I’ve just returned from taking part in a vigil for Black Lives Matter. Twenty of us stood around the bandstand in the park in silence, one or two carrying placards while others took the knee, and there we remained for eight minutes and forty-two seconds. Even though I was standing and not kneeling it felt much longer, more like a quarter of an hour, so imagine what it feels like to have someone’s knee on your neck for that length of time. George Floyd called out ‘I can’t breathe’ about twenty times during that period – and at the end of eight minutes and forty-two seconds he died, while after my eight minutes and forty-two seconds I went home to my family.
I keep thinking about some sort of artistic response to this. I don’t want either to jump on a bandwagon or to do something which might count as cultural appropriation, since this is not my story to tell. But my response is my own, and is as much personal as it is collective. So it requires some thought – but I think a poem may emerge at some point. I also want to think about what was going through the mind of the police officer. Why do people think it’s OK to behave like this? What are they thinking? Or are they not thinking at all, only reacting?
A propos of all which, I was greatly cheered this morning to see this news item.
It is a moment of utter liberation when the statue of a slave trader is replaced by the statue of a Black Lives Matter protester, and this is what happened early this morning in Bristol. The statue is of course not official but if the authorities have any sense they will let it stand for a while at least while they consider what to do. I think the best use of the plinth in the long term would be some kind of memorial to the suffering of slaves – and while that’s in preparation they could leave the statue up. Or else use it for some public art, like the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square which, as you may remember, I was lucky enough to be on (here’s the post about it.) Public art is the best response to injustice and I will always be glad to have been associated with that.
Here’s a pic of me when I’d finished my poems: