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Grenfell - Inextricably linked with race

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Leslie Thomas QC - the lawyer representing the families of the Grenfell fire victims today made a powerful statement highlighting that the Grenfell disaster is 'inextricably linked with race.'

Quoting novelist James Baldwin, Thomas stated 'If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country - one doesn’t question the policeman, the lawyers, the judges or the protected members of the middle classes. One goes to the unprotected, those precisely who need the laws’ protection the most, and listens to their testimony. Ask any black man, any poor person. Ask the wretched how they fare in the hall of justice and then you will know, not just whether a country is just, but whether or not it has love for justice or any concept of it.'

Citing race as the 'elephant in the room', Mr Thomas also quoted from Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton's book 'Black Power: The Politics of Liberation' saying 'When a black family moves into a home in a white neighbourhood and is stoned, burned or routed out, they are the victims of an overt act of individual racism which many people will condemn. But it is the institutional racism that keeps black people locked in dilapidated slum tenements, subject to the daily prey of exploitative slum landlords, merchants, loan sharks and discriminatory real estate agents. The society either pretends it does not know of this latter situation, or is in fact incapable of doing anything meaningful about it.’

He argued that the Grenfell Inquiry is obliged via procedural duty to investigate race discrimination and whether it was a contributing factor in the Grenfell fire and the lives lost.

'The Grenfell fire did not happen in a vacuum. We must be cognizant of the prevailing socio-economic and political realities of the time. The community affected was predominantly working class. That is the stark reality that cannot be ignored. The impact of race and poverty on this disaster, this Inquiry must not ignore.'

He stated, in relation to race and poverty that Grenfell exposes fault lines:

'The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is home to such exclusive addresses, such as Knightsbridge, South Kensington, Chelsea Harbour, Belgravia. Does anyone seriously believe for one moment that if such a disaster would have happened to a block of flats in those areas - how resources are spent and allocated, how residents are treated and consulted, how seriously their legitimate concerns are dealt with, are all impacted by who they are - who those residents are.

Social housing in this country - which once provided homes for a substantial proportion of the population has, in recent decades, become a residualised service for the very poor. This disaster happened in a city where there is one housing system for the rich and another housing system for the poor. That political, social and economic context cannot be ignored, brushed aside in investigating it, nor can it be decoupled from race in the context where people of colour are disproportionately likely to be poor and live in social housing.'

View the entire statement on Youtube below.

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