Tens of thousands of anti-racism protestors across the UK have defied the government and police chiefs to join demonstrations against racism.
“No justice, no peace” echoed around the country with protesters chanting the name of George Floyd, whose death by police in the US has sparked demonstrations under the Black Lives Matter banner around the world.
Protestors in London, Cardiff, Manchester, Glasgow, Belfast, Leicester, Sheffield, Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Derry, Ipswich and many other cities and towns in Wales , Northern Ireland, England and Scotland ignored government calls to stay away to combat coronavirus, and warnings from police that the demonstrations are “unlawful”.
“There is a virus greater than Covid-19 and it’s called racism” was the response of one placard in Trafalgar Square, where thousands met this afternoon to chant, kneel, remember and hope that the outrage following Floyd’s death can be a catalyst for change to address historic and prevailing structural inequalities in the UK and around the world.
‘We can’t remain silent’ says heavyweight champ
In Watford, the world heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua – who won Olympic gold for Britain at London 2012 – addressed protestors, telling them: “We can no longer sit back and remain silent on this senseless, unlawful killing and sly racism on another human being – based on what? Only their skin colour.”
Joshua, 30, said: “We need to speak out in peaceful demonstrations – just like today, so well done Watford. We must not use a demonstration for selfish motives and turn it into rioting and looting.”
In Manchester, an estimated 15,000 took to the streets while in Glasgow protestors renamed city streets linked to the slave trade and tobacco plantations with new signs erected and named after black activists, slaves and people killed by police.
Police call protests ‘unlawful’
Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said the protests were “unlawful” and told police not to kneel in solidarity with demonstrators, as a “couple of officers” had done during anti-racism protests on Wednesday (June 3).
Whilst acknowledging that feelings were “running incredibly high” following events in the US, Dick said: “I would rather people did not come out on the streets to protest at the moment for any reason – whatever the cause.
“Coming together in a gathering is not only unlawful but also perhaps more importantly, in a sense it is putting yourself and your family at unnecessary risk and other people around you.”
Home secretary Priti Patel had a simple message for protestors: “Please don’t.”
Patel said she understood the UK’s right to protest but that the country is now in the midst of a pandemic, and added: “The regulations are very clear in terms of gatherings and mass gatherings in particular. We must put public health first at this particular time.”
London mayor – don’t risk spreading the virus
London mayor Sadiq Khan also urged people not to gather, telling Sky News that even with “the best of intentions” people close together may “inadvertently…either pass the virus on or catch the virus.
“How would you feel if you then went home and gave it to an elderly relation in your home who then lost his or her life?”, asked Khan, having described the killing of George Floyd as “brutal”.
Khan called on people demonstrating to maintain social distancing, wear gloves and a face covering and to use sanitiser or wash their hands regularly.
NI anti-racism protesters fined, organisers reported to PPS
In Northern Ireland, three anti-racism protests were cancelled after the police told organisers the events were contrary to current health protection regulations. Two protests – in Derry and Belfast – went ahead and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said a “significant number” of fines and Community Resolution Notices (CRNS) were issued at both.
Assistant chief constable Alan Todd said: “A number of individuals, including organisers, will now be reported to the Public Prosecution Service with a view to prosecution. We will also conduct follow up enquiries to seek to identify others who may have committed offences.”
More demonstrations are planned in Scotland tomorrow (Sunday) with protests scheduled to happen in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.