Council leader: ‘We are determined to combat racism across Wokingham borough’

John Halsall
John Halsall

COUNCIL leader John Halsall has restated his determination to combating racism across Wokingham borough. 

In yesterday’s Wokingham Paper, we reported his decision not to support the Black Lives Matter movement over his concerns that it is becoming politicised

In a statement issued today to clarify his position, he reiterated that, saying that calls to defund the police are matters that “it is not right for WBC to take a position on and I will not bow to the easy option of doing so”.

He also said that he was “shocked and disgusted at the killing of George Floyd” by US police officers. 

Wokingham Borough Council, along with Wokingham Town and Earley Town councils, are pledging to fly their flags at half-mast on June 25, as a mark of respect to Mr Floyd on the one-month anniversary of his death. 

And the council has also launched a Tackling Racism Matters survey to stamp out prejudice across the borough. 

Cllr Halsall’s statement in full

“I wish to clarify my position on Black Lives Matter: I completely support the message, principles and all the aims of Black Lives Matter in the UK. I have always been opposed to discrimination in all its forms and understand the need today to have a clear focus of tackling racism wherever it is found.

“I recognise the pain that racism has caused across the borough and beyond; I sense the injustices. I commit myself and this authority to understanding them and combating them.

“We are proud of the work we do with the BME Forum and have worked with its chair and vice-chair to produce the Tackling Racism Matters survey. This will give a voice to anybody who has experienced racism in any form as well as anybody with views on how this issue can be tackled. It is deliberately an open, listening exercise that acknowledges there will be problems we have not seen and answers we have not thought of. I appeal to everybody to take part.

“I was as shocked and disgusted at the killing of George Floyd as any other right-thinking person and it is my sincere hope that the world can change for the better as a result of the outcry it has produced. Many of the aspirations of Black Lives Matters in the US are shared with those in the UK and I fully support those.

“But I must explain why, as an authority, we will not be committing to the gesture politics of stating support for the Black Lives Matters as it exists as a political movement in the USA. This is because it is a political movement over which we have no control and which is campaigning on some issues that are peculiar to the US (for example, the movement’s prominent campaign to ‘Defund the Police’). These are issues that it is not right for WBC to take a position on and I will not bow to the easy option of doing so.

“My focus is our residents, and our ongoing commitment to strive for equality and celebrate diversity.”

To take part in the survey, click here

Labour launch a petition

Labour group leader on Wokingham Borough Council, Cllr Andy Croy, has launched a petition calling for the council to go further.

He says that the party wants the council to fly a Black Lives Matter flag, or similar message of support, on June 25. 

In the petition’s citation, he said: “Concrete actions are needed in the fight against racism but we also need to demonstrate our public commitment in the clearest manner possible”.

Earlier in the week, Cllr Croy and his counterpart on Wokingham Town Council, Cllr Abby Tebboth, had sent a joint letter to Cllr Halsall and the leader of Town Council, Cllr Imogen Shepherd-DuBey, calling on them to support the flag-flying. 

They wrote: “There has been a worldwide outpouring of grief and anger at the brutality of the killing. This has been accompanied by a determination to end the scourge of racism, including institutional and structural racism, which led not only to George Floyd’s death but which has caused other deaths and led to the widespread disadvantage of black people not just in the United States but in the United Kingdom. I know we all share a commitment to end this evil.

“The recent Black Lives Matters events have shown the importance of symbols and identity.

“We are writing to you to urge you to fly a Black Lives Matter flag over the Wokingham Borough Council offices at Shute End and over Wokingham Town Hall, at the heart of our largest town. “Flying this flag would be a powerful symbol of the outrage we feel, our collective commitment to ending racism and a statement of our values of equality and justice that we know are shared by our residents.”

Both town and borough councils have committed to flying their usual flags at half-mast. 

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