The death of George Floyd will be remembered for a very long time to come, as a watershed moment for how the world views issues of race and equality.
It is tragic that it has taken a senseless death to force us, both here and in the US, to take a look at the way we govern ourselves. But we must take this opportunity to ask ourselves, can we be better?
A crucial part of this is looking deeper, beyond the surface, at those things which most of us will take for granted, but for others actually act as painful reminders of their status or disadvantage. Every one of us in Liverpool should consider this an affront to the values that unite our city – Passion, Equality and Justice.
When the Council debated, and agreed, a motion in January about street names and paintings in the Town Hall the key message was that for many people these had lost any real meaning. But for others, they are reminders of how our city became wealthy on trading human lives, and how that still impacts on their status in society. Our city’s historical connection to the abhorrent practice of slavery will continue to be a stain unless we face up to what it means for our future.
In January I asked a number of people from the L8 community, including local historians and National Museums Liverpool, to help us identify – with the community – the street names and artifacts (which includes paintings) in the Town Hall that require context and explanation. Obviously COVID-19 has delayed this work, but we will pick this up again shortly.
It’s important that we have a sensible and informed discussion about these issues. We need to judge the past with a historical perspective, taking into account today’s higher ethical standards and, most importantly, how everyone, from every community in the city feels about it.
In short, we will learn from our past and we will bring history to life on our streets. We will be led by our communities on how to do this and we will do it in a way that is sensitive to both our past and our present.
And we will do it right. Take last week’s incident where the street signs for Penny Lane were vandalised. I will give the perpetrator the benefit of the doubt and believe that they did it out of a passionate desire to address a historical wrong for the benefit of the city. However, there is a lot of evidence that Penny Lane is not named after James Penny, not least because the street existed 60 years before James Penny came to Liverpool and he had no connection to the area. But still, it became the focus of someone’s misguided actions. This is why we should hold this debate in as inclusive and engaging way as possible, so that we can do the right thing in the right way.
Education is key and there are many things that people of this city don’t know about the totality of our history and that includes me, I have received many misinformed comments and emails stating things which are not true. The statue of Nelson on Exchange Flags includes chained people around it, which some have incorrectly claimed are slaves. This is not the case, they are in fact French prisoners of war. This is why we need a debate and discussion which includes everyone’s views.
I am also going to ask members of the community to come together with a Race Equality Taskforce which will look at the bigger and wider issues where race inequality is holding people back.
At its heart will be a vision that everyone should feel Liverpool is a place of equality, mutual respect and human potential. If I’m honest I don’t think we are good enough and whether it’s in the Council, all levels of education, our city’s institutions, such as the Police or employment in businesses in all sectors, there is a need for honesty by all. An acceptance that change is needed and positive action needs to be taken.
It won’t be easy for us to be honest with ourselves about our city’s weaknesses, and I will have to include my own governance over Liverpool – it’s all too easy to focus on the here and now, or the latest crisis. But we must do this as an important investment in the future of every generation of scousers, whatever their roots.
I believe our city is ready to make this change and the current protests are a source of much inspiration. I am very pleased so see so many white people joining the protests and sharing the passion and desire for change.
We are still working out the exact details of the Race Equality Taskforce, so please bear with us, but my intention is genuine and heartfelt. These taskforces tie together an important principle – how we are prepared to learn from our history is directly connected to how we are prepared to treat people today and in the future.
The Penny Lane incident also highlighted a major positive for our city, when the local community came out the next day to repair the damage.
We are all of us proud of our city.
We will learn from our past and we will be proud of our future.
And we will do it together, all of our communities giving respect and opportunities to each other.
Let’s talk together, let’s build a consensus – and let’s act together.