#blacklivesmatter: protest voices from the USA

June 9, 2020

Photograph by Nina Berman/NOOR. Black Lives Matter demonstration, New York City

Luke Blake gets a stateside perspective from black film publicist, Wellington Love

Two weeks after the death of George Floyd and America is in chaos. The days of passionate protests, coupled with the deaths of over 100,000 due to coronavirus, and it seems obvious to question whether this is the biggest turmoil in the USA for over 100 years.

Demonstrations have been taking place in every US state, as well as in countless major cities across the world, and for many it has been a wake up call.

The most powerful thing I have realised, is that it is not enough just not to be racist yourself. There is a strong need to be anti-racist, to challenge and change racist attitudes, abuses and attacks which remain so prevalent today.

The current examples of police brutality provide a visceral reminder of the racist world we all live in.

To deepen my understanding of the international human rights campaign, Black Lives Matter (BLM), I spoke to a family friend, Wellington Love from New York via Zoom.

Wellington is a publicist who has worked on film dramas such as The Butler, Precious, Detroit, Dear White People and If Beale Street Could Talk.

I wanted to find out about his personal experiences, protesting as a black man in New York.

Wellington shared his thoughts and feelings about BLM.
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“As a movement, BLM is so important, and is so connected, but one of the things that gets lost in this whole discussion is the socio-economic impact. George Floyd was initially arrested for trying to pass a $20 bill. He was a black man in the middle of a pandemic trying to survive. He was trying to live.

We are so used to seeing brutality: from Eric Garner to Ahmaud Arbery and now George Floyd. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing those stories, hearing those voices. But on Monday, when the authorities in Washington DC tear gassed and charged innocent protestors, it was shocking.

Black Lives Matter demonstration, West Village, New York City

It’s hard to know what Trump is doing and what he wants. He likes to be seen as a tough guy but he isn’t. Trump is lazy, disorganised and quite frankly too stupid to be able to properly lead through this. I think he enjoys to test the water with these things… he’s ready at any moment to throw his own Molotov cocktail into the mix.

I’ve only been to completely peaceful protests in New York. What was amazing was that it was very multicultural, with drivers passing in cars, honking in support. Many businesses were boarded up, mainly as a preventative measure, and people were super respectful.

A lot of the police were very restrained, only there to monitor it. It really showed the difference in solidarity this time, as opposed to other times. There was zero violence, no sense it was going to ever come about. In the course of an hour it grew to be a few blocks long, and then we began to march.

One industry where the issue of discrimination and unequal opportunities has had significant publicity would be the film industry.

There was the ‘Oscars So White’ movement from a few years ago, and since then there has been a greater call for diversity in front of and behind the camera. There are now whole funds to help produce films made by people of colour, which is clearly positive.

That’s all well and good but it’s not nearly enough. It’s not enough for there just to be more people who look like me on the screens. What needs to happen now is finding out a way of hiring young black artists, and give them better access, rather than just saying that the Oscars didn’t nominate enough black people.

It seems important to remember that for black people living in America, this is not new, and it permeates all aspects of life

Over the last few years I’ve been pulled in to work on more films by black directors or about black content; hopefully there will be more. While things have changed in the film industry, they clearly haven’t changed enough.

It seems important to remember that, for black people living in America, this is not new, and it permeates all aspects of life. From your occupation to where you live. Right now there is real fear and anger, not felt solely in the aftermath of this, but every day.

Something is very different this time, that’s for sure. I know the media shows us images of buildings on fire and confrontations with the police, but that’s only a fraction of what’s going on. People are after real change. The question’s going to be: will there be systemic changes in the police forces, will it be more than just virtue signalling?

I’m more hopeful this is a turning point, but until we’re willing to invest in better working conditions, invest in education and look at economic factors, which haven’t changed much since the 1960s, then things won’t really change. There needs to be a real cold hard look at the spectrum of discrimination and disenfranchisement.

We are in a whole new place now. If the President is willing to completely ignore the constitution and essentially insight violence, for a photo op in front of a church, everything is off the table now. That’s what got to me the most. I’ve got to do more than sit in my tiny little apartment and cry about it.”
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It’s especially important for young people to come together to action the end of racism and prejudice. It will be up to us and future generations, to truly support racial justice.

If you feel passionate that Black Lives Matter – and why wouldn’t you? – please sign this Colour of Change petition now. Black Lives Matter!

Black Lives Matter protest, West Village, New York City

Luke is studying for a degree in History and Economics at Manchester University.

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