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Black Lives Matter Protest at London Airport Leaves Some Confused

The presence of white activists and focus on climate change gets a mixed response online

A Black Lives Matter U.K. (BLM) protest at London City Airport on Tuesday left some fellow activists confused by what they saw as mixed messaging, as nine white campaigners appeared to focus as much on climate change as on racial inequality.

Many online criticized the use of white activists protesting under the banner of a movement that fights against systemic racism and violence against the black community. “Where are all the Black people in this BLM protest? Looks like the hashtags just been hijacked by nine people with their own agenda. Was this actually organised by BLMUK?” a Facebook user named Zahra Clarke-Johnney wrote in a post on BLM’s page.

Jasper, a veteran activist who was equalities advisor to former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, told TIME that despite being confused initially by the messaging he is “incredibly supportive” of the work BLM is trying to achieve, as well as the use of white campaigners—who were all arrested following the morning’s action.

“I first was confused till ah, I then got it” Jasper told TIME. “What [they did] is put white people there purposely due to the massive disproportion of black people in the criminal justice system.” Where BLM U.K. went wrong, Jasper says, was in failing to explain prior to the protest why white people were on the tarmac instead of black activists.

Hours after the protest, BLM issued a series of tweets clarifying the use of white protestors.

The group, which officially launched last month to highlight the issue of death in detention and stop and searches in the U.K., is an offshoot of the movement that grew in the U.S. following the shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Their latest protest seems to have expanded their remit to include environmental issues.

Black Lives Matter (U.K.) could not be reached for comment but released a statement explaining the focus on climate change. “When black people in Britain are 28% more likely to be exposed to air pollution than their white counterparts, we know that environmental inequality is a racist crisis.” They named the focus of Tuesday’s action, London City Airport, as a place “designed for the wealthy.” The airport is located by the racially diverse London suburb of Newham, which according to statement is where “40% of… population struggle to survive on £20,000 or less.”

In the video also released on the day of the protest, activists call for the opening of borders as they hammer home the message that “climate change is racist.” They explain in the clip that environmental issues disproportionately affects people in the global south. “By 2050 there will be 200 million climate refugees…seven out of ten of the countries most affected by climate change are in sub-saharan Africa.”

Jasper also thinks the criticism levelled against BLM on Tuesday is because “the case for environmental activism” within the black community has not been effectively made. “They don’t understand how their everyday lives, even the lives of the people in their countries of origin, will be affected.” That mixed in with the confusion of using white activists was bound to bring out the dissenters, he says.

“They are headed in the right direction” says Jasper of BLM, which he thinks is very much needed in a country where reports of hate crimes have surged following the vote to leave the E.U. “They just have to give more nuance, and massage their messaging and targeting.”

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