It’s Sunday morning and as the world comes to terms with the varying degrees of social change that is taking shape around the world, I am lying in bed slowly coming into consciousness as the warmth of the sun hits my face through the bedroom window. I wake up and realise that I’ve slept in until almost 10.30am. I get up, make a pot of coffee and stretch out in my comfortable armchair. ‘How is it that I can get so much sleep and still feel this exhausted?’, I ask myself.
Being one of the thousands of people that suffer from sleep apnoea I have been given a machine to use at night to ensure my airways stay open and that I have deep and restful sleep.
With it still being a fairly new process to me, I find that it takes me twenty minutes or so to wake up fully in the mornings, so I tend to sit with my first coffee of the day and bring myself together as I think about how I can drive change for good each day and make a positive impact on social change for the good of others.
I would have to be totally stupid to not realise that I am in a very privileged position and for the immediate future at least, feel secure and safe in my own little world.
Or at least I did feel safe until what feels like a fuse was well and truly lit under the powder keg that is racial inequality in the US with the murder of George Floyd.
Watching his final minutes on cell-phone video was highly distressing and I would’ve thought it was obvious to anyone at that point that serious changes to the system needed to be implemented. As a resident of the United Kingdom I had a certain expectation that the Police force would perform in a way that allowed people to publicly display their frustration, whilst maintaining a low-key presence to alleviate tensions.
Instead it appears that the American Police forces have gone all out to be confrontationist in their approach, like they honestly thought they would bully people into re-thinking the situation.
It is apparent that the individual police officers have a fundamental lack of compassion and understanding of Human Nature when it comes to creating positive social change and because of this, there is a palpable ‘Us and Them’ philosophy between the police force and normal people of any racial background at the moment, although it is obvious that people of colour have always come a very poor second when dealing with the Police. How can we drive change for good if this is our leading example of how to treat others?
Have the Police really lost sight of the fact that they are there to serve and protect the population, or is it that their own pack mentality and beliefs are so systematically entrenched that they are no longer able to see the wood for the trees? Or in this case, the individual for the crowd.
On Thursday evening I watched a video on my phone that reduced me to tears. It was only 16 seconds long but had an impact that will last with me forever.
Two strong and physically fit young men wearing riot armour, helmets and armed with batons pushed an elderly white man over who was standing in front of them asking questions, for no other reason than they had been told to clear the square of protesters.
This elderly man, Martin Gugino was 75 years of age.
In terms of visible racial profiling he did not look like a protester. He wasn’t being aggressive or taunting like a hardened political activist but dressed in his jumper and jeans he looked like a well to do retiree, earnestly trying to get answers.
Like somebody’s grandparent.
Like my father.
There lies the crux of all of these experiences… good people will always support others in their time of need no matter their colour or circumstances. Is this not the best backbone of how we can create positive social change on a Global level, by being the best example to others?
But while we feel that we able to empathise with our friends and relatives of colour, it takes someone or something that you can totally relate to on a viscerally emotional level before the scales are lifted from your eyes and you are able to understand what your ‘white privilege’ has stopped you feeling up until now.
My father died in 2017 at just 80 years old.
Always fair in his approach to others he lived by the idea that if you had done nothing wrong then you had nothing to fear.
This was the way I was brought up and in turn it is the way that I have brought up my own children.
I have always had total confidence in the Police Force and always assumed that ‘it would be ok’ whenever I had dealings with them.
But after watching Martin fall to the ground, only one of the officers even bothered to try and help him before he was pulled back and moved on by a senior colleague.
As blood began to visibly pool around Martins head from his ear and his phone slid from his grasp as he lost consciousness, not one of the 50+ men that were walking past him bent down to offer first aid. Most did not even look at him.
That. Rocked. My. World.
Up until that point and without being conscious of it at all, I had always carried to assumption that if I was in a situation like that then I would have been the voice of reason. The strong voice that could change events for the better. Perhaps being a voice for my friends if they didn’t have one. This is in fact how Drive Change For Good started.
But now I understand.
There are no innocents when the agenda does not allow for them and that I would not have been safe there either.
Martin Gugino meant no more to them than George Floyd would have if there had been no witnesses.
A 16 second video has done something that I never thought possible. It has made me think twice about standing up for the truth for my own safety and filled me with admiration for many people throughout the world who persistently put themselves in harms way to do what they believe to be right.
To give balance to this, I understand that these men are humans too. I’m sure that they have feelings, have partners and families, dreams and aspirations and are fearful of being killed or injured in the line of duty.
The fact that the entire Emergency Response Team (57 other men) have resigned in protest about the two officers being suspended, shows them to have loyalty to their tribe.
It is most telling though that the Police Union representative came forward, not apologising profusely for what had happened, but to say that they were ‘just doing their job’ smacks of a callousness and lack of empathy that plainly shows that Black, White or Hispanic: if we are not in uniform then we are not one of them.
If this is the best example of human behaviour that our young people have as a model, then the only way is down from here. This is not the positive model of social change that I believe we can be making at all.
If we are not part of the policing solution, does this mean that we are part of the policing problem?
When they put on their equipment it seems like the only people that they are interested in protecting are each other and that incidents with civilians are just something that they have to deal with.
It hurts me to say this, but no more will I automatically assume any police officer has my best interests at heart.
At 55 I am more fragile than I was 25 years ago and seeing events like these unfold only make me feel more vulnerable than ever.
What in all conscience do I tell my grandchildren now as they look around the world for answers and safe passage to adolescence? For us to get through this together it is going to be uncomfortable and it is going to take strength on both sides to create positive social change.
Not the strength used to push old men over or kneel on the neck of a suspect. But the strength to be vulnerable.
We need our educational services to be better funded in early years, so we are able to provide youngsters with more comprehensive points of view.
We need to stand up for our communities, not stand against the world in an isolationist way. It’s essential that we stand strong and lead by example, showing the very people that are causing antisocial issues within the community a more humanitarian way to treat others; to show the people illegally providing short term relief for the people who have long term needs that it is not acceptable to treat others the way they currently are. There is another way.
Our communities will only benefit from positive social change by becoming stronger as they become better from within. Recovery for all will raise expectations and enable people to have higher goals and appreciate their own potential. We can drive change for good together from the inside out.
We no longer need police officers to be dressed to intimidate. We need local officers who know the people that they are policing and in turn are known and trusted by the local populace. This is a model that the British Police Force excelled at and needs to be modelled again globally.
And for that to work we, the populace, need to be vulnerable with each other.
No one will open up to someone that they perceive as hostile or indifferent to them.
By being supportive of each other instead of holding people back we will rapidly become more open across the whole community and then it will always be easier to single out the real enemies of the people. Those that prey on the weak by providing drugs, false hope by trafficking and rule by fear irrespective of race, ethnicity or religion and finally be able to police ourselves in a realistic fashion.
It is only by ostracising the people who are committed to a life of crime that we have a chance to take back our streets and towns.
As I finish my coffee, I realise that this last month has seen me grow as a Human Being.
Truly for the first time I am able to see that I do not have the control over my life that I thought I had, but still I have more control than countless others – just because of the colour of my skin.
I realise that there will be people who appreciate this post and comment below to get the conversation started in how we can drive change for good together. But there will also be others that sneer at it and that’s ok. But as I said earlier; we need to be vulnerable with each other if we are going to stand united in creating positive social change and that starts with each of us first.
I guess it’s your turn now…