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16 Jun

The George Floyd Short Story Competition – A statement from the NWS Board

Some concerns have been raised following the announcement of the George Floyd Short Story Competition.

“Why choose a man with a criminal record to front the competition?”

“Why, in fact, do we need to have this competition at all?”  

“Isn’t racial inequality more of an American problem?”

These are all fair questions and should be asked in a free society.  Life isn’t clear-cut.

George Floyd was not a perfect man. He had a criminal record and he did serve time. However, he also held down full-time jobs, mentored young men away from crime, tried to help ex-convicts back into work, and delivered meals to the infirm. In 2017 he helped film an anti-gun violence video.

George Floyd is the catalyst for change. He is the man whose death has sparked outrage and triggered an international movement for change. George captures not just the public attention, but is also an everyman who represents the many Black people who have lost their lives to heavy handed police tactics. He is our namesake not because he was perfect, but because of his very imperfection. George Floyd’s cause of death is listed as “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.” His heart stopped as police restrained him and compressed his neck.

It has been alleged that George used a forged $20 note to buy a cigarette; this has been given as the reason for the restraint. George Floyd was not charged or tried.  

Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Law Enforcement Officer who killed George Floyd has been charged and will be tried for second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

And there, once again, the disparity and systemic racism is high-lighted. The difference is this time it was filmed for the world to see. Who are we to judge a man? We rely on the courts and the judicial system to make these critical decisions. Unfortunately, this systemic racism and discrimination is experienced by thousands of BAME people.

Nottingham Writers Studio, along with thousands of others across the globe, do not believe that the actions of Derek Chauvinwere were a justified use of deadly force. 

The Independent reports that more than a dozen members of the Minneapolis police department have condemned their former colleague Derek Chauvin in an open letter on the death of George Floyd:  “Derek Chauvin failed as a human and stripped George Floyd of his dignity and life. This is not who we are,”

Ava Deverney’s documentary ‘13’ (2010) highlights some stark statistics – that African Americans make up 6.5% of the American population but 40.2% of the prison populace. White males have a 1 in 17 chance of ending up behind bars; for black males it is 1 in 3.  

How does that compare with the UK?  

The Guardian published an article highlighting the police brutality of the deaths relating to people in police custody, including: Christopher Alder, Sean Rigg, Kingsley Burrell, Simeon Francis.  

“It is true that many other people die in police custody, but black people account for 8% of these deaths, while accounting for only 3% of the population. They are dying disproportionately and the perception remains that race leads to a different outcome, which is often premature death.”  

The article continues to state that:

“A David Cameron-commissioned report by David Lammy found in 2017 that the colour of your skin has a measurable impact on how you are treated at every stage in the justice system.”

As for the competition itself, there is sadly a racial imbalance in the publishing industry. BAME make up 13% of the British population, but only 6% of published authors. Additionally, while 25% of English school children are identified as BAME only 4% of YA fiction contains a BAME character, and only 1% feature a BAME main character. 

At the studio we think this is not only a disservice to the BAME community, but also to ourselves. Robbing the publishing industry of a rich vein of stories and experiences. As such it is our hope that by running this event, we can do our own small part to help rectify this imbalance.

This post was a written collaboration by NWS Directors, and its posting is given full support by all members of the NWS Board and staff.

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