The death of George Floyd has sparked protests against racism, police brutality and the killing of black Americans by the authorities and white vigilantes.

Footage showing Derek Chauvin, the police officer seen kneeling on Floyd's neck went viral on social media, while three other officers who were at the scene face charges of aiding and abetting murder.

Protests about the death of Floyd and countless others have been taking place in hundreds of towns and cities across all 50 US states, and have spread to other countries, including the UK.

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Andover will join the towns and cities across the country in hosting a localised event today, with a silent march planned for Saturday at midday. Similar events have also been held this week already in nearby Basingstoke.

Here is everything you need to know about what is going on and why. 

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What is Black Lives Matter all about?

Black Lives Matter is an international human rights movement, originating in the African-American community, that campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people.

At its most basic level, it calls for a shift in the statistics that black people are twice as likely to be killed by a police officer while unarmed, compared to a white individual. According to a 2015 study, African Americans died at the hands of police at a rate of 7.2 per million, while whites were killed at a rate of 2.9 per million.

The movement was started in 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman after he killed Trayvon Martin in 2013. Today, the Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc. is a global organization that’s active in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, although it has supporters all over the world.

The BLM guiding principles are to eradicate white supremacy and intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities through advocacy, fundraising and education. The organization aims to combat and counteract violence, amplify Black innovation, and center Black joy.

Writing for Harpers Bazaar in 2019 Rachel Elizabeth Cargle said that Black Lives Matter is “a rallying cry for a shift in statistical numbers that show that people who are black are twice as likely to be killed by a police officer while unarmed, compared to a white individual.”

Why is saying "all lives matter" offensive?

It may feel a natural reaction to respond to one group centering its experience with, "But what about all lives?". 

The truth is, black people are disproportionately impacted by police violence and systematic racism in the UK. Statistics show black people are more likely to be stopped by the police and officers are more likely to use force when arresting black people.

Worrying figures also showed black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth because their needs are not listened to. And black women are seven times more likely to be arrested, than white women. 

And in a report by The Guardian in 2018, it revealed black people experience microaggressions on daily basis such as being mistaken for staff at a restaurant, or being wrongly suspected of shop lifting. 

“Racism and discrimination for BAME people and minority faith groups isn’t restricted to one area of life,” said Zubaida Haque, the trust’s deputy director. “If you’re not welcome in a restaurant as a guest because of the colour of your skin, you’re unlikely to get a job in the restaurant for the same reason. Structural and institutional racism is difficult to identify or prove, but it has much more far-reaching effects on people’s life chances.”

Asserting that "All Lives Matter" just reaffirms — or at best ignores — that reality. Of course every life is valuable, but not everyone's lives are in equal danger due to their skin colour. Saying "Black Lives Matter" isn't equivalent to saying other lives don't, but rather that Black lives should matter as much as white lives.

Alicia Garza, one of the creators of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, explained in 2014 how Black lives mattering is a precondition for all lives mattering:

She said: "Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important – it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide-reaching and transformative for society as a whole. When we are able to end the hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free. When Black people get free, everybody gets free."

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor of Princeton University told the New York Times that the idea that "all lives matter" has always been an assumption.

He told the paper: “The entire point of Black Lives Matter is to illustrate the extent to which black lives have not mattered in America.”

Why are British people protesting?

While the Black Lives Matter movement started in the US, it is widely acknowledged that systemic racism is as much a problem in the UK is it is overseas.

Action in the UK began last weekend, as supporters knelt in symbolic solidarity with George Floyd and other sufferers of police brutality.

As well as echoing US grievances, British activists point to hate crimes in the UK. Campaigners wield placards stating “The UK is not innocent,” alongside names and faces of victims of racial violence in the country.

In a recent incident, Belly Mujinga - a Black railway worker - died from coronavirus having been spat at by a man claiming to have the virus. British Transport Police said there was no evidence to substantiate criminal offence.

What does Black Lives Matter have to do with Andover?

Organisers of Andover's protests have said they want to 'stand in solidarity with the rest of the world' and also 'educate ourselves, and make a better future for our communities'.

Community leaders have also expressed their sympathies to the plight of George Floyd and said it is important not to be complacent about the fight against racism.

In a statement Cllr Phil North, leader of Test Valley Borough Council, said: “I was shocked and saddened to watch the coverage depicting the despicable death of George Floyd in the United States. I am not surprised that people in this country and in Test Valley want to show their solidarity with his friends and family and all those who are challenging inequality and discrimination.

“The events in America act as a stark reminder that each and every one of us should condemn racism wherever it occurs – and I understand those in our area who want, through peaceful means, to stand alongside all who are horrified and moved by what happens. Black lives matter.

“It is vital through that in adding their voices to the growing chorus of solidarity, no one puts their own or other lives at risk.

“I am, therefore, pleased to see that the organisers of the silent walk in Andover today (Saturday) have instructed everyone who is attending that they must obey strict social distancing measures.

“They must ensure this happens.”

When are the next protests locally? 

As well as the Andover march on Saturday at midday, there is a similar peaceful protest taking place in Eastrop Park, Basingstoke, at the same time.

A second peaceful demo is also planned for Basingstoke the following week on Saturday, June 13, at War Memorial Park. 

But what about lockdown?

Mass gatherings remain forbidden and lockdown restrictions are in still in place.

Protest organisers have been asking participants to wear protective gear and observe social distancing.

Many protests have successfully maintained distance.

Those attending have defended their decision to protest, saying the plight of racial inequality is a worthy cause. Some have gone into self-imposed self-isolation for two weeks, after the protest, to ensure they do not pass on any suspected illnesses. 

Tips for those protesting 

Organisers are circulating information and advice as follows:

  • Stay peaceful
  • Wear protective masks and gloves
  • Bring anti-bacterial gel
  • Follow the two-metre social distancing guidelines
  • Bring identification and emergency contact information
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes 
  • Take sun-protection
  • In case of arrest, carry essential medicines (e.g. inhalers) on your person
  • Women on periods are advised to wear pads instead of tampons in case toilet access is restricted