COUNCIL leader John Halsall has apologised for a Facebook post that linked the murder of three men in Reading on Saturday night with the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Sunday, he posted the message across several Wokingham-related groups, sharing his horror at the death of James Furlong, David Wails and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, but then linking a clarification of why he felt the council couldn’t support the anti-racism campaign over fears that it is becoming politicised.
But an outcry from residents forced him to delete the posts.
“What I did on Facebook was an entire mistake,” he told Wokingham.Today.
“I’ve done damage to myself and the council.
“I hope to repair this by splitting up the messages. But all this pails into insignificance to the events that have taken place in Reading over the weekend.
“I’m sorry for any offence that my postings have caused.”
Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Lindsay Ferris said: “I am rather surprised that John Halsall would link his tribute to James Furlong to the Black Lives Matter campaign. I can see no linkage whatsoever between the atrocity and the BLM campaign.
“While there was a BLM rally in Reading on Saturday, the event finished many hours beforehand.
“I think this was a mistake on John Halsall’s part and he now needs to explain the link and for what reason.”
And Labour group leader, Cllr Andy Croy, said: “I felt the same way about the postings as everyone else – it was a mistake. He eventually recognised that and changed his message on Facebook.
“That was the right thing to do.”
He added: “The only people linking the two events are the far right and the racists”.
In his statement to clarify his position on Black Lives Matter, Cllr Hallsall said that any calls to defund the police are matters that “it is not right for WBC to take a position on and I will not bow to the easy option of doing so”.
He also said that he was “shocked and disgusted at the killing of George Floyd” by US police officers.
Wokingham Borough Council, along with Wokingham Town and Earley Town councils, flew their flags at half-mast today, as a mark of respect to Mr Floyd on the one-month anniversary of his death.
And the council has also launched a Tackling Racism Matters survey to stamp out prejudice across the borough.
Cllr Halsall’s statement in full
“I wish to clarify my position on Black Lives Matter: I completely support the message, principles and all the aims of Black Lives Matter in the UK. I have always been opposed to discrimination in all its forms and understand the need today to have a clear focus of tackling racism wherever it is found.
“I recognise the pain that racism has caused across the borough and beyond; I sense the injustices.
“I commit myself and this authority to understanding them and combating them.
“We are proud of the work we do with the BME Forum and have worked with its chair and vice-chair to produce the Tackling Racism Matter survey.
“This will give a voice to anybody who has experienced racism in any form as well as anybody with views on how this issue can be tackled.
“It is deliberately an open, listening exercise that acknowledges there will be problems we have not seen and answers we have not thought of. I appeal to everybody to take part.
“I was as shocked and disgusted at the killing of George Floyd as any other right-thinking person and it is my sincere hope that the world can change for the better as a result of the outcry it has produced.
“Many of the aspirations of Black Lives Matters in the US are shared with those in the UK and I fully support those.
“But I must explain why, as an authority, we will not be committing to the gesture politics of stating support for the Black Lives Matters as it exists as a political movement in the USA. This is because it is a political movement over which we have no control and which is campaigning on some issues that are peculiar to the US (for example, the movement’s prominent campaign to ‘Defund the Police’). These are issues that it is not right for WBC to take a position on and I will not bow to the easy option of doing so.
“My focus is our residents, and our ongoing commitment to strive for equality and celebrate diversity.”