A leading Black politician, known for his commitment to equality and social justice, has promised his support for Gypsy and Traveller people in an explosive speech to campaigners.
David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, London, spoke at the Traveller Movement conference, on the 24th November, about his recent review into how Black and Minority Ethnic people were treated by the criminal justice system.
He told the audience of Gypsy and Traveller people, campaigners and supporters: “I am standing by you - I am supporting you – I am not going to leave the stage.”
David Lammy MP said that the overrepresentation of Gypsies and Travellers in prison was “outrageous” and that the roots of this overrepresentation “go back hundreds of years.”
The discrimination that Gypsies and Travellers face in the UK, said David Lammy, reminded him of how Aborigines – indigenous Australians - were treated in Australia. Aborigines, he said, are only 3% of the population, yet are 70% of the total prison population and 65% of children taken into care where Aborigine children. He compared this to the UK’s Gypsies and Travellers, who make up less than 1% of the population but account for 12% of young people in youth custody. He added that some of the solutions for the “historical” oppression could be found in Canada and New Zealand, where special rights and recognition existed for native indigenous people, like Canada’s Metis people.
Instead, he said, Gypsy and Traveller people in the UK were “missing people” and the oppression and discrimination they faced was often ignored.
“I visited many Gypsy and Traveller men and women in prison and sat and listened to them,” said David Lammy.
“I visited one Traveller in prison as part of the criminal justice review and as soon as I got to know him he asked for fifteen other Travellers to be allowed to join the meeting.”
One way that the discrimination towards Gypsies and Travellers stuck out was that they were often segregated he added. The Travellers he spoke to said that prison staff often split up Travellers into different wings, whilst other black and ethnic minority people were allowed to socialise together.
This, the Travellers told him, meant that they couldn’t support each other and that they were often treated badly by other prisoners because of the racism, and that this could lead to isolation, mental ill health and suicide.
David Lammy MP promised that in the New Year he would be putting pressure on the government to implement the findings of his review and that he was determined it “would not gather dust on the shelf.”
(Photograph © Mary Humphry/Traveller Movement