One year on from the murder of George Floyd, various colleagues share their reflections of the last year, from Mr Floyd’s death to the Black Lives Matter uprising and Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction.
Here, Nicki Agalamanyi, District Crown Prosecutor, shares her personal reflection.
Anyone who knows me knows I like to talk; I love speaking to people, and I also really enjoy writing. However, when it came to George Floyd’s killing, I couldn’t do either of these things for a week.
Observing a life being extinguished with such nonchalance on international TV triggered a disabling grief, I was unable to articulate what I had witnessed and nothing in me was able to put pen to paper. When I eventually shared my thoughts, I couldn’t help but draw some context from an incident that occurred on the same day as George Floyd’s killing.
Some may recall that on the morning of 25th May 2020, a Black man named Christian Cooper was bird watching in Central Park, New York. He asked a white woman named Amy Cooper (no relation) to place her dog on a lead in an area of the park where the signage made it clear that this is what was required. However, she refused and remonstrated with him. When he started to record her on his mobile phone, she told him that she would call the police and tell them ‘an African American man is threatening my life’. She then repeated this lie to the police operator, and officers were dispatched. I realised that the legitimate fears that many Black people hold about interactions with the police were being weaponised in that moment.
Amy Cooper was so certain of who was more likely to be believed, and who had the most to lose in that situation that she felt at liberty to act as she did. As a result of police attendance at the incident in Minneapolis regarding an alleged counterfeit $20 note, George Floyd is now dead; this surely is what Amy Cooper wanted Christian Cooper to be afraid of in Central Park, isn’t it?
In terms of the personal impact of the George Floyd incident; I had varying experiences with different social groups. There was a disappointing silence in some spheres, and I realise this was because some were not sure what to say, but then said nothing out of fear of saying the wrong thing. I tried to unpick terminology with those who were interested and sought to prevent phrases such as white privilege/fragility, microaggressions, allyship and racial trauma from being obstacles to meaningful conversations. The news reels and social media feeds were filled with a war of hashtags about which lives mattered. It became exhausting explaining my view that as a society we are in no fit state to assert that ‘all lives matter’ until there is some cogent evidence that Black lives are included in that collective.
Unfortunately, we continue to see well publicised evidence to the contrary with a sharp focus on engagement with the criminal justice system, of which I am a part by profession.
Parents in the majority of Black families will know what it means to have ‘the talk’ with their children. The talk isn’t about the birds and the bees; it is about how to conduct yourself if you are stopped by the police, so that you make it home, alive at least, and unharmed at best. The realisation that churned my stomach the most in the aftermath of recent events was that I have a two year old daughter, and one day in the future I will have to have the talk with her so that she is aware of what to say and how to respond if/when she is stopped by the police, so that she returns home alive and unharmed to me and her daddy.
This is not something any of my white mummy friends will ever have to consider in the same way, as their children are statistically multiple times less likely to experience this. The injustice of having to truncate the blissfully ignorant years of my little one’s childhood with this reality is extremely difficult to process. There is no individual person or organisation to blame for this, there cannot be, we are dealing with multi-faceted, structural racism. The type which Michelle Obama encouraged us all to do the ‘honest, uncomfortable work’ of rooting out in her tweet following George Floyd’s death.
I am a District Crown Prosecutor, my passion for justice and desire to serve our communities brought me to this role. I have the benefit of an enquiring mind and a legal education; however, these factors do not prevent me from being stopped by the police and questioned. This doesn’t happen when I am wearing a suit, sat in daytime commuter traffic. It happens when I am driving at night, and/or if I choose to wear a hoodie and a high ponytail, in these scenarios officers want to know all about my car, whether it is insured, and if it is mine, one even asked me if I actually had a driving licence and when I confirmed that I did, he moved on to ask me if I wished to keep my licence. I could go on. After these incidents I arrive home alive, but I do not arrive truly unharmed. In those moments it doesn’t matter that I work daily alongside a majority of fair, dedicated and morally upright officers; because being quizzed in this manner at the side of the road, in the dark, as a lone female is humiliating and intimidating and speaks to the ‘parallel lives’ experience that I know many Black and Minority Ethnic colleagues go through, because we are in the workplace the next day where much, if not all, of this psychological/emotional harm is unspoken.
The inclusionary concept of bringing your whole-self to work will remain aspirational until we can create safe spaces in which all colleagues are able to share, to feel visible and to be valued. It is not about a pity party or finger pointing, but a mutual appreciation that there is huge diversity of thought and experience amongst us and certain incidents such as George Floyd’s killing will impact some colleagues in ways others may not feel, but we can all remain supportive and open to growth in areas we are unfamiliar with.
I am encouraged by the significance that the Director Max Hill QC and Chief Executive Rebecca Lawrence have placed upon doing all we can to create an inclusive working environment, as well as the work that Grace Moronfolu and the NBCPA have been doing to support colleagues through these exceptional challenges. I am also pleased to have been invited by the leadership here in the East Midlands together with other colleagues to join a working group on race confidence. It would be impossible to move on as an organisation as if the last year has not shifted the global spotlight on racial injustice in a profound way. I hope as a contributor to our local efforts, I can offer my knowledge and experiences to engender progress.