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Black Lives Matter
I've been working on a book project, of which Rough Sleep is the first chapter, about violence, resistance and nation-building. The second chapter is all about citizenship and how civic status can't be divorced from economic power. By some awful poetic algebra, no sooner than I got the first thousand words down did I hear the news of the murder of George Floyd by a gang of thugs with badges.
There is a lot to say about the balance of power in the United States, its economic and racial components, and what that means for ordinary people trying to scrape by in what feels like a world barrelling towards apocalypse. But right now I would rather put my words to use where I think they might actually be of use. So I've written a letter to my MP and MSPs here in Glasgow, which I've reprinted below. You might find it useful or interesting, and I hope you take a similar step and pressure your elected representatives—whoever and wherever they are—to stop selling the United States government teargas and riot shields, and pressure them to stop killing black people in the street, and to stop treating peaceful demonstrations like a threat to national security. But almost equally importantly, we should put pressure on our elected officials to start bringing the question of civic, economic and racial justice into the broader conversation carried on daily in the halls of power about who we are—as individuals, as citizens, as a nation—and who gets to answer that question.
If you need a hand finding your MP or MSP, use the website They Work For You. If you're not confident about writing a letter from scratch—and who can blame you?—I would recommend the Stop Trump Coalition's letter platform. The good thing about this one is that all you need to do is put in your postcode and it finds your MP for you, generating an email that sends directly from your email account. If you haven't already, you should consider donating some money to one or more of the many bail funds in the US. Here's a list.
While I don't have any illusions about the efficacy of letter-writing campaigns—eventually we, like our American counterparts, are going to have to take it to the streets because all change comes from below—they can achieve small victories. With enough public outcry, it's entirely possible that the UK government actually applies its own rules under the Export Control Act and passes on the message that Black Lives Matter.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Stewart McDonald MP
Patrick Harvie MSP
James Kelly MSP
Johann Lamont MSP
Pauline McNeill MSP
Anas Sarwar MSP
Adam Tomkins MSP
Annie Wells MSP
I am a dual Greek-American citizen living in Scotland. I’ve watched with anger and horror as the city, state and federal governments of the United States use violence against their own people: both in the murder of George Floyd and in the brutal police response to nationwide protests spurred on by his murder. This violent repression is not only disproportionate and morally repugnant, it is also in breach of international law and the UK’s own legislation controlling the export of weapons and similar goods and technology.
British companies such as those members of the ADS Group listed on their website supply the militarised police forces responsible for the current violence in over 140 American cities with the equipment used in “riot control”; for example, teargas, riot shields, etc. They do this subject to the provisions set out in the Export Control Act 2002, which clearly states in the Schedule that trade of such equipment is contingent upon them not having “relevant consequences” pertaining to their use. Section D (“Breaches of international law and human rights”) lists these relevant consequences and defines them as:
The carrying out anywhere in the world of (or of acts which facilitate)—
(a) acts threatening international peace and security;
(b) acts contravening the international law of armed conflict;
(c) internal repression in any country;
(d) breaches of human rights.
The Black Lives Matter movement as well as adjacent groups and individuals protesting police brutality are in fact being met with an unconscionable escalation of that same police brutality—a brutality no doubt facilitated with equipment supplied to these violent actors by companies based in the United Kingdom. It is for this reason that I am calling on you, as my elected representatives in Scotland and the UK, to push the government to revoke the export licenses of the companies enabling the violent repression of American citizens who are exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly.
I understand that this matter has been raised in Parliament, and that both the SNP and Scottish Labour have come out broadly in support of the measures and principles here proposed. But condemnation alone is not enough. More needs to be done to hold the United States to account, both at Westminster and at Holyrood. Furthermore, the history of white dominance and the exercise of racist violence is not limited to the US, and I urge you to widen the scope of discussion to questions of the UK’s—and also Scotland’s—role in the historic slave trade, and the repercussions that this has had on the balance of civic and economic power throughout the developed world up to this day. Justice cannot be achieved without an honest and thorough reckoning with history.
I look forward to hearing from you with a robust and practical plan for tackling the issues I have addressed in this letter.