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Thursday 11 June 2020
Institute of Contemporary Arts
Today’s Daily is written by Stafford Scott (co-founder) and Kamara Scott of Tottenham Rights (previously Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign). Initially planned to open in May at the ICA and now scheduled for the autumn, Tottenham Rights will present an exhibition featuring their campaign work that shines a light on the culture and processes of policing in the UK, from the sus laws in the 1980s, to present day issues surrounding over-policing using the Gangs Matrix database. This exhibition will also include the Forensic Architecture investigation into the 2011 killing by police of Mark Duggan.

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When we talk about the need for radical change, the unifying voice in the room has to be one calling for change through a series of actions. It is devastating dealing with outrage, frustration and pain, whilst figuring out ways to strategically target structural racism. In the case of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, receiving news of these tragedies through the masses on the internet has only added to the maddening feeling of powerlessness that makes people seek immediate and drastic change.

Though social media and the internet are brilliant at bringing police brutality to light (by opening up conversations, galvanising numbers and sharing critical information), there is a disconnect between what people think are driving forces behind change, and what Black British people have long experienced in their struggle for justice.

The UK's attraction towards Black Lives Matter opens up a critical conversation about what the general public believes are our everyday social issues; but more than that, it raises the question of how easily attainable real justice is and who is worth fighting for? Current events beget the specific question that if we (en masse and during lockdown) kneel for George Floyd, but do not stand for our own injustices, how do we expect accountability from the State? Is reactive protesting, on behalf of other communities, a worthwhile contribution to the struggle that continues here?

In 2017, we saw Rashan Charles killed on video, and yet the response in our community did not echo the same outcry as current events. Conversely, when we look at the case of Mark Duggan, there were unprecedented uprisings that followed his death; although they made a bold and valid statement about communal anger, this did not necessarily help in the ongoing fight for justice. It is a natural and necessary response to challenge injustices with immediacy and urgency. However, consistency and focus, in both message and action, are needed for the long haul. To activate change we have to act, collectively, in far more radical and committed ways.

Tottenham has consistently provided an example of how activism and community are two sides of the same coin. This is an area where there has always been a focus on localised community services and maintaining authentic relationships within the community that we seek to protect from state brutality (through the Broadwater Farm Youth Association, BWF Defence Campaign, to Tottenham Rights). It is evident that Tottenham has a long and influential history of campaigning as a result of local, grassroots infrastructure.

Today, additions to community-centred collective action, such as the work of Forensic Architecture, show how technological advances can be utilised to encourage changes in public opinion and how institutions can consider, or reconsider, community issues. FA’s work directly contributed to the result of an out-of-court financial settlement received by the Duggan family in 2019. This is just one example of achieving some justice that is critical for families at the centre of these tragedies, but that would be typically overlooked in current public narratives.

It is a struggle to juggle both rage and practical action, but discomfort is undeniably what moves us. Whilst resources to encourage critical thinking and praxis (reading lists, articles, podcasts) are becoming more widely available, outside of the internet it seems to be the perfect time for older generations to work towards closing the practical information gap between the UK’s longstanding grassroots communities and those who are newer to the struggle for justice in Britain’s Black communities.

For those who lean towards social media advocacy, it is time to think seriously about the long-term impact of these moments, and how change can be sought and achieved alongside those with experience. In a society that is built upon institutional racism, the fundamental issue of change is an ongoing battle.

Our forthcoming ICA exhibition will present 40+ years of justice campaigns in the form of family campaigns and defence campaigns – examples of legal work and non-legal challenges put to institutions to pressure them into change and accountability. We also have the brilliant contribution of Forensic Architecture’s digital reconstruction, which forces both the public and institutions to reconsider what happened when Mark Duggan was killed, and the failings of the investigations into his killing.

There is no blueprint for collective action or achieving justice, however we hope to continue contributing to Black British communities to represent voices and serve local needs in ways that responsive action cannot entirely fulfil. Community is indeed the answer, but community requires constant support and engagement. The question now is when the dust settles, who will still be paying attention and willing to contribute? And, to do so with the authentic needs of our local Black British communities at the centre of it all.

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