on the colour of her skin, or the content of her character? Is that world to be one of opportunity, or lost hope? Love or hate? Suspicion or trust?
A change is gonna come. A change MUST come. For those countless peoples across the world, wherever they may be, who walk and live in fear and who see life as devoid of meaning or security, we protest for them. Here, in the UK, we know that there is still much more work to be done. And yes there are racists and there is racism within this country, but I refuse to believe that the UK itself is a racist country, because I and so many others have prospered and taken opportunities precisely because I live in this country and this place.
It is because I love this country that I am resolved to be part of the fight to uproot evil and injustice and discrimination wherever it may still reside or exist. In these coronavirus times, this renewed sense of community spirit inspires me to hope that this realisation worldwide that there is so much more that unites us than that which divides us, will lead us all to be more vigilant, more aware, and more emboldened to call out those injustices or wrongs which affect our neighbours, our friends, our fellow humans, whatever the skin colour or nationality may be. I, for one, am sick and tired of division and confrontation.
I hope for a day when all lives really do matter. The very essence of Black Lives Matter is NOT because black lives only matter or because black lives matter most, but because to so many around the world, there is a feeling that certain inequalities persist, that the world is perhaps biased against them, that the forces of law and order are not on their side. And from that, they believe that their life is worthless. Today, we proclaim that MLK’s dream is not a dusty, long-lost hope, but an inspiration that we in the world of today may strive to make into the world of tomorrow. In doing this, our anger will not be futile. When we proclaim ‘no justice, no peace’, we aren’t issuing threats, we are issuing prophecies. Prophecies that until there is justice, until there is equality, until there is fairness, then peace shall never reign. Because peace can only triumph when there is no longer fear and no longer mistrust. It’s not just peace in our life and in our own time, but peace of mind, which we all deserve to have.
It is through that peace that we may finally begin the hard work to heal the fractures and wounds of history and move forward as one. It cannot be done by violence, by hate, by having a chip on our shoulder. In America, we are seeing anger, but we are also seeing signs of friendship between police and protester.
Across the world, we see an uncontainable outbreak of more than sympathy: we see people connecting to the tales of woe and injustice. Now, we must think what signals, what messages we wish to send to anyone anywhere in the world about who and what we are and stand for, and about whether if we allow such miscarriages of justice and abuses of power to prevail, how anyone can sleep easy or feel safe if such actions are deemed tolerable. Whether it be Minneapolis or Hong Kong, we must be prepared to call out the evil and ugly injustices which dare to show their face.
Right now, for many, the world is a scary and a dangerous place where the temptation is, for fear of the unknown, to become something you’re not or to accept a lesser place in life. For many, Floyd’s death, hot on the heels of Brown and Garner’s in 2014, and many others since, has made them cowed, made them walk in fear, made them feel lesser. For many, the social contract between citizen and state has been damaged; for many, their trust in the system has been damaged too. They may even ask ‘What is the point anymore?’.
Now is a sad moment in our lives, in history. It is normal to feel despair, anger, hopelessness, confusion and pain. But now is not the time to lose faith or hope. Now is the time to be strong, to be encouraged. I, for one, have refused to be intimidated or diminished by the events of recent days because I know that the justice and peace for which I long for so very much will only be made possible by acts of courage, acts of forgiveness and acts ofresponsibility. Violence can never be the way. Violence will not bring back Floyd from the dead. Violence will not make our pain any less. This movement is not about revenge, not about following current social media trends and not about proving that the louder or angrier you are, the more anti-racist you must be. Now is the time to heal, to reflect, to send a message to the world that our peaceful protest today is not an irrational outburst of uncontrolled fury but a demonstration that, all of us here today and across the world, are determined to finally be the change that we wish to see in the years that lie ahead. That our belief in democracy is only stronger as a result. That Floyd’s death will not be in vain. That these protests are not the end of the matter, but the beginning of something much more beautiful, much more fruitful, much more positive, much more hopeful.
Through coming together, let us lift the darkness to reveal the light of humanity and of harmony that is long overdue its time. Let our words be the precursors to action. And let our actions speak for those whose voices are oppressed and stilled by the ugly forces of racism, ignorance, and prejudice.
As Floyd struggled to turn his life around, so must we endeavour to turn our world around. To turn it away from the forces of racism, of division, of injustice, inequality and misguided revenge. And to turn it into a world of love, of peace, and, most of all, of unity. Then, and only then, will that famed dream and persistent hope, spoken in whispers and in shouts, that has inspired and carried numerous generations of embattled peoples, at long last become a reality. Only then will we be free, living in peace, living in justice, living in harmonious security. And, until then, I pray to God Almighty that that day comes ever closer to the present time.