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

Organising to Stop DSEI: It Starts Here

‘It Starts Here’ was an amazing weekend of organising and skill sharing. Thank you to everyone who was there to kick off plans to protest the DSEI arms fair in September.

If you missed it, you can watch It Starts Here online

We were joined by incredible activists from all around the UK, as well as our allies around the world, who sent inspiring messages of solidarity. Our thoughts were grounded from the start in the resistance of those at the sharp end of the global arms trade, with messages from Yemeni activists like Ahmed Jahaf of Sana’a, “We know we are not forgotten because of you. Maybe you are few but you are a lot to us.”

Amina Atiq, Liverpudlian Yemeni poet spoke to us ahead of a journey to Egypt, where her Yemeni family have fled. She said, “These wounds take years to heal, some never heal. If everyone does a small thing we can bring change, and we will bring change.”

Activist poet Amina Atiq sends a video message to attendees of It Starts Here.

As well as hearing voices of resistance from conflict-affected countries, we were inspired by the solidarity of our friends protesting arms fairs around the world, like Peace Action Wellington, New Zealand, who said they were inspired by the diversity of UK activists’ tactics. “It’s amazing to feel connected to a global movement. Kia kaha! It means ‘stay strong’ in Máori.”

World Without War activists in South Korea told us how protests to stop the DSEI arms fair inspired their own resistance to stop the ADEX arms fair in Seoul. “The arms industry is so big it can feel impossible to bring them down. It feels like they are everywhere, and they are. But so is our resistance! We hope one day our work will inspire others in other parts of the world.”

Arms trade: rooted in many struggles for justice

Our fight to stop the DSEI arms fair is inextricably linked with other intersecting struggles for justice – struggles that It Starts Here called to put front and centre of our action in 2019. The day began with discussions on issues including anti-racism and the increasing militarisation of the UK’s borders. Listen again.

Activist poet Shareefa Energy opens It Starts Here.

West London-born poet and activist Shareefa Energy reminded attendees of the structural violence inflicted on people of colour and the working class in the UK, seen in how Grenfell residents on our doorstep continue to be treated, to how imagery of people of colour is used in media and NGO coverage of conflict in the global south.

“There’s a conversation we need to have. Why are people from ethnic minorities dehumanised? Would you ever see English people on a newspaper dead? We need to have these conversations. Until we talk about racism and structural violence, we won’t understand why these issues are going on.”

Sarah Reader of Agir Pour La Paix in Brussels, co-founder of Stop The Arms Fair reminded us of how far we have come and what we’ve built together: “It’s amazing to see so many people in the room 6 months before DSEI. 8 years ago there were 8 of us in a room!”

On the ‘Anti-racism, migrant solidarity and the arms trade’ panel, Sanaz from ‘Unis Resist Border Controls’ spoke about the links to arms trade and university funding and research. “Many universities invest in arms companies like BAE Systems, G4S. We need to stop this hypocrisy. [We] demand to end investment in the arms trade, in the private firms that fund the violence that creates refugees.”

Geraldine spoke from the All African Women’s Group, a group of refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK from Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean. “Instead of reaching safety,” she said, “We face detention, deportation, and destitution. But we are part of the growing movement calling for justice.”

Chrissie from Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike reminded us that “Many of the people suffering because of the arms trade are black and brown people. The EU response has not been to support people seeking safety, but to stop migration to Europe at all costs.” Also representing the Crossroads Women’s Centre, Chrissie spoke about the importance of gender: “80% of refugees worldwide are women. We bear the brunt of war. We are the ones that pick up the pieces. But we are not victims, we are protagonists in our struggle, wherever we are.”

DSEI: Let’s stop it here

The DSEI arms fair is where we can stop arms deals before they start. The last DSEI in 2017 saw the most widespread protests, media coverage and parliamentary interest in the arms fair since the Iraq War. A huge range of groups took action, from queer and environmental activists to academics and faith groups. Over six days, the set up of the fair was disrupted by a huge array of creative and fun actions. Will you help make 2019 even bigger?

We can stop them

Activists have now successfully chased the arms fairs out of Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham. After the threat of action by Birmingham Stop the Arms Fair, organisers moved the DTPRE arms fair to behind security fences at Farnborough military base. And last year protests outside the Undersea Defence Technology arms fair in Glasgow persuaded Glasgow City Council to promise it would never host an arms fair again. If enough people disrupt the set-up of DSEI in 2019, we can stop the arms fair.

Take action to Stop DSEI 2019

Join the next Stop the Arms Fair gathering in London on the 30th March and find out how you can help stop DSEI.

Wars, occupation, oppression, and corruption fuel a surging Middle East arms race

New SIPRI arms transfers data shows small overall increase in global trade, but huge increase in sales to the Middle East.

Graphic showing map of states in the Middle East with bubbles for each country indicating level of arms imports. Heading: Arms imports by states in the Middle East. Subheading: The volume of arms imports in SIPRI trend-indicator values is depicted by the size of the circle. 2014-2018. Source: SIPRI Arms Transfers Database. Copyright SIPRI 2019.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) yesterday releasedits latest data on the global arms trade, for which it is by far the best source. The data provides details of deliveries of major conventional weapons worldwide from 1950-2018, both in numerical terms and with searchable lists of the actual weapons transferred between countries. The information can be found in SIPRI’s database, and some of the key points are discussed in a fact sheet also published yesterday.

Continue reading “Wars, occupation, oppression, and corruption fuel a surging Middle East arms race”