Racist State Violence: A US and UK Problem

Credit: Victoria Pickering, taken the morning after protests in Washington D.C. on 31st May.

The violent crackdown and use of rubber bullets and CS gas on peaceful protestors in the United States has shone a light on the increased militarisation of the police which is happening around the world. Tear gas, which can cause serious injuries, miscarriage, and even death, is a chemical weapon banned for use in war, yet it is widely used against civilians from Gaza to Minneapolis.

What is the UK’s role in all this?

Since 2010 the UK has licensed £2 million worth of Security and para-military police goods to the US police, and £18 million worth of ammunition sales to the US military and police, including crowd control ammunition, CS hand grenades, and tear gas. The USA is the second biggest buyer of UK arms in the world. 

UK licensing rules prohibit arms exports where there is a clear risk they might be used in internal repression.

Yet the UK has licensed tear gas to Hong Kong, which used UK-made tear gas against protesters in violent crackdowns in 2014 and 2019; to Egypt, where UK tear gas was used against protesters in Egypt’s Tahrir Square in 2011, aiding a bloody crackdown which killed over 800 people. It has been sold to Greece, where tear gas has been used against refugees, and to France, where tear gas was used against Black Lives Matter protesters in Paris. 

The UK doesn’t just license the sale of weaponry. It actively promotes the sale of crowd control equipment – and with it, the militarisation of policing – through multi-million pound arms fairs like the Defence and Security Equipment International. 

What can I do?

Call on the UK Government to end the licensing of arms to the US. 

The UK government should not be licensing this equipment, and increasing the militarisation of policing, anywhere. Right now, the public outcry against what is happening in the US gives us a window of opportunity to put pressure on. 

Call on the Government to cancel these licences and send a clear message against US state violence and racial injustice. 

Email your MP to stop arming the US now.

Use this moment to speak out against racism here too.

While the UK government can revoke arms export licences to send the US Government a message, it certainly does not have any moral high ground on the issues of state violence and racism. As we demand an end to the licensing of arms of the type used to shut down Black Lives Matter protests, and justice for George Floyd’s family, we must also recognise the need to address our own racism problem in the UK. 

For countless decades, black people have been fighting for an end to the deeply entrenched racial discrimination and inequality affecting the lives of black people and people of colour in the UK, rooted in our colonial past. From police violence, poorer health or education outcomes, to the inaction over the lives lost at Grenfell, or the focus of immigration detention and deportation policies on people of colour. As journalist Afua Hirsh puts it, the racism that killed George Floyd was built in Britain.

As well as the continued demands for justice of the people living the experience of racism every day, research from the Race Disparity Audit, the Lammy Review, the Equality Commission, and the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Racism, E. Tendayi Achiume, all points to the same persistent exclusion and marginalisation of racial and ethnic minorities.

Find out more

The UK needs deep, structural change if we are to see true equality. And this begins with white people educating themselves and stepping up. If you are a white person wanting to find out more, or share information with other white people, here are a few places you could start. 

Learn more about state violence

Stand in solidarity

Take action

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