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Black History Month: councillors take the knee against racism – Reading Chronicle

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Reading 13°c
Reading Borough Council’s three Black councillors, Sophia James (Katesgrove), Alice Mpufo-Coles (Whitley) and Ayo Sokale (Caversham). Credit: Cllr Sophia James
Reading councillors took the knee in honour of Black History Month after an impassioned speech by one of Reading’s councillors.
Councillor Sophia James (Labour, Katesgrove) made a speech focusing on progress and setbacks in the fight against racial inequality and racism during a full meeting of Reading Borough Council on Tuesday, October 19.
During the speech Cllr James said: “As you will be aware, October is Black History Month and the theme this year is Proud to Be. And I’m proud every day to be a Black British Caribbean child of Jamaican immigrants and public sector workers.
“But in the UK over 3,000 black people have died in police custody, detention centres, prisons or from racist attacks and the institutions which failed to protect them. Over 1500 deaths in police custody, with no convictions.
READ MORE: Ugly scenes unfold at court following conclusion of Aston McLean Williams inquest in Reading
“Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched and in the Thames Valley, only one in five racist hate crimes result in an outcome for the victim.
“When Rashford, Saka, and Sancho were called up to take those penalties, I felt a sickness in the pit of my stomach because I knew the painful cost of failure. You see, whilst many White people will not have considered the impact
of racism, Black and Asian people were only too aware and when it finally happened and violence ensued in the stadium and online… I cried.
“It is sad it takes such drastic events to rock White privileged people out of the comfortable zone that racism is a thing of the past.”
In a wide ranging speech, she said that she supports the progress on rights Black and Minority Ethnic (BEM) people have gained and congratulated the council for publishing ethnicity pay gaps.
Cllr James also demanded that councillors and the public “must do better” to end racism, following this up by saying that she wanted to see Black events and activities to be supported by our licencing policies and police.
READ MORE: Reading Carnival licence revoked as council calls for ‘rebirth’
At the end of her speech, Cllr James asked all present to kneel as a sign of respect.
Almost all councillors chose to take the knee, but noticeably the Conservative group chose to stand instead.
Jeanette Skeats, the Conservative group leader (Thames) said: “We decided to stand against racism, prejudice, injustice, and discrimination.
“We decided not to take the knee in a group meeting, it was a group decision.
“We thought it was very important to stand up against racism and prejudice.”
Of the 10 Conservatives on the council, took the stand, with Cllr Isabel Ballsdon (Mapledurham) not being present at the meeting.
Elderly councillors who were not able to kneel chose to clap in support instead.
READ MORE: Inquest held after death of Reading man in police custody
The 10th Conservative councillor, Mayor David Stevens (Thames) remained seated as a sign of neutrality.
Cllr Stevens said: “The Conservative group’s decision was one of respect for the position without agreeing with everything that Black Lives Matter stands for.”
The Black Lives Matter UK website states that it  is a ‘non-political, non-partisan, non-violence platform’.
However, there is an admission that some of the content published on the website “may have limited political content by the very nature of a state governed country, and system of democracy”.
Meanwhile, the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA has been accused of wanting to ‘defund the police’ and ‘disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family’.
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