When I was a teenager in 2008, I was radicalised by a sense of racial injustice. What happened to me, as a young white man from a working-class English town, wasn’t too dissimilar to what is happening to many young members of the black community in America. I joined a white nationalist political party when it became clear to me that the police and politicians were unwilling to tackle the continued grooming and rape of young white girls across the country.
As a young person who saw a real injustice, I trusted those who were, first of all, willing to talk about the problem, and secondly, who I believed knew more about the problem than I did. They were right about one thing, so I trusted them to be right about other things.
Following the death of George Floyd, tens of thousands or more African Americans have taken to the streets to protest injustice. They were motivated not just by Floyd’s tragic death but by black leaders, and white left-wing influencers, who perpetuated a disproven narrative that black men are being hunted by the police.
The insincerity of these leaders makes it easy to assume that all protesters or rioters are equally duplicitous, but I don’t think that’s completely true. A great many of these protesters are cold, calculated, and ideological. Some are just dumb and willing to follow the crowd. But we mustn’t forget that many of these people either on the streets and protesting peacefully as part of a minority, or sat at home and feeling scared, are feeling real pain. They feel real pain because their leaders, the people they believe have the best interests of their community at heart, are spinning them a horrifying tale.
Imagine being told, as a black person, that the whole system is against you, that white people secretly hate you, that you’ll never get ahead and, to top it off, the police are going to kill you the moment they get the chance. When people you trust tell you this is reality, and it is reinforced by rolling 24-hour news coverage that perpetuates this same narrative, the emotional trauma we hear about is not fake.
I placed that same level of trust in the white nationalist community many years ago, believing that they had the best interests of my community at heart. And maybe they did, but it didn’t mean they weren’t willing to bend the truth to accelerate division and recruit more disenfranchised young men. As I describe in my latest book, Monster Of Their Own Making, I became politically active because of the story of Charlene Downes, a young girl from my county who was abused by gangs of Muslim men. She went missing, she is presumed dead, and the story we campaigned over was the injustice of her body being disposed of in a meat grinder in the back of a local kebab house and the two men responsible being let off. Years later I learned that the evidence of this was weak, which is precisely why the authorities didn’t prosecute the men who were publicly accused of her murder. The latest evidence suggests she may have been murdered by a white man who was also involved in child grooming.
People looked at us, angrily protesting in Blackpool, and asked why our campaign efforts weren’t led by evidence. There was evidence that Muslim grooming gangs were a real problem and government reports have shown that since, but there was no clear evidence to suggest the men we were targeting in the town did in fact kill Charlene. But the people leading the marches said they did, and I believed them.
In this same vein, it’s easy for conservatives to look at these Black Lives Matter protesters and ask why their efforts and campaign slogans aren’t supported by evidence. Angry people who don’t typically take an interest in political issues can be fooled by twisting truths and creating narratives reinforced solely by raw, emotive power. The data shows that black men are not being hunted by the police, but that doesn’t matter when people in power are saying otherwise.
Do not underestimate the pain felt on the streets of America. It is very real. I’ve felt that pain.
Yes, there are cold, calculated ideologues taking advantage of this situation and whipping up violent frenzies, and they are responsible not just for the destruction taking place but for the pain felt by huge sections of the African American community. Prominent Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, and media personalities like Joy Reid, are just as responsible for whipping up this anger and fear. When they tell people that black men are being hunted by the police they are doing a great disservice to the black community, and terrifying people in the process.
Two competing sensationalist worldviews will not resolve this tension. Obsessing over the fact that George Floyd was a criminal with a questionable past isn’t conducive to calming the storm. It just reinforces the narrative set out by radicals in the Democratic Party and the media that white Republicans don’t care about black people.
Perhaps the solution to this problem is a combination of strong law and order policy with a touch of humanity.
We must be willing to approach this in a human way and not dismiss the pain being felt by millions of people right now. President Donald Trump tweeting “LAW AND ORDER!” may immediately please the people angry about the riots, but expecting to calm tensions by combining robust law enforcement with a harsh and dismissive tone is foolish.
The Black Lives Matter narrative may be untrue, but the pain and anguish, at least in many cases, is very real. We must treat it as such.