This isn’t a story from history, this is now… we’ve seen people made to feel they do not belong here
Council passes motion against racial prejudice but united stance does not conceal anger over Windrush, stop and search and the hostile environment
16 July, 2020 — By Richard Osley
Sabrina Francis is the deputy mayor of Camden
THE deputy mayor of Camden has warned that racism is not a historic issue, and that people who deny that there is still institutional racism were “invalidating our experience”.
Labour councillor Sabrina Francis, currently the only black woman elected to Camden Council, told an all member meeting on Monday that she hoped the current worldwide demonstrations would have a different outcome to previous protests against prejudice.
“I just have to be very clear that when there are comments about institutional racism not existing any more, ‘but it’s unfortunate that black people might feel like it still does’. That very much invalidates our experiences,” she said.
“Because if you look like me, this doesn’t feel like a historic situation. It feels very now.” “I mean, even the Metropolitan Police’s own statistics have shown that a quarter of fines for lockdown violations were handed to black people, yet we only make up 12 per cent of the capital’s population.”
Cllr Francis added: “We’ve all talked about people being stopped and searched, and we know that that’s disproportionate. So none of this feels very historic to me.” The meeting, held over videocall technology, was meant to see cross-party harmony and the passing of a motion redoubling the council’s commitment to beating racism.
But although the text of the motion had been agreed among party whips to tone down some suggested criticism of authority, speakers did not feel like holding back from criticising government policy.
And Cllr Francis took aim at the Windrush scandal.
“We’ve had to watch our elders have the life that they built be ripped away from them and be sent back to the countries they sometimes haven’t even been in since they were children. Because the Home Office decided that after inviting us here, we didn’t belong,” she said in her speech.
“How can you help me feel like racism can ever be tackled in a country that burned our boarding passes after inviting us here, and then try to send us ‘home’? The fact that they even believed that somewhere else was our home, regardless of how long we’ve been here, just makes you feel like you’ll never belong.”
Earlier, however, she suggested she had hope, adding said: “This time it does feel a bit different. Like society is a tiny bit more ready to let us stand proud in our blackness.”
But she said the motion’s call for the government to act on its investigation into how the coronavirus crisis had disproportionately affected Black and Asian minority ethnic communities must be taken seriously as the next step.
The motion followed Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minnesota.
Cllr Oliver Cooper: ’I believe that the Metropolitan Police is no longer institutionally racist’
Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper said he welcomed the chance to pass a cross-party motion but added: “I’m proud that we have a policing culture that could not be more different to the one in the United States… We should welcome the fact that the police recognised 20 years ago that it was institutionally racist.”
“I believe that the Metropolitan Police is no longer institutionally racist but many people in black, Asian and ethnic minorities do not agree, and that itself is a problem that the Met and other stakeholders like the council have to fix.”
He added: “There is no room for hate and discrimination and no room for complacency.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Luisa Porritt, the former MEP, told the meeting she acknowledged her party was not representative enough, telling the meeting: “We’ve had internal discussions about white privilege and brought in external speakers to help educate us. While there is much room for improvement, we are proud Camden’s first African councillor was a Liberal Democrat, the formidable Nancy Jirira. Perhaps we should name a building after her.”
Cllr Luisa Porritt: ‘Suspicionless stop and search undermines trust’
Camden is thought to have only ever had six black councillors and the local parties, like many institutions and organisations, are looking at ways to change this.
Cllr Porritt warned “suspicionless stop and search undermines the trust needed between the police and communities”, adding she also had concerns about facial recognition technology and use of Section 60 orders. “As councillors we should be calling for these measures to end but sadly these proposals did not make it into the text of the motion.”
Sian Berry, the Green Party councillor and national co-leader, added the Covid crisis had exposed inequalities and racism.
“Institutional racism and prejudice is still woven through society,” she said. “It’s built into the system that makes up our society and determines our treatment, not just by the police – that catches the headlines – but also our education, health, welfare, housing and our life chances in the workplaces.”