He was handcuffed and lying face down on the street during the arrest a white officer restrained Mr Floyd by keeping his knee on the right side of Mr Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and kept it there even after Mr Floyd had become unconscious. The police officer did not release his knee from Mr Floyd’s neck even when he pleaded on eleven occasions, “I can’t breathe”. A crowd watched and filmed the events pleading with the police officer to release his knee. They witnessed the death of George Floyd. The film of this tragic event went viral on social media. The protests in many US cities at the brutal racist murder of a Black man at the hands of the Police have made headline news.

In 2019, disproportionate number of people of colour died at the hands of the Police in the US including, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, 12-year old Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and many others since but approximately 1% of police officers are charged with a crime.

A disproportionate number of people from BAME communities have died following the use of force by the police in Britain. In 1969, David Oluwale was the first Black man to die in police custody in Leeds. Other Black deaths at the hands of the police include Julian Cole and Sean Rigg. The statistics are stark: Black people are nine times as likely to be stopped and searched by police; three times as likely to be arrested and five times as likely to have force used against them than white people.

In the protests following the death of George Floyd in the US and those in Britain the protestors have carried placards and chanted “Black lives matter” and the hashtag has been added at the end of tweets. Yet some people have responded, “All lives matter”.  This apparently innocuous phrase just adds insult and greater injury to the psychic, symbolic and actual violence already endured by people of colour. It seeks to negate their experiences of racism. This racism can be encountered every day through acts such as being mistaken for another person of colour in your department, or, mistaken for a cleaner or people assuming you are a spokesperson for your community or culture. 

As a senior manager within higher education I remember a white female first-year student approaching me after an induction session I had just led to tell me I spoke good English, but there was a slight hint of an Indian accent. I was shocked, insulted and annoyed - yet didn’t respond. In that instance, the power dynamic was upturned.  Despite the lecture being led by an Asian woman she clearly needed to put me in my place with the reference to my ethnicity. In that instance I was made to feel I didn’t belong. I was a body out of place as a manager in HE who was leading a lecture.  

In a similar way, at a moment of great distress for Black people and their allies the phrase ‘all lives matter’ is designed to assert and re-centre dominant power. In doing so it negates the experiences of Black people and the ravages of systemic racism which ensures they earn lower salaries, traps them in poverty, subjects them to health inequalities leading to disproportionate number dying during the coronavirus pandemic and renders them vulnerable, and targets of state sponsored racist violence resulting in the murder of innocent Black lives.

Professor Vini Lander

Director Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality / Carnegie School Of Education
Vini Lander is Professor of Race and Education and Director of the Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality in the Carnegie School of Education.