A statement from the PILC team on George Floyd and the protests of the last two weeks
The use of lethal force by state agents against people of colour is nothing new. It should not have taken George Floyd’s murder to show that racial injustice and police brutality are deeply embedded in the institutional, economic and social fabric of the United States, a nation founded on white supremacy. The structural racism and anti-blackness we see in America today reflect an unbroken tradition stretching back to colonialism and slavery.
The past and present of our own country are equally implicated in this tradition. Systemic racism pervades our politics, economy, culture and society. We encounter this truth every day in our work defending victims of police surveillance, survivors of domestic violence and those at the sharp end of the UK border regime.
Racist structures deprive young people of access to education, deny safety and shelter to women fleeing violence, and expose people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) to destitution, exploitation and abuse. Austerity and dispossession have hit communities of colour hardest through mass evictions, social cleansing and the sale of public land and community assets.
Our criminal justice system is rigged against people of colour. Black men in the UK are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched, rising to as high as forty times when a Section 60 notice has been issued removing legal protections. Black men are more than twice as likely to die in police custody. While black people make up 3% of the English population, they make up 12% of our prison population.
The protests taking place across the world are a response to decades of state violence and racist law enforcement. The racist roots of our societies seep through into all of our institutions, including the legal profession.
The law under capitalism has never been a neutral tool. It operates to legitimate and reproduce systems of domination and oppression.
We cannot begin to fight injustice in and through the legal system unless we properly address racism in our own circles. Law firms are rife with prejudice and attitudes are not changing. Just 8 percent of partners in large law firms, 8 percent of judges and 7.2 percent of QCs are from BME backgrounds. The Law Centres movement, and our own workplaces, are not immune from these issues.
Expressing solidarity is not enough. The legal profession must do better. Where we remain neutral or silent, we are complicit in the oppression that many of us came to the law in order to challenge.
We cannot dismantle structural racism if we do not acknowledge that our current system of laws is not only broken but has been designed to preserve racial inequality. We must not be afraid to unsettle and disrupt the legal system, even as we work within it.
We hope the current protest movement will spark a new wave of struggle. Lawyers must do their part in resisting not only police brutality, but also the violence done to communities of colour by the poverty and inequality that are essential features of life under capitalism.
We stand shoulder to shoulder with Black Lives Matter.
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” Angela Davis.