The killing of George Floyd shocked millions across the world. How can the most powerful nation on earth allow the authorities, who we should all be able to trust, to behave like this? How can the colour of your skin change the way you are treated or cost you your life?

We are all affected by this and nobody can stand by and ignore it as an event far away, because it strikes at the heart of justice for us all. He was a son, a father, a partner, a part of the community, with a right to life, protection, respect, dignity, the opportunity of success and happiness. And this has been lost.

I know many in the East End feel an anger and a need to be heard and to stand up for George, for decency and against discrimination. Every incident must be challenged until there are no more. In the East End from the Battle of Cable Street to the racist murder of Altab Ali in the 1970s, and with numerous other attacks and incidents, we know how these events scar our communities. But also know how they can lift us into defiance and action, and solidarity to stand for fairness, decency and the right to life. Many of us lived through this, in different ways, and these events teach us that younger generations can’t take safety for granted, and we must remain firm.

In the UK we face some of the same challenges as the US. We are less segregated, and we have bigger protections and I think we have clearer rules, but we still face challenges, and we are only part-way on the journey to equality. We say, and they agree with us, that our police must work without prejudice and building the trust of all local people. We have learnt a lot about institutional racism, but there remains more to do. We learn, for example from the murder of Stephen Lawrence, but we must remain alive, critical and vigilant.

Of course, this is all happening at the same time as the Covid pandemic. Again inequality matters, as we see there has been a disproportionate impact on our Black Minority and Ethnic communities, confirmed in a report this week. The community is under another attack, and we are looking for better advice, guidance and protection to reduce this impact too.

But while there may be lots of complicated reasons why this is happening, at its heart if families are overcrowded, poor, with poor health and with low incomes then they will be less able to protect themselves from the virus. This is a powerful example of why equality matters and why the demand that we acknowledge Black Lives Matter is so urgent.

Along with other councils we joined in the lighting of buildings purple this week to show our support for the Black Lives Matter campaign but while this symbolism is important we also need actions. As a council and as political leaders we have a role to play in listening, educating and campaigning. There is always the hope that positive change will come out of terrible events but it won’t just happen. We must take action to ensure we are all playing our part to fight racism, tackle injustice and press for a fair society.

John Biggs

Mayor of Tower Hamlets

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