What The Black Lives Matter Protest Is, And What It Isn’t

By Mark Montegriffo: 

What it is

When I saw the video of George Floyd’s murder, I felt the same as millions of people across the world felt. Who can watch a police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man until his death and feeling anything other than disgust and anger? I thought that I can’t have been the only one in this community of 30,000 people, but even if I were, it was worth holding some form of public demonstration.

 

This is what the Black Lives Matter protest in Gibraltar is about. It is a group of people witnessing a sickening injustice and responding to it, as cities and communities around the world have been doing and continue to do.

 

Yes, we are a small town. But there have been protests around the world in much smaller towns, with only a handful of people. Indeed, I was only expecting the interest of perhaps a dozen people at most.

 

What has become clear over the past few weeks as word has been spreading is that there is a significant group of people in Gibraltar who do not consider themselves to belong to a bubble that is separate from the world at large. They hold a compassion for people beyond our borders and anger towards deep injustice. They know that for something to change, we cannot rely on the oppressed alone to stand up for themselves. What solidarity means is that even if you haven’t lived the same experience as someone who has been oppressed, you take their side.

 

Some people arrive at solidarity through politics. They might see injustices as products of power and they seek to do what they can to advocate for justice. Others arrive at it through a religious belief system, as Christians might see the teachings of Jesus as fundamentally a lesson of compassion in societies where it is often lacking. There are many ways in which one arrives at solidarity, just as there are many ways in which one is forced to become aware of injustice. The murder of George Floyd, although one among countless, was one of those moments that shocked people around the world to act on what they already knew was happening in America.

 

This protest tomorrow is about solidarity. It is about saying that we in Gibraltar are not blind to the world. We exist in it and we can throw in our grain of sand in condemning injustices, of which there are too many in the world today.

 

What it is not

 

It is not an event funded by George Soros. Such accusations are not only factually wrong, but are grossly anti-Semitic and the dissemination of that conspiracy comes, unsurprisingly, from American far-right media professionals. Seeing these sorts of claims on Facebook proves the point that casual racism and anti-Semitism exists in Gibraltar. We can, in the space of one protest, stand against discrimination outside of the Rock, as well as discrimination that happens inside.

 

It is not a socialist/communist/marxist protest. People of a variety of political labels are likely to feel the anger at injustice that drives one to protest. Speaking personally, my political analysis as a socialist is based on a materialist reading of history. As part of this, it is clear that the slave trade was an integral ingredient in building what was to become the global capitalist system. Therefore, as a socialist, but for many other reasons too, I see an overlapping between economic systems and racial oppression. Not everyone (in fact, almost certainly most people don’t) arrives at this issue in this way. What we all share is that deep disgust at injustice that comes from a very basic human compassion.

 

It is not a campaign to defund or abolish the police in Gibraltar. Abolishing or defunding the police has been a policy idea of some Black Lives Matter protestors in America. In the US, police departments are funded as if they were small armies. The culture within those departments is also militaristic. Although it is not a good comparison, the closest thing we have to that in this part of the world would be the Guardia Civil in Spain, and I’m sure there are many in Gibraltar who would like to see that organisation abolished. What those campaigners in the US are calling for when they say “defund the police” is not just a reduction in police budgets and weapons. They are also campaigning for funding public services like education and healthcare which reduce crime rates. It is as much an anti-austerity platform as it is an anti-violence platform.

 

Regardless, policing in Gibraltar is so different from policing in minority neighbourhoods in America. A lot of the RGP’s work is community oriented and, indeed, they have been extremely helpful in ensuring the safety of this protest.

 

It is not a pro-Palestine protest. It is a Black Lives Matter protest. There may be individuals at the protest who have opinions on either side of that particular conflict.

 

I cannot respond to every theory from Facebook every Facebook group but I hope that covers some bases because there will not be time during the protest to respond to passers-by. Simply put, if you feel any remote sense of anger at the video of the murder of George Floyd, or at any racism you’ve experienced, come to the protest. Similarly, if you have read some of the wild reactionary comments (often, but not exclusively, racist themselves thereby providing the point) and felt that these don’t represent you, come to the protest.

 

For every ridiculous claim, we have received messages of support. There is a Gibraltar that is accepting, not just tolerant. There is a Gibraltar that is open, not closed. There is a Gibraltar that wants to stand against injustice, and not lie asleep in silent complicity.

 

Details

 

  • We will meet at the American Steps in the Line Wall Road/Chatham Counterguard area at 10am.
  • All attendees are encouraged to bring facemasks and hand sanitisers.
  • Names and contact details will be taken for COVID-19 tracing purposes.
  • Groups of 20 will be formed and social distancing rules will be kept.
  • We will walk to the Piazza/John Mackintosh Square via Chatham Counterguard and Irish Town.
  • Speeches will be made by civil society activists and everyone will be invited to “take the knee” as a symbol of solidarity.
  • The event will finish there by approximately 11am.