On 23 July, the Guardian reported that four residents in Haringey were ordered by police to remove their “White Silence is Violence” banner. One of them, Meghann Foster, spoke to Natalia Cassidy from Solidarity.
Why was it that the police contacted you and your housemates?
During June’s Black Lives Matter protests we made a sign that said “White silence is violence”, after which we hung it from our flat window facing out onto the street. We had no issues for a month until the police knocked on our door and said someone had complained about the banner and that we had to take it down. We decided not to do so as they couldn’t give us a proper legal reason why we must do so. They came back the next day and insisted we had to take it down citing public order but being vague as to which power they were asking we remove it under. The officer said we would have to go to the police station if we did not take it down.”
Do you think this is troubling for the freedom of speech and expression for those on the left?
Yes. We weren’t inciting violence, there was nothing abusive on the banner. It was clear the banner is part of the BLM movement and its clear what it means: that white people have to take a stand to be a part of the anti-racist movement. I think not being able to have that banner outside our window is a breach of our freedom of speech.
Why do you think that the police chose to take up this matter?
The police officer suggested someone had complained but proceeded to state his opinion that the banner was offensive to white people. I think the police feel particularly implicated by the BLM movement and so perhaps they feel having the opportunity to crack down on a house hanging a pro-BLM banner would help their cause, but it really shows them up to be what a lot of people already think they are.
What implications do you think this incident has for the broader BLM movement?
Luckily our encounter with the police was relatively fine as we are a group of four white women and other than the police shouting at us we didn’t have an especially negative experience. Unfortunately if it had been a black or brown person then the interaction may not have gone that way. It’s scary for people of colour in the movement that they are potentially unable to express themselves freely for fear of being targeted and reprimanded by the police.
How do you think this ties in with other projects that target the freedom of speech and expression particularly of people of colour such as the PREVENT legislation?
A lot of police legislation is very much racially coded and so it becomes very easy for police to target people of colour especially. Whether this is in the context of street policing or through institutions such as universities that work with the police to target students of colour. In the UK black boys are 4 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police officers. Black students are far more likely to be excluded from education.
I think we are being given a lot of media attention as white women that other people in the movement deserve more of, I particularly think the fact we are white makes us much more palatable to the Guardian’s middle class readership who are more likely to feel sympathy for us having to take our banner down than for those who are living in poverty or being murdered. Though I think we can make use of what little platform we do have to explain that its not about us its about the rights and freedoms of black people.
Is there anything you’d like to say or add?
Just a reminder to think when you encounter this story that we are four white women and to think about why it is we are being spoken about. It tends to be white people that get media space and momentum behind them and we don’t want to take platforms away from those who deserve it… although I’m all about wasting police time this very much isn’t about us as four white women and there’s a much bigger picture.
Our banner implores white people to get involved and stand against racism, we are showing solidarity and we want the police to know that this fight is a unified fight. Don’t let them focusing on white women make you forget that this is a unified fight, for white people and black people. Don’t let the police divide us.