After George Floyd drew in his last breath the world exhaled in a roar.
The shock waves of the tragedy rippled out country by country, sparking protests and outpourings of grief, anger and disgust.
England may be more than 4,000 miles away from the road in Minneapolis where Mr Floyd was killed, but the incident transcended international waters, forcing waves of emotion, internal reflection and activism to burst the banks of the UK.
The world refused to let the father of two’s solitary cries for help die, amplifying his voice – along with many more nameless individuals who have perished at the hands of institutional racism.
While some people were shocked that a human being – irrespective of skin colour – could be treated in this way, the incident for others brought up painful memories of past encounters that took place on British soil.
We spoke to people around the country – from a well-known presenter to a teacher and NHS worker – to discover how they’ve been affected in the wake of Mr Floyd’s tragic death.
Eddie Nestor, BBC Radio Presenter
“I have had so many calls from white mates asking is it alright for them to be angry, upset and even protest.”
I have talked about nothing else for a week. Every day a more disturbing angle, a new protest and a more militant opinion. I have not seen anything quite so brazen before in my entire life. A thuggish gang in uniform kill a man in broad daylight, with an absolute disregard for the fact that they are being filmed. The killing of George Floyd has ignited a pain, passion and confusion I have never felt or seen in my lifetime. The pain for the killing of a human being, by those charged with protecting us.
The passion for some kind of justice, involving ALL the killers (don’t they have joint enterprise over there?). I am presently preoccupied with the confusion. So, many questions in my head. Why has it resonated so much here and across the world, what can we do and the role of white people?
I have had so many calls from white mates asking is it alright for them to be angry, upset and even protest? They are worried that it might be taken the wrong way and they don’t want to make a volatile situation even worse. I gotta tell you that conversation pisses me off. What did we see? An abuse of power that resulted in the death of a human being. What’s the person’s colour got to do with common decency? Is it right for you to be upset? I didn’t have the choice. What we do in this country is stifle conversation, stick our heads in the sand and pretend everything is ok.
Emily Maitlis said to George The poet on Newsnight “We don’t have the same problem with race here. Really??? And there we have it. We in the UK need to talk about race, about privilege, about bias. Unless we do. The cycle of oppression and denial, leading to civil disturbance will continue.
Rod Jackson, Principal, ICS London (International Community School)
“Students at my school, whose education lies in my care, will hold me accountable and inspire me to listen more, to hear more, to speak out more and to do more.“
The killing of George Floyd has affected me profoundly. As the Head of a school where a community of children and adults from 65 nationalities learn together, support each other and become lifelong friends across all racial, ethnic and religious divides. I am devastated that such a thing can be possible in 2020. As the father of two adults, I am ashamed that this is the world that my generation has given them. I find it intolerable that my older daughter’s partner has reason to fear for his safety because of the colour of his skin, right here in London. I am very aware that I am the beneficiary of my privileged status and that I have not done enough with that status to achieve change. However, my own daughters and the students at my school, whose education lies in my care, will hold me accountable and inspire me to listen more, to hear more, to speak out more and to do more. Don’t underestimate this generation – they burn with the desire for justice and; beyond the hashtags, the likes and the retweets, they have the skills, the passion and the will to achieve what we have not.
Adebukola Fadipe, student at London Metropolitan University
“White people of the world need to recognise that this is not an attack on you but a call”
The very system put in place to protect and serve the public has been allowed to rage on with impunity for years. Black people are tired and rightly so. We are all tired. Tired of seeing endless deaths in police custody. Tired of the systematic racism that inflicts these deaths going unchanged. Tired of families left without closure on how their loved ones died in police custody.Whilst we stand in solidarity with the citizens of America protesting, we must not forget that the UK police are not without blood on their hands: Sheku Boya, Sarah Reed, Mark Duggan, Rashan Charles, Edwin Da Costa – the list goes on (3,000 deaths since 1969). Someone’s sister, father, cousin, left with nobody held responsible for their deaths at the hands of UK police. White people of the world need to recognise that this is not an attack on you but a call. A call to rally and support. This is not Black people’s fight alone; it’s a fight for all of us. White people need to recognise the privilege they have in being allies and use that to help. All lives cannot matter if Black lives do not matter.
Wes Streeting, MP for Ilford North
“We have to defeat the worst of humanity with the best of it”
The murder of George Floyd has shocked the world – not just because of the brute force used by the police officer, but also the brutality of the response from the President of the United States. The dignity, courage and leadership of his family has set an example for the rest of us to follow. We have to defeat the worst of humanity with the best of it. It’s not enough to point towards problems in the United States as if combating racism is just a problem for someone else, somewhere else. We need to be honest about the challenges closer to home. In the justice system, the education system, the workplace and our public services, BAME people are subject to both conscious and unconscious bias and discrimination. Eradicating it is a job for all of us. Above all, this is no time for bystanders. If ‘all lives matter’, as some have argued, then why is there so much indifference towards the loss of black lives? George Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breath”. I feel haunted by them. Let’s now see the leadership across all sections of society to show that when we say that Black Lives Matter, we mean it.
Janet Mohapi-Banks, Coach, Speaker, Mentor
“I feel their anguish and I cry with them”
This has been a horrible week in the history of the world. I feel very fortunate to be here in the UK right now, but as a woman of colour, the events happening in America are felt deeply. I remember when I was 7 or 8 years old in the 1970’s marching with my black father and white mother in anti-apartheid protests in London. These were peaceful protests that eventually brought about a change in South Africa.I feel very fortunate that these protests never turned violent, but I can understand why the protests in America have. I feel very fortunate that I have never experienced the systemic racism that people face in America on a daily, hourly basis. That’s not to say that I haven’t experienced racism at all, I have, but I have never feared for my life as a result of it. As I watch the footage of the murders, the riots, and the extreme and desperate pain of American citizens wanting to be treated with the same decency as their caucasian counterparts, I feel their anguish and I cry with them.To my American friends, I send you love. I encourage you to stand strong against any regime that encourages racism and to be vocal about it. Be vocal in your Social Media, be vocal in standing with your BIPOC countrymen and most of all be vocal in the ballot box when you have the opportunity to do so. Just like in the 1960’s and 1970’s, now is not the time to be quiet in your condemnation of racism.
Julianne Ponan, CEO of Creative Nature
“It’s time to talk to your family, friends, colleagues, no matter how uncomfortable”
I’m 31 and of mixed race. My mother is from Kenya and my father was originally from Guyana. I’ve grown up hearing stories of the racism he suffered and I’ve been subject to it myself though more covert. I’m horrified at murder of George Floyd. It is not acceptable for anyone to be harmed and persecuted because of their colour – and by public servants. This is not the only case, it’s one of many. It has to stop. My dad faced so much racism when he arrived aged 11 from Guyana. I have been lucky enough to grow up in a beautiful area in Surrey however often in school I was the only ‘brown’ child in the class. I was given the impression that I wasn’t as pretty and I often used to wish to be lighter. Recently during the Brexit debate when I expressed my views I was told on numerous occasions to ‘go back to my own country’. This is my country and I hold a British passport. I believe that debate allowed racists to feel it was okay to express their bigoted views. Education is key. It’s time to talk to your family, friends, colleagues, no matter how uncomfortable. Racism isn’t about White vs Black it’s about Everyone vs Racism.
Stacy Moore, Chartered Psychologist, Inner Circles Psychology
“I’ve been surprised that some are learning of this fear for the first time”
The murder of George Floyd is the most recent in a long line of tragedies perpetuated by institutionalised racism that continues to exist in societies built on the very subjugation of black skin. On a personal level I’ve experienced sadness, rage, frustration, exhaustion, numbness…but I know it isn’t the first time and unfortunately it won’t be the last. Honestly, it’s traumatising. This time I have shared my fears as a mother of two black boys with friends and colleagues of all ethnicities, and I’ve been surprised that some are learning of this fear for the first time.
On a global scale it finally seems as though the chronic mistreatment of a particular group of people is being taken seriously. It’s sad that it has taken so long, and such a horrific incident recorded by a mere child, for the reality of racism to be believed by white society. When incidents have happened in the past the debate tends to be on whether racism exists, or if actions were justified. At last, the global outcry to this murder feels as though people are understanding racial inequality. I remain hopeful, but only time will tell if there is any shift systemically.
Tamara Roach, Cardiac Physiologist, NHS worker
“When something like this happens to unarmed black man, it affects us all”
I feel incredibly frustrated about the situation and upset for George Floyd’s family. When I saw the video, like most people I was horrified and couldn’t watch until the end. How can this happen in 2020? It’s no wonder that it’s sparked such outrage across the US and the world. It’s hard to know what do at times like this when you’re so far away, but it’s important to understand then when something like this happens to unarmed black man, it affects us all. Accusing people of ‘using the race card’ and racially profiling young black men in our city – all of these things are not acceptable. There are still ways in which we can help even if we are far away, for example donating to the black lives matter movement and committing to tackling racism in whatever way we can. During the coronavirus outbreak it’s really heartwarming to see how everyone has come forward to support the NHS. I’m grateful to work with such a diverse team with people from all different backgrounds. It’s sad to see how we’re taking steps forwards in some ways but are still taking steps back in other situations.
Elysia Downings, Buxton, Derbyshire
“I hope that we see lasting necessary change”
I have felt extremely depressed and emotionally overwhelmed after learning of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the police force. I am angry, sad and afraid, and I am not black. My Father, an Egyptian living in the UK, had suffered racial prejudice all his life and was victim of a racially provoked violent attack whilst I was a teenager. Despite my light skin and the privilege that comes with that, growing up in a 98.3 per cent white UK town I was still subject to racist bullying and the usual ‘paki’ comments from my peers. Whilst also in my teenage years, I witnessed police brutality and sexual assault after I called the police for help. I have never fully healed from this, and have lived in fear of the police since. George Floyd’s murder has triggered my own trauma caused by racism and police violence. The world has been exposed to the pain caused by the unjust and corrupt authorities and can no longer ignore systemic racism. I hope that we see lasting necessary change.
Daniel Amazigo, Web Developer, One Young World
“I feel profound pain that my child – a child who loves all people no matter the colour of their skin – is growing up in a world so electrified by racial hatred.”
We were re-watching the events that led to George Floyd’s murder and my curious 4-year-old son rushed over. I instinctively covered his eyes and led him away. As a black dad raising a young black boy in 2020, the thought of him seeing and understanding what that clip meant, at that age, horrified me. I feel profound pain that my child – a child who loves all people no matter the colour of their skin – is growing up in a world so electrified by racial hatred. So much of this hatred flows from our leadership – too many people in power will exacerbate racial tensions for their own selfish gain.The organisation I work for, One Young World, is creating the next generation of more responsible leadership. Despite the anger and hurt I feel in this historic moment, I have hope in the work of the young leaders in our community. We are raising funds to close the gap in outcomes for Covid-19 patients of colour – another shaming racial injustice.The late Kofi Annan once said, “If leaders don’t lead, you must make them follow.” We all need to be accountable for these historic events; leaders, even more. I hope those in positions of power and influence will follow the recent activism to stand up for racial justice.
Sam Morgan, Account Manager, white British
“This feels bigger than exclusively police aggression towards black people in America”
I don’t think anyone can watch the video of George Floyd’s tragic death without feeling a mixture of pure empathy, and ultimately, anger. I think this embodiment of racially-motivated aggression has opened a lot of people’s eyes to how our inaction has failed to improve a very long standing issue. This feels bigger than exclusively police aggression towards black people in America. From the reaction I am seeing among friends and family, there seems to be a genuine drive to ensure this devastating event inspires meaningful change, not just in the US, but on all the racial issues in the UK that have simply gone too long ignored.
Natasha Tiwari Psychologist and CEO, The Veda Group
“Mr Floyd’s legacy will be a powerful one”
Racism in the UK is different to in the US, but certainly no less dangerous. Brutality doesn’t always show itself as violence. It perpetuates in the lack of understanding, unconscious bias, privilege and indifference which has been inherited through generations, and is amplified by lack of access to opportunity, wellbeing and cultural appropriation. For many people of colour, black and otherwise, the lynching- and that is what it was- of Mr Floyd has triggered a deep remembering, of police brutality in this country, fights for basic civil rights, and the swathes of murders that have happened through history in the name of colonisation and slavery.
The uprisings now are a reflection of entire communities rising together and showing where their boundaries lie after centuries of oppression. When a child cries, a parent asks, why are they suffering? What have I misunderstood about their emotions here? Comparably, the question should be, why are people rising up in rage? We’ve all had enough. Had enough of people being murdered on the street and murdered kids’ names becoming hashtags. And certainly had enough of being told damage to property is a worse crime than murder by police brutality.
A society is only as strong as the choices it collectively makes, and now is the time for us all to together decide to actively become allies for the black community by acknowledging the injustice and pushing for societal and institutional reform. I truly believe we all have a chance now to decide where we stood when a movement shook the world. Mr Floyd’s legacy will be a powerful one.
Sandra Palmer, Creative Director of More Than Swim
“I’m viewing this as George being someone I could know, a family member a friend, a neighbour”
I am a first-generation British born Black woman. The images of George Floyd has impacted me emotionally and personally. What he endured was harrowing, unjust and painful to watch, but wrenching.
I’m viewing this as George being someone I could know, a family member a friend, a neighbour.As people unite around the World, I hope his death isn’t in vain and that there are positive changes afoot to the system and how the Black community are treated the World over.
Lee Chambers, Wellbeing Consultant, Preston
“Incident has certainly forced people to open their self-awareness to the brutality that exists”
When I originally saw the reporting on the George Floyd incident, I looked around a number of trusted media outlets to see if the story had been amplified. Having seen the reporting was consistent, it brought a certain sadness to my heart. As a mixed-race man in the UK, in many ways I don’t identify a race as such, I just identify myself as me. I had an internalised feeling that Covid, a worldwide issue, would bring us together as people all sharing a human experience of anxiety as we fight against something bigger. It certainly feels like communities have come closer, barriers started to erode, and people becoming more empathetic to each other. Deeper and more meaningful conversations taking place. Covid has taken the lives of many humans as we have tried to protect ourselves and others. Yet seeing a man, treated with such cruelty, at a time when we all need to binding together, has caused division, tension and stress at a time when we need to be boosting our wellbeing. Everyone has their own perspective and perception of racism, and this incident has certainly forced people to open their self-awareness to the brutality that exists even when we are fighting a bigger battle as one race.
Catherine Bunting, director of Hill and Jango Recruitment
“If more of the world was like the Brum, it would be a better place“
I’m a white British woman. I rose through my corporate career with the usual sexist comments that a woman in their 40’s has experienced. I started my business six years ago and through that time have had to stop working with clients (yes, more than one) who were quite obviously rejecting suitably qualified and experienced candidates based on their names not being British enough. (I would say that two years spent in Birmingham was completely different. If more of the world was like the Brum, it would be a better place). I’m at a loss with the USA, and other countries too. I just want to sit and sob that in this day and age, there are still people who walk amongst us who believe that people with a different colour of skin are worthless, and sadly in the case of George Floyd, worthless.