Northumberland County Council leader explains why Black Lives Matter Facebook post was removed
Northumberland’s council leader has said the ‘politicisation’ of the Black Live Matters movement prompted the removal of supportive social media posts.
A post on the official Northumberland County Council Facebook page earlier this week stated: ‘‘Racism has no place in Northumberland. As a council, we are committed to equality, diversity and inclusion in every aspect of our work. We want Northumberland to be the best it can be. #BlackLivesMatter’
Responding to claims that he was behind the post being taken down, Coun Peter Jackson said: “It’s plain; it’s illegal for the council to put out political messaging and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has definitely strayed into the political arena.”
The head of the Conservative administration added: “I won’t have it said by anyone that either I or the county council or anything I stand for is anything but every life matters.
“We’ve embedded the values of equality and diversity into everything we do for years now and I won’t have it undermined by the divisiveness of the current political movement.”
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When Northumberland County Council was asked to explain the removal of the post yesterday (Thursday, June 11), a statement was issued from the chief executive, Daljit Lally, which simply outlined the authority’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion and opposition to hate, prejudice or discrimination of any kind.
However, speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service today (Friday, June 12), Coun Jackson said: “It’s quite clear to me and to possibly the silent majority that there are a number of what you would call political extremists creating what looks more like a political movement than a race equality movement.
“When we get mindless vandalism, when we get talk of de-funding the police and attacks on the police, and when we get people effectively trying to rewrite history, it looks likes a political movement to me, and the law is clear that the county council is not allowed to promote any form of political activity, so I can’t have a council that is effectively acting against the law in this matter.”
The BLM movement, originally founded in 2013, was given fresh impetus last month following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, subsequently being charged with second-degree murder.
It has sparked a wave of protests in the US and beyond, including cities in the UK, where there have also been some violent scenes resulting in police officers being injured in London.
Plus, the removal of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston by protesters in Bristol has sparked a national debate, with campaigns and online petitions calling for other statues to be taken down or put into greater historical context, and reviews pledged by local authorities.
Coun Jackson was also critical of protests taking place during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The final thing that really upset people is that we have all spent, as a country and society, three months in lockdown trying to get rid of this terrible Covid-19 disease and yet we get scenes on our televisions of thousands of people gathering in mass demonstrations,” he said. “I think it’s disgraceful that should happen at this time when it’s so likely that this could well be the spark of a second wave of the Covid-19 disease, going against all the guidelines of social distancing.
“And for politicians to think it’s a good thing to be seen in mass demonstrations at this time of national crisis of the spread of the virus is disgraceful.”
Talking more widely about race and other diversity issues, Coun Jackson said: “I’m really proud to lead a county that’s a welcoming county, that’s welcoming to all people from all backgrounds and the equality and diversity agenda has always been at the top of our priorities as a council and that means that every life matters.”
All Lives Matter has been used as a slogan in response to the recent protests, but opponents believe that it detracts from the issues faced by the black community or even that it is a criticism of the BLM movement. BLM supporters say that while all lives should matter, the experience of black people in terms of racism and inequality shows that is not yet the case.
But Coun Jackson said: “In our county, it’s not as simple as just race, because we have a very diverse community in Northumberland, made up of people of all ethnic backgrounds; what about our Chinese community, what about our Eastern European community?
“The race issue is much wider than what’s being portrayed in the current movement. In Northumberland, we’re very proud of the fact that we’re standing up for every resident across our county, not just one particular section.”
Citing some examples of the council’s efforts on inclusion, he mentioned the resettlement programme for Syrian refugees ‘which is seen as a national exemplar’, the authority’s position on the Stonewall Index as an employer for the LGBT community, and the £170,000 spent on a race equality programme in schools over the last few years.
However, there was criticism last year when the council ended its contract with North East-based charity Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC) to provide workshops in schools, although a line was eventually drawn under this row when both parties released conciliatory statements.
The opposition Labour group on Northumberland County Council said that ‘this is not the time – it is never the time – to take this action’ and remove Black Lives Matter posts.
Group leader, Coun Susan Dungworth, said: “We do not support violent protest, but we do support equality for all, regardless of creed or colour.
“George Floyd’s murder has rightly caused outrage. The council officers issued statements in support, simply to show (in my opinion) care, compassion and concern for the communities affected.
“In Northumberland County Council and Northumberland communities where black people live and work, it is right that the local council acknowledges the issues and supports the call for equality.
“In 2020, you would like to think that the evils of the legacy of slavery had been dealt with, but unfortunately this is not the case. It is almost impossible for people who have never suffered discrimination because of their skin colour to understand what it feels like to be judged, denied opportunities, denied freedom and denied life, simply because of the colour of their skin.
“Last year the council also withdrew its support for Show Racism the Red Card.
“We’re at a loss to understand why the council’s support is being withdrawn. It certainly does not represent the Labour members of the council and in our view is a devastating backward step.”