Southwark councillor Johnson Situ admitted more needs to be done for residents amid lockdown after he faced tough questions from Labour party members on Friday.
Situ weathered a storm of discontent on issues including policing, housing and the council’s response on COVID, in an online meeting organised in response to the Coronavirus pandemic entitled, COVID in Southwark: Race, Class, Justice.
The cabinet member for growth, development and planning told a gathering of more than 70 people that the pandemic had “ripped the sticking plaster off structural inequalities.”
Labour councillors, he added, continue to press Westminster to adopt the recommendations of subsequent reviews on policing, jobs and public health, including Sir Kevin Fenton’s recent report on the disproportionate number of Covid deaths among BAME people.
But the promise of an eight-week “listening exercise” met with criticisms of Southwark’s failure to back community efforts to support those worst affected by the pandemic.
Lara Daniel, chair of the Kingswood Estate Tenants and Residents Association, expressed frustration at having been denied emergency funding to battle poverty and inequality on the estate. She revealed councillors had not contacted her during the lockdown to check on her efforts to support residents.
“How do you represent us if you don’t feel what we are feeling?” Daniel demanded.
Situ, a contender for the leadership of Southwark’s Labour Group of Councillors, admitted that “more needs to be done”.
“We’re equally frustrated because we want to do more,” he said.
Steve Hedger, chair of the East Dulwich Estate TRA said that the Albrighton Centre Community Fridge had been “left to flounder while begging for scraps” even after being designated part of the Southwark Community Hub response to the pandemic.
“We desperately need more support from Southwark,” he said.
The Fridge currently delivers food packages to more than 300 vulnerable households across the borough every day with hundreds more attending the Centre in person.
A crowd funder has raised close to £25,000 for the volunteer-run organisation.
While much of the meeting was devoted to poverty, justice and policing were also high on the agenda.
Katrina Ffrench, chief executive of Stop Watch cited statistics showing that between March and May, 4,342 police searches had been conducted on the streets of Southwark, 82 per cent of which resulting in no further action. Ffrench questioned the police practice which resulted in arrests only 8% of the time and disproportionately affects black and minority ethnic communities.
Deborah Hobson, Camberwell & Peckham Labour Party’s elected BAME officer spoke of the police having “a license to kill black people”, citing the death in 1999 of her cousin, Roger Sylvester, after his arrest by police in Tottenham. A verdict of unlawful killing was overturned after an appeal by police and no officers were prosecuted.
On the subject of policing Situ said that more training was needed and “more challenging where necessary.”
“We are having those discussions but we are trying to do that in a constructive way,” he said.
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