Fighting racial injustice in Waltham Forest

A Black Lives Matter protest held outside Northcote Arms in Leyton (credit Sally Rose
A Black Lives Matter protest held outside Northcote Arms in Leyton (credit Sally Rose

Mel Strickland from Waltham Forest Migrant Action on how the borough has responded to recent global events

The shocking racist murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States sparked off waves of protest around the world. Despite laws against racial discrimination, racism is entrenched in our society – its roots lie in slavery and colonialism.

There have been numerous protests across Waltham Forest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, demonstrating the depth of support residents feel for the cause of racial justice. Waltham Forest Stand up to Racism has organised several large, socially-distanced protests in places such as the town square and outside the town hall. Now a new group has been set up, Waltham Forest Black Lives Matter.

At the protests we chanted the names of black people who have died in police custody, in prison, and in detention centres. We heard from NHS workers about the risks of working without adequate personal protective equipment, and from teachers about the need to decolonise education and teach the shameful history of British imperialism and African enslavement. We were reminded of Grenfell and Windrush – both disgraceful episodes in British history.

We also heard how black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are overrepresented in poorly paid and dangerous jobs. The message was that the white community must speak out. “White silence is violence,” read one placard.

Covid-19 has also highlighted racial inequalities, as disproportionately more BAME people have died. A Public Health England report concluded that racism may have been a factor in BAME deaths.

Waltham Forest Council has issued a statement in support of Black Lives Matter. This is welcome, but if statements like this are to be meaningful, action must follow. There is a campaign specifically targeting the council, as well as Waltham Forest Clinical Commissioning Group and Barts NHS Health Trust (which runs Whipps Cross Hospital), which demands they stop enforcing charges for migrants to access healthcare. The campaign also calls on these bodies to stop sharing information with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration enforcement. Charging migrants for healthcare is one of the government’s racist ‘hostile environment’ measures and puts people off seeking treatment. Such a policy is morally unjustifiable in normal times – in a pandemic it is beyond the pale.

The hostile environment is hostile to all black and ethnic minority groups, since race is used as a proxy for regular immigration status. Our experience at Waltham Forest Migrant Centre is that people are increasingly marginalised and subject to racist abuse as the government’s rhetoric on immigration has become more extreme.

The Black Lives Matter protests have been a seed of hope in a world recalibrating from the converging crises of Covid-19, climate change, economic inequality and political inaction. Oppression can best be challenged through organised resistance by a mass movement with clear demands and a coherent vision of a better future. Help us and get involved!

For more information and to get involved with Waltham Forest Black Lives Matter: