Despite gloomy weather, social distancing and being in the midst of a pandemic, hundreds of black lives matter protesters gathered at Milton Keynes Train Station on Saturday to verbalise their disgust at racism and to unite under the shared belief that skin colour should never dictate a person’s rights or treatment.
*Before writing about the details of the protest, I would first like to address my own privilege as a white person, and I acknowledge that I will never know how it feels to be racially profiled, discriminated against or any other injustice that black people face daily. My aim in writing this post is not to shift the narrative onto myself, but to instead share the message of unity and strength that was palpable at the protest. In order to amplify black voices instead of drowning them out with my own, I will be leaving links to articles by people of colour, as well petitions and information for further education on racism at the end of this post.*
The crowd gathered in central Milton Keynes at 12pm (maintaining the 2 meter social distancing guidelines through pre-planned chalk markings created by event organisers) and arrived armed with face masks, a plethora of different signs and, most importantly, their voices. I was unsure what to expect when I first arrived as I had not been to a protest before, let alone one during a pandemic, however seeing the sea of people all there for the same reason immediately put my nerves at bay and made me remember why I had come.
Chants of ‘Black lives matter’, ‘No justice, no peace’ and ‘George Floyd’ kicked off the peaceful protest; the words echoed around the station with a clear demand to be heard. The resounding message was immediately obvious- we will stand against racism, we will fight against a corrupt system and we will not forget those whose lives have been taken as a result of discrimination.
Though the murder of George Floyd through police brutality was a key focus of the protest, the crowd was under no illusion that racism only exists in the USA. ‘The UK is not innocent’ was a common phrase shouted by all, indicating the need for change in our own system and a shared agreement that our own police force, businesses and peers need to do better. Not only is Britain still rife with institutionalised racism, as well being used casually in what some people deem as ‘jokes’, but there is also cases of police brutality against people of colour in the UK too.
After the initial group chanting, we grew quiet in order to listen to the speakers in the centre of the protest, only making noise again to cheer in agreement. They not only spoke about their pride “to be black”, but also highlighted the injustices that they had faced and emphasised the need for change in the UK – “we need to look at our country”.
One woman, who had “been on the front-line fighting [racism] for nearly 50 years”, made a powerful statement about police brutality, by stating that she refused to “breathe in the toxicity of the systematic racism that perpetuates every structure in this country”. She shared her own experiences with her brother, Brian Douglas, who had died at the hands of the police.
A further speaker encouraged the audience to “demand justice”, “call for educational reform”, “fight for” and “defend” black friends and colleagues and “call out microaggressions”. It was suggested that ignorance is the source of racism and to truly have racial equality we need to acknowledge black history and not be afraid to have difficult conversations with friends and family.
videos of speeches are available at the Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest facebook page.
Silence fell for the final act of the peaceful protest – taking a knee in order to honour George Floyd and all those who died in police custody around the world. This was perhaps the most moving part of the event for myself, as the time was used to think and reflect on the innocent lives that we have lost due to police brutality. It was no longer looking to the future for change, but rather looking back on the past and the irreversible fact that lives have been taken.
The kneeling continued for what felt like an immeasurable amount of time; I was lost in thought about the unnecessary deaths, only being grounded by the discomfort of my knee digging into the hard concrete. I thought about George Floyd, and how he must have felt in his final moments- the fear and panic of being trapped and knowing that the same institution that are tasked with protecting people are responsible for the deaths of so many black men, women and children.
We are not be able to remove the years of hurt and injustice that has taken place and there is no way to regain someone’s life, however we can adjust what we do in the present in order to stop this from happening again in the future. Their names will be remembered, and the fight against racism cannot stop until we are sure that no more will be added.
Boni Adeliyi, event organiser, commented: “The reason that I organised the protest was because I wanted to create a safe space for black people to grieve and non-black people to stand in solidarity. The message I suppose is that we are here, we hurt and we won’t be ignored. And this is felt by black people across the world, it’s not just an American issue.”
In this time, it is so important that we educate ourselves on problems that we may be ignorant to, in order to combat the privilege that we – probably unknowingly – possess. It shouldn’t take someone’s death to make changes that have been necessary for years, and I implore you to use this extra time we have spent bored at home to look at things from other perspectives and understand the world around us better.
No one is going to get things perfect first time. People will make mistakes, say the wrong thing or arrive late to a movement. However, they are trying. I will leave you with another powerful message from the protest and please see below for useful links.
“It is not white against black, it’s everyone against racists”
Articles by black creators:
What you can do to help:
- email MPs for educational reform- https://www.theblackcurriculum.com/action?fbclid=IwAR0EtqsLIHjQKeTFqwQv2lN7m-u7wcjfURrIvqeHFsS-CvWrMcUSWxI34Dc
- donate – https://www.papermag.com/where-to-donate-protests-minneapolis-2646128317.html?rebelltitem=42#rebelltitem42
- petitions – https://www.distractify.com/p/black-lives-matter-petitions
- attend local protests if you can!