As a former human rights lawyer and someone who believes passionately in freedom of assembly and the right to peaceful protest, it goes against my nature to urge Londoners not to go out to protest this weekend.
But these are exceptional circumstances. Not only are we in the midst of a devastating pandemic, which is disproportionately impacting our BAME communities – but the potential for disorder over the next few days is very real, with the far-right organising counter-protests in London in the hope of provoking violence and discrediting a legitimate cause.
Let me be clear: I’m proud to stand with the millions of people around the world who are raising their voices and saying loud and clear that Black Lives Matter.
In our city, it’s been inspiring to see Londoners of all ages, races and backgrounds coming together to protest racial injustice and structural racism.
The overwhelming majority of protestors have been peaceful and true ambassadors for the cause. They have been armed not with bricks or weapons, but with powerful slogans, a spirit of unity and the lessons of the great civil rights leaders who taught about the moral force of non-violence.
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It is imperative that this weekend we stand in that tradition, doing everything we possibly can to avoid a situation that could escalate dangerously.
The extreme far-right want to hijack these protests and distract from the Black Lives Matter cause. We cannot afford to let them do that. We must not give them the oxygen they crave, or lose this chance of fundamental and far-reaching change.
As someone who has been involved in these struggles my whole life – as a lawyer, trade unionist and politician – I believe that this moment can, and must, be a catalyst for lasting progress that tackles the poison of racism and the pernicious inequalities that still hold Black people back today, both in this country and around the world.
But the reality is that more protests in central London in the coming days not only risk spreading the deadly coronavirus, but could lead to disorder, vandalism and violence.
This would only serve to undermine, not advance, the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement. So I implore Londoners: please stay at home, ignore the far-right and make your voice heard in other safe ways this weekend because that is the best response.
By not claiming the streets this weekend, we make it more likely that the future will be ours
I want to make crystal clear that any violence or criminal damage from anyone is always unacceptable and simply will not be tolerated in our city. This includes acts of violence directed at our police officers who make a vital contribution to keeping our city safe.
In my role, I’ve seen how our police have gone above and beyond in their service to London, including in the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks, when they have sprinted towards danger to protect Londoners.
Their service and devotion to keeping our city peaceful and secure deserves to be recognised. Anybody who attacks police officers at any time will be pursued, and rightly condemned – including by me.
The number of officers who have been injured due to the protests is already over 60 – which is completely unacceptable.
We must also acknowledge that our officers are working at a time when Covid-19 still presents a grave threat to them and all of our communities.
The Metropolitan Police is working on a robust policing plan to keep Londoners safe and to prevent any disorder this weekend.
Together with our partners, my administration is also doing everything we can to ensure that key statues and monuments – including the Cenotaph, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela – are covered and protected so that they don’t become vandalised or flashpoints for violence.
The protests over the past week have shown just how hard it is to maintain social distancing in large crowds. No-one should underestimate the risk of spreading or contracting the coronavirus at a protest.
There have been new cases confirmed among protestors around the world – from the United States to Australia – and I fear we will see the same here.
So please, for the sake of yourselves, your family members who may be vulnerable to Covid-19, and for the wider community and cause, stay at home over the next few days and find a safe way to make your voices heard.
By not claiming the streets this weekend, we make it more likely that the future will be ours. A future defined by fairness, justice and equality for all.
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