Diane Abbott denies tweet about BLM activist shot in head inflamed racial divides

·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·4 min read
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott arrives for a Labour clause V meeting on the manifesto at Savoy Place in London. (Photo by Dominc Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
Diane Abbott tweeted following the shooting of Sasha Johnson: 'Nobody should have to potentially pay with their life because they stood up for racial justice.' (PA)

Labour MP Diane Abbott has denied "inflaming racial divides" with a tweet suggesting activist Sasha Johnson was shot because she “stood up for racial justice”.

Johnson, a prominent equal rights campaigner including with Black Lives Matter, was rushed to hospital in the early hours of Sunday after being shot in the head in Peckham, south-east London. She is said to have “successfully undergone surgery”.

On Monday morning, Abbott tweeted: “Black activist #SashaJohnson in hospital in critical condition after sustaining a gunshot wound to the head. Nobody should have to potentially pay with their life because they stood up for racial justice.”

Abbott, appearing on an LBC debate show later, was accused of posting the tweet having "not done her homework".

However, there have been varying accounts of the shooting.

Sasha Johnson at a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Trafalgar Square, London, last year. The mother-of-three was shot in the head during the early hours of Sunday. (Victoria Jones/PA)
Sasha Johnson at a Black Lives Matter protest rally in Trafalgar Square, London, last year. The mother-of-three was shot in the head during the early hours of Sunday. (Victoria Jones/PA)

Officials from the Taking The Initiative Party, which Johnson is a member of, said on Sunday that it happened following “numerous death threats”.

On Monday morning, Imarn Ayton, a friend of Johnson, told the BBC that Johnson was the unintended victim of a gangland attack.

And on Tuesday morning, the Metropolitan Police said there is "nothing to suggest Sasha was the victim of a targeted attack" and that it's "not aware" of death threats.

Abbott, appearing on LBC’s Cross Question programme on Monday night, was asked by presenter Iain Dale if she “inflamed racial divides by tweeting something when you haven’t done your homework”.

Abbott denied this, saying: “No. You didn’t see the commentary on this woman being shot in the head. There was huge amount of concern about it, not just online, but in the papers and the media.

Watch: 'Nothing to suggest Sasha was the victim of a targeted attack,' Met says

“She is a Black activist, she was shot in the head, and people were concerned as to why. 

"If you raise issues of race and you are accused of inflaming tensions, that doesn’t really get us anywhere fast.

“This woman is a mother. She had a bullet in the head. We need to take that seriously, not try and divide people who mention it.”

Dale countered that if it was an accidental shooting, “plainly linking it to racial justice [is] creating a division when you don't know that's true".

Abbott, the former shadow home secretary, responded: “No. I think it is so wrong to accuse people of colour who raise issues in relation to race of somehow inflaming feelings. 

"We don’t know, actually, whether it was a gangland [shooting]. It may have been that she randomly took a bullet. But we don’t know for certain.”

“Exactly,” Dale replied, “which is why you shouldn’t have tweeted what you did.”

Abbott repeated: “Yes, but when you accuse people of colour of inflaming feelings because you raise issues about race, that doesn’t take us anywhere.”

On Tuesday morning, the Metropolitan Police said it does not believe the shooting was a targeted attack.

Commander Alison Heydari said: “From our inquiries so far, we have established that Sasha had been at a party at a house on Consort Road in Peckham early on Sunday morning.

“Around 3am a group of four black males dressed in dark coloured clothing entered the garden of the property and discharged a firearm. They had left the scene before officers arrived.

Read more:

Black equal-rights activist was shot when group of men opened fire at party

Sasha Johnson: Political party questions police claim there were no ‘credible death threats’

“We are aware of Sasha’s involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK and I understand the concern this will cause to some communities – however I wish to stress that at this time there is nothing to suggest Sasha was the victim of a targeted attack.

“We are also not aware of any reports of threats made against her prior to this incident.”

The Taking The Initiative Party later questioned this, asking: "How have the police come to this conclusion without being able to speak to Sasha regarding the death threats and investigate?"

On Monday night, a group gathered around the bandstand in Ruskin Park, Denmark Hill, to hold a vigil for Johnson close to the hospital where she is being treated.

Watch: Daily politics briefing: 25 May

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