Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 28 October 2020

MPs around the world moved to action by George Floyd death

Death of black American led to debate around the world over race, inequality and police brutality

 People attend a Black Lives Matter rally, in Washington following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd. Reuters
 People attend a Black Lives Matter rally, in Washington following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd. Reuters

Nearly half of lawmakers from four countries tweeted about George Floyd and the resulting civil rights protests in a sign of the global impact of the black American’s violent death during his arrest by police, according to a new study published on Tuesday.

Six in ten British MPs with Twitter accounts published messages about Mr Floyd’s death and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests, the highest proportion of members from the four national legislatures examined by researchers.

Over a two-week period from May 26, 44 per cent of Canadian MPs with Twitter accounts posted about Mr Floyd or Black Lives Matter, along with 26 per cent from Australia and 14 per cent from New Zealand, according to the study by the US-based Pew Research Center.

Mr Floyd, 46, died on May 25 in police custody in Minneapolis after an officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes while arresting him for allegedly using a fake $20 note to buy cigarettes. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with murder and three of his colleagues face lesser charges.

The violent death sparked protests around the world and developed into wider demonstrations against police tactics, racism and the legacy of slavery.

The debate led to the toppling of colonial statues and raised questions about racial divisions within societies that were sharpened by the higher proportion of Covid-19-related deaths among black and minority ethnic communities.

Most of the tweets expressed support for demonstrators while others highlighted US President Donald Trump’s record on race issues and others cited issues in their own countries. Those who tweeted the most tended to be on the left of the political spectrum.

Politicians on the right, including the UK’s Conservative Party and Australia’s anti-immigration One Nation party, were more likely to criticise protests, sometimes drawing attention to the increased health risk of spreading Covid-19.

About a third of British MPs who tweeted on the topic called for a ban on the export of riot control equipment to the United States, including tear gas and rubber bullets.

In Britain, with its long colonial history, there was a particular focus on monuments with one-in-five British MPs tweeting about statues. Twice as many were supportive of removing colonial-era statues with links to slavery than those who were critical of it.

The debate focused around the pulling down on June 7 of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston. The statue was subsequently dumped in a harbour in the city of Bristol, in England’s South West, before being retrieved four days later missing the staff he had leaned on for 125 years.

The frenetic social media activity around Mr Floyd compared to the previous 17 months when only four per cent of legislators tweeted about “black lives matter”, according to the findings from the two-year research programme.

Researchers had previously found that climate change, International Women’s Day and the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in the Second World War had led to a multinational response from politicians of the four countries, plus the US.

Updated: August 4, 2020 12:32 PM

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