The Wokingham Paper

TONY JOHNSON: Unscaring the people

Black Lives Matter
Picture: Betty Martin from Pixabay

In America it was a week in the Deep South when African-American lives were again shown not to matter.

In the UK, it was a week in which peaceful protest was overshadowed by violence and disrespect.

Locally, it was a week in which a hearing turned into a trial, then into a farce.

Afraid of Police

As George Floyd was laid to rest, peaceful protests continued, but any learning from his passing had been lost, as Rayshard Brooks was shot in the back while fleeing from Police Officers in Atlanta, Georgia.

The peaceful protests have taken place as part of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. This started in 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, after he’d shot unarmed Trayvon Martin to death in Florida in 2012.

It gained momentum with the suffocation of Eric Garner due to being put in a choke hold by a New York police officer in July 2014, the shooting and killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Missouri in August 2014 and eight others in 2014 alone.

There are parallels between BLM in the 2010’s and the Women for Peace in the 1970’s, founded by Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, following the death of three children caused by a car driven by an IRA man who’d just been fatally shot by British troops.

But it was almost a quarter of a century later before the Good Friday Agreement was to bring The Troubles in Northern Ireland to a close.

But as almost every African American family is aware, “The Talk” is important, sometimes critical to their son’s survival in an encounter with US Police, even to the extent of the 16 unwritten rules that a Texas teenager learned from his mother

But this caution isn’t limited to African Americans. Even archetypal WASPs have told me of a need for extreme caution in any encounter with US Police – just for your survival, let alone staying intact and uninjured.

That there is a problem with US Policing is no longer in doubt. Proposals to defund the Police in sixteen cities; Atlanta’s Chief of Police resigning; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff apologising; the virtual silence of the Tweeter-in-Chief on this topic; all tell of a country that’s reeling in dismay.

Whether American people, politicians and police will act any quicker than we did in Northern Ireland, getting from Women for Peace (1976) to the Good Friday Agreement (1998), remains to be seen.

Afraid of the Past

Bristol City Council recovered Edward Colston‘s statue from the harbour and removed his name from Colston Hall. Who knows what they’ll do about Colston Tower on Colston Street, Colston Avenue, Colston Yard or The Colston Arms

Perhaps by next week they’ll have renamed the Colston Bun?

But the Colston problem isn’t limited only to Bristol, should we also consider eradicating his presence and name from Colston Close over in Calcot, Swindon and Winterbourne; or perhaps Colston Road in East Sheen, Devizes and Nottingham; along with Colston Avenue in Carshalton?

And if we deColstonise our streets, shouldn’t we also do the same for our boys and girls schools, chartered surveyors, architects, villages, cheesemakers, Domesday book entries?

And why stop with just Edward Colston? Two centuries later there were over 46,000 slave owners who benefitted under the 1837 Slave Compensation Act, including the family of UK prime minister William Ewart Gladstone and other senior political figures running Britain’s slave trade in the nineteenth century

And as we discovered this week, attention isn’t limited to Colston’s statue, as those of Winston Churchill, Thomas Guy (Guy’s hospital), Lord Baden Powell (scouts) were covered up at the weekend.

All this questions not only where to start, but how far to go. For example, should references to Ghandi be removed – not because he protested about the killings during Partition, but because he didn’t succeed?

It also questions whether airbrushing any individuals out of our streets, museums and history books will achieve what’s intended. Or whether it just ends up painting over the historic lessons as well?

All the above together illustrate the common problem with change. That it’s all too easy to go from the simple to the surreal (statues to street-names), from the aboveboard to the absurd (Colston to Ghandi).

If Black Lives are to Matter then we need to do more than just blot out historic figures or their memorials and work a new process of historification – recording, teaching and learning the lessons from history.

Afraid to go out

Here in Britain, despite attempts to move on, the problems surrounding the nation’s approach to Covid-19 are continuing.

While the mentions of Dominic Cummings have dropped to just 222 articles last week, as compared with 440 the week before and 1,070 at their peak, the issue just hasn’t gone away. So having failed to distract the public with “lifting the lockdown” the PM has resorted to a different “dead cat” strategy, claiming to ‘getting Brexit done’ instead.

The minders at Transcript Central have repaired their gaffe from the previous week by making the PM’s words of wisdom available. While it lifted that week to 80%, this week dropped back to a lacklustre 60% – 3 out of 5.

Meanwhile, Gavin Williamson’s ‘back to school’ plan was sent to the back of the class because he hadn’t done his homework in the previous ten weeks. Matt Hancock’s Test Track and Isolate’s credibility was bruised after the App for everyone’s mobile phones seemed to dis-App-ear and was verbally downgraded from ‘jewel in the crown’ to a ‘nice to have’ this week.

All of which leads me to a personal admission because I’m apprehensive about going out and maintaining social distancing.

By the time I get home from a shopping trip, I’m frazzled.

And when it comes to making any significant changes in behaviour, I won’t be in a hurry.

Things may be fine if you’ve survived Coronavirus already, but Boris’ brand of bonhomie and bluster isn’t credible. We simply don’t believe you sir, nor do we trust your words.

You’ve scared the people rigid, now how are you going to unscare us all?

Suggestions on a postcard to 10 Downing Street please – or to your MP as Boris might actually pay attention to them.

Afraid of the Truth?

Locally, the main political event of the week was the Licensing Hearing for the BBQ King kebab van on Reading Road close to Shute End, WBC’s headquarters.

The agenda showed that the public and press would be excluded from part of the meeting and the chairman of the meeting seemed to be in somewhat of a hurry to get to this, being twice held up. 

In the end he had to be reminded that there was a statement that he had to read out before he was legally allowed to boot everyone else out of the meeting and, in ending the formal declaration, he said the reason was “in connection with the prevention, investigation or prosecution of the crime”.

By putting in ‘the’ as a definite article he’s “implied necessarily that an entity it articulates is presupposed” (Wiktionary), which is long-winded for something specific.

So what exactly IS the crime and who’s accused of it?

Regrettably the meeting didn’t restart for us to hear the summaries and if it wasn’t dark enough already, things got even inkier when all 61 supporting documents got taken down off WBC’s website. By Sunday, the only thing left visible was the video of the public part of the hearing.

One wonders what our secrecy-obsessed council is so afraid of?

(They have since been reuploaded in a single document, editor)

Running scared

All of which brings us to another topic which some people might have hoped would be quietly and conveniently forgotten.

It’s the matter of a Finchampstead South Councillor euphemistically ‘parting company’ with WBC, leaving his seat vacant.

As of the time of writing, this matter still isn’t completely and transparently clear – in a “did he fall – or was he pushed” kind of a way, although some of the correspondence makes for what can only be described as “interesting reading”. 

More – later?

Borough ‘In Briefs’

Wokingham Borough Council’s social media channel has continued to publish information and guides on giving and receiving help during the pandemic along with other important matters. Here’s a look at what WBC created and posted last week (no ratings for other people’s work)

June 8thWokingham Woodley and Twyford are open for business60
Wokingham Garden Share9
June 9thWokingham Woodley and Twyford are opening for business60
June 10thNHS Test & Trace scam127
Celebrating Carers Week12
Wokingham Woodley and Twyford are opening for business60
Join the Dinton Litter Pick!54
Register the birth of your child55
Wokingham Woodley and Twyford are opening for business60
June 11thPark and Ride Projects72
Thank you! (to our waste collection teams) Here’s why102
Wokingham Woodley and Twyford are opening for business60
June 12thTake extra care when enjoying the outdoors6
Fostering: could it be time for a career change?2
Wokingham Woodley and Twyford are opening for business60
June 13thWokingham Woodley and Twyford are opening for business60
Flytipping is on the rise33
June 14thWokingham Woodley and Twyford are opening for business60
What type of online courses do you want?12
Places of worship to open for individual prayer8

With a total of 127 Likes, Comments and Shares the NHS Test & Trace scam got the most attention and showing your concern by letting lots of others know about how to combat the scam.

Second placed Thank you! (to our waste collection teams) Here’s why (102) received lots of Likes and Shares in response to the graphics which (eventually) explained that while recycling and residual waste were up by over 10%, there had been a 50% rise in food waste and garden waste.

While you liked and shared the above two postings, it was third placed Park and Ride Projects (72) that led to some spirited comments. Without taking sides, the debate centred on the advisability and practicality of spending on public transport, when buses (and trains) are alleged to be virus-spreading environments during a pandemic. With an estimated construction cost of £3M for the 250 spaces along London Road Wokingham, that’s £12,000 per space.

On an aggregate basis, the seven times repeated news that Wokingham Woodley and Twyford are opening for business (60) in fourth place had clearly exhausted everyone by Friday as the number of likes, comments and shares had dropped to just three that day.

Despite the howler when this message launched on Monday, (click this link to spot the error) and your apparently flagging interest by the weekend, these postings were the most critical for the area’s continued economic future and everyone’s holding their breath and keeping fingers crossed for the success of the campaign.

Sixth and the posting to Register the birth of your child (55) came in for some questioning and doubt, while Join the Dinton Litter Pick! (54) in seventh was the only other with a rating above 50 since they were posted.

What the Neighbours said

Some of our other neighbours are saying that the parrot in its gilded cage is on form again despite its bedraggled plumage, while others have said it should be taught to squawk something new.

Excepting ‘sta komsije rekli’, that was the 13th week of lockdown, that was.

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