We could not stop 150,000 people attending Cheltenham Festival in March, nor 6,000 running the Bath half marathon, nor Liverpool’s Champions League, nor the Manchester Derby, nor VE Day street parties, nor Bank Holiday weekends spent at the beach. All will have contributed to the spread of Covid-19 and led to more deaths. We reap what we sow.
I have not experienced systemic racism. I cannot deny angry and upset people the right to gather and protest. I cannot say whether it is the right thing to do or not. However I work in a healthcare setting and I am worried about the spread of a virulent disease disproportionately affecting deprived communities. I worry about its continued spread and about a second and third peak, and the death toll they will bring with them, and its impact on an already over-stretched health service.
I wish people could have invented imaginative and innovative means of protest without putting their own lives and the lives of their loved ones at further risk. Could they have stood at their windows and doors to bang pots and pans all day long? Could the protest have gone virtual, like the virtual Easter Mass, virtual taraweeh prayers and virtual choirs that have served millions through lockdown? Could they have knelt on one knee in silent vigil in every street of the land, making their presence felt, clapping or chanting, raising their voices to the skies?
Stay at home to save lives, was the government’s slogan — meaningful and clear, until diluted to aid economic recovery. The people’s slogan: Black Lives Matter. In the midst of a pandemic we need more than slogans. Covid-19 already seems to be impacting people from ethnic minorities disproportionately. The urge to protest is understandable, but without practical considerations for the preservation of life, health and wellbeing, it risks being counterproductive. More lives will be lost — quietly, traumatically, away from the gaze of cameras and social media.
Ah, but save us your pieties, comes the protestors’ heartfelt retort: you know nothing of racism or discrimination! And that of course is true. I have no right to deprive others of their collective right to gather and protest. No, but I have the right to say this: your lives matter; stay safe.