Burt vows to not let antiracism energy die
Legislation tackling the legacy of racism in Bermuda will be brought to the House of Assembly, David Burt said last night.
Speaking during the motion to adjourn, the Premier told MPs he hoped people fired up for action over racism would “not let this energy die”, referring to worldwide protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed man suspected of passing a counterfeit note in Minnesota.
Mr Burt added: “I hope that all the white persons who are supporting and saying black lives matter, and we have to end racism, will not complain when there is legislation brought to this House to address issues of structural racism in this country.”
He said the issue could not be reduced to a hashtag, and commended changes to the law that would allow for a protest supporting the Black Lives Matter movement to go forward on Sunday.
Mr Burt's remarks closed hours of discussion in the House on racism in Bermuda and overseas, and George Floyd's death in Minnesota on May 25.
Derrick Burgess, the Deputy Speaker, opened by saying Mr Floyd's “brutal murder” at the hands of police had been the impetus for protest marches here.
Mr Burgess called off names from Sally Bassett, an enslaved woman burnt at the stake in 1730, to Ewart Brown, a former premier who he said had been subjected to eight years of police investigations that had uncovered nothing.
He added: “I just urge our marchers, do not forget these people.”
Mr Burgess said he believed “all lives matter in this country, regardless of the colour of your skin” but told the House the endurance of racism could be gauged in the income disparities between black and white people.
Renée Ming, a Progressive Labour Party MP, described her horror at watching the video of Mr Floyd's fatal encounter with police, and her fear on behalf of her black son attending university in the US.
Ms Ming also paid tribute to women MPs, adding: “I applaud my female colleagues of colour who have stepped up to the plate to serve.”
Leah Scott, the deputy Opposition leader grew emotional as she spoke of the video, and spoke of her son, imprisoned 18 years in Florida for a drug offence when there were “white people who have committed murder and got less”.
Christopher Famous, a PLP backbencher, listed off examples of racism ranging from the lack of black CEOs in Bermuda and black workers overlooked for promotions.
Mr Famous said: “We have to march for everything about racism in this country. Outside of that, it's just a farce.”
Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the shadow finance minister and mother to two sons, echoed Ms Ming's remarks about women in politics, adding: “There's probably a handful of women in the House of Assembly who know what it's like to be the mother of a young black man.”
Rolfe Commissiong, a PLP backbencher, said the fight was the same one as was fought in the Sixties and Seventies and that longstanding racial disparities must be addressed.
Mr Commissiong said the “taboo” subject of affirmative action should be embraced, alongside healthcare and economic reform, to make sure black Bermudians have the opportunities they deserve.
Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, recalled that as a boy he had seen his father beaten by police “for no other reason than he was suffering from schizophrenia”.
He said both political parties hold responsibility for the lack of bold action. Mr Cannonier said: “I have seen far too many blacks who have been looking for bold moves year after year after year, and we are still waiting.
“Both parties are responsible for not doing enough to make sure there is a level playing field.”