Black Lives Matter action

IssueOctober - November 2016
News by Milan Rai

The climate crisis is a racist crisis. That was the message of a Black Lives Matter UK protest at London City Airport on 6 September, when nine activists used a tripod and chains to close down a runway for over six hours, grounding over 130 flights.

The action sparked two debates. One was about the relevance of climate change, aviation and pollution to the anti-racist struggle.

Black Lives Matter UK (BLM) said: ‘Black people are the first to die, not the first to fly, in this racist climate crisis.’. BLM argued in a video (featuring only people of colour) that climate change disproportionately affected countries and people in the global south.

As airports, power plants and the busiest roads are placed in the most disadvantaged working-class areas, BLM went on: ‘Environmental racism means that black people in Britain are 28 percent more likely to be exposed to air pollution than their white counterparts.’

Back to black

The other debate was sparked by the fact that eight of the nine runway blockaders were white.

Lee Jasper, a long-time anti-racist campaigner, initially reacted on Twitter: ‘It’s cultural appropriation. Even our struggle no longer our own.’ Later, he told Time magazine: ‘I first was confused till ah, I then got it. What [BLM did] is put white people there purposely due to the massive disproportion of black people in the criminal justice system.’

Lawyer Mike Schwartz told Westminster magistrates’ court that the nine defendants ‘took their action in support of Black Lives Matter UK; in their view it’s a matter for white people to take responsibility in a society that privileges them through racism.’

Black academic Kehinde Andrews wrote in the Guardian, even after BLM clarified that this was a black-led action: ‘The power of the movement so far has been giving a voice to black, young and marginalised people who are so often ignored.... Now is not the time for high-profile actions by white allies....’

The nine activists, who pleaded guilty to obstruction, received conditional discharges for between 18 months and three years, and were ordered to pay £95 each in court costs.