|“I know it’s hard being a cop.
I know it’s hard.
I know that shit’s dangerous.
I know it is, Ok?
But some jobs can’t have bad apples. Ok?
Some jobs, everybody gotta be good.
Like…pilots. You know, American Airlines can’t be like, “Most of our pilots like to land. We just got a few bad apples…that like to crash into mountains. Please bear with us.”
― Chris Rock
It is very hard to always convey intent when writing. When tackling issues, like George Floyd’s tragic death, it becomes tougher still. I write this with an open mind and heart. To think is to offend and I have thought very long and hard about what follows.
I am the son of first-generation migrants to the UK. I was born in Nigeria, raised in the city of London but have Sri Lankan ancestry. When we first arrived in the UK in the mid-1980s open racism was a common thing. I recall many occasions where someone would hurl abuse at my parents on the street simply because of the colour of their skin. My tale is a very familiar one to other children with similar history; my parents told me that I would have to work harder than anyone else, and then even harder than someone with white skin to get to the same place. Hard work and dedication are common traits amongst many migrant children of my generation.
I was very fortunate to be treated well by most people I have worked within my career. If I suffered discrimination it was in the form of class and came from an individual within the Asian community. I was told that I would never make it to the top of my career as I did not have a fancy watch and could not afford expensive suits and shoes at the time. My manner in talking to people was not “private school” enough and this would be used against me unless I changed. Hindsight tells me I was absolutely right is staying the same. Sometimes the biggest enemy one faces come from the very group that should really be supporting you. This is something I will look at later.
When I saw the images of George Floyd I was disgusted, and my heart sank. We have made so many advances in society, but it seems that racial issues are ones that we are still grappling with. I cannot understand how this situation could keep repeating itself. I spent a lot of time trying to digest what I had seen. I do not have any social media presence so was able to sit quietly and contemplate. I, like the many, want to see an end to such scenes. Not just for black people, but for everyone. I want to get to the golden hill, but how should such a goal be achieved? As I thought more about what had transpired, I realised that perhaps the answers may not be so simple.
I think it is imperative that there is a dialogue. Currently, it feels that people are screaming out of anger and frustration (rightly so) and no one wants to hear anything that anyone who may have a differing opinion has to say. I think that this is destructive if it continues for too long. I feel we can all learn from each other and so we must engage in debate. Too long has the issue of race been brushed over as it is deemed “sensitive” or may “offend” but this is cowardly. We can never hope to fix issues in our world if we do not discuss them. Part of this will involve asking many questions, however unpalatable.
On first viewing, the death of George Floyd appears a simple case of a racist person in power killing a black man. Though race is a major factor in the case, there are other factors that need to be considered, some of which are easier fixes than the outright racism that was so clearly on display.
The culture in America is particularly violent. The main reason for this is the right to bear arms. A police officer that approaches a suspect must always be wary that they may be carrying a firearm. At the same time, the person being approached, particularly if you are black, is fearful of suffering a deadly fate. Put two people together who fear one another, and you do not have to be a genius to figure out something could go wrong. Removing guns from US streets is almost impossible given the views around the right to bear arms, but certainly it would go a long way to helping. Confrontation where there is a chance of de-escalation, as supposed to escalation, are less likely to end in an unlawful killing.
The police as an institution has many issues to address. George W Bush was President when Rodney King was mercilessly beaten. Barrack Obama was President when the Ferguson riots occurred. Donald Trump is currently in charge. So regardless of political party affiliation or racial origins of the President, police brutality is ongoing. This suggests that it will continue, regardless of who is in charge. So, the suggestions that President Trump is the cause of this problem is wrong, and therefore to remove him is not a cure to this problem. What would be more productive is to educate those in charge in order that they understand and from there change can be implemented.
I believe in freedom of speech. Even if that speech is something that causes offence, and to limit it would otherwise be a contradiction. As long as there is ignorance there will be people who hold discriminatory views. But then such people should not be able to get into positions where they can meaningfully harm another person’s life based on these views. There should be adequate controls to ensure those who carry out public sector jobs are suitable to do so.
Looking at media coverage of this situation, one thing that jumps out is it is always black people that the media seems to cover in this way. We never seem to hear about police brutality towards those of Asian descent in the US. The same can be said of Latinos as well. I wonder whether it is that such events never occur? Or are they occurring with the same frequency but just never receive the same coverage? Whatever reason we choose to use to explain this, it does suggest that something more sinister is occurring. Perhaps there is a political motivation that bubbles away under the surface?
Listen and Learn
People in power have often abused those in vulnerable positions. Had George Floyd been a wealthy African American the case may have been different. As well as being fueled by racism, the officers may have been having a respect of person crisis too. If we pick any famous or wealthy black person and substitute them in the place of George Floyd, I think we would struggle to see the same outcome. This also goes to the heart of what divides and unites groups in society. The media suggests that poor people are black, but the reality is that not all black people are poor and nor are all poor people black. I am privileged enough to know plenty of successful, educated, honest and hard-working black people. Many of them are tired of the stereotype that the media continues to play on.
George Floyd had a history of committing criminal offences. Many people in the black community would say that he was an exception rather than a rule when it came to his behaviour. Nevertheless, he did not deserve to die in the manner that he did. An interesting observation is that several black people have been killed since the death of George Floyd. For example, 77- year old retired police officer David Dorn was killed while trying to protect a pawn shop from looting, allegedly by Stephan Cannon, a black male. There has been little comment by Black Lives Matter or the media about this death and others.
The UK and US share the issue of our young black males being killed. Predominantly in the inner cities. Many of these cases are black on black crime and is often a greater problem than racist police. Statistics would back this up. The issue of knife crime in London has become so common now that it barely makes headlines. We need to expend as much energy fighting the enemy within our communities as we do the ones from outside.
The history of Black people is dominated by the topic of slavery. Indeed, it was the goods taken through forced extraction under slavery and colonialism that laid the groundwork for the UK and other parts of Europe to experience the industrial revolution. The mills in the UK would have had no cotton to turn into textile were it not for the enslaved cotton pickers in the US and India. Expeditions into South Africa and India proved no less bloody and ruthless than the Transatlantic slave trade. Types of enslavement are therefore more common to wider groups of people than perhaps we would like to admit. If we can agree that two groups of people, say Asians and Black, have similar history with regards to being enslaved then it begs the question why there is a perception of Asians being so much more “successful” than Black people nowadays? It is important to ask how this stereotype developed. If we were to describe the situation of George Floyd’s death and then ask people to describe the person who was the victim, I am very certain most people would say “black male aged between 25 and 35” (George Floyd was 46 years old at the time of his death). This should not be the case. What has happened along the way to make us think like this? Our impression is that blacks are disproportionately affected by racism compared to other minorities.
If any positive can come from such dire circumstances, it is a legacy of change that they can inspire. But that is a responsibility that we must all accept. We have protested and wept numerous times, but history keeps repeating itself. I feel that viewing the events through a purely racial lens misses the other factors that could possibly be the root cause of a man dying. We live in a world where class and race get intertwined and can be impossible to separate. Being an election year, such events will undoubtedly get politicised. We will always have abuses of power. Mix all these and we have a world which is unsafe for all. This makes solutions more complex. Suspicions grow stronger and tribal lines more rigid. Once people harden themselves and stop talking, there can be no answer other than social degeneration.
We must welcome all to the debate so we can collectively acknowledge that which is glaringly obvious, and that which people know is true but are fearful to say.
Please keep talking…
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
― James Baldwin
Supun Ekanayake is a Partner at Quay Partners Investments (UK) LLP and has over 15 years’ experience trading across asset classes.