Mass anti-racism protests take place in cities across UK

Mass anti-racism protests take place in cities across UK thumbnail

Tens of thousands of people attended protests across the UK on Sunday – including one where a statue of a slave trader was pulled down – after a week in which growing numbers defied calls from politicians and police to avoid mass gatherings to rally against racial injustice.

In London, thousands gathered outside the US embassy in south London in solidarity with demonstrators in the United States, where protests against police violence and systemic racism sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis continued into a second weekend.

Later, an anti-racism protest was held at Parliament Square in Westminster. Among those present was the rapper Stormzy. He did not speak, but listened as speakers talked about the struggle for equality.

The statue of Winston Churchill in the square was graffitied with a line spray painted through the wartime prime minister’s name and “is a racist” written below. Around 8pm there were clashes on Whitehall between police and a small crowd of protesters throwing objects including bottles and traffic cones.

There were tussles as police held back demonstrators near the Foreign Office. Shortly after 11pm, the Metropolitan police said there had been 12 arrests and eight officers had been injured.

Warwickshire police said the southbound carriage of the M6 was closed for an hour from 6pm while pedestrian protesters blocked it at junction 3 before they “headed into Coventry at junction 2”.

On Sunday evening, Boris Johnson tweeted: “People have a right to protest peacefully & while observing social distancing but they have no right to attack the police. These demonstrations have been subverted by thuggery – and they are a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve. Those responsible will be held to account.”

Earlier, in Bristol, protesters at a rally attended by tens of thousands cheered as they pulled down a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston before pushing the bronze into the harbour. The home secretary, Priti Patel, called the action “completely unacceptable”, saying it detracted from the message of peaceful protesters.

The Avon and Somerset police superintendent, Andy Bennett, thanked organisers for their efforts to encourage demonstrators to follow government guidance, and said the majority had protested peacefully. But he added that officers had launched an investigation to identify the protesters who had pulled down the statue.

In London, crowds gathered at the US embassy in Vauxhall soon after 2pm, in a peaceful assembly of predominantly young demonstrators from all ethnic backgrounds.

People chanted “George Floyd” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police” and directed ire at the prime minister, before marching to Westminster, while officers looked on.

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Many carried posters listing the names of black victims of police violence in Britain over the past 40 years or more, with one young black man asking, “Am I next?”

Daniel Oderinde, 23, said he had never seen protests like these in the UK before, where “white people and black come together in support of the struggles that we’ve been going through. If I can share that message and we can come together as one, then I can be part of something monumental.”

In Edinburgh and Glasgow, demonstrations were lively but peaceful, with many in the crowds wearing masks on the advice of organisers. In Scotland’s capital, hundreds of protesters spread up the hill leading to Arthur’s Seat, while scores of motorists – many with Black Lives Matter placards in their car windows – sounded their horns in support.

The police kept a low profile, with only a handful of officers visible around the edges of the demonstration. The pop singer Lewis Capaldi was pictured with the protesters.

Faith and Niall Dewar, a mixed-race couple sitting with their daughter, Hazel, on a hill overlooking the demonstration, said they had debated whether to join the protest because of the physical distancing regulations. But the park was large enough to avoid close contact with other demonstrators and the protest was vital. “It needs to be seen,” said Niall.

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Thousands on the streets of Manchester knelt in protest at worldwide racial inequality, while former footballer Rio Ferdinand, his wife, Kate, and his three children joined the crowds. In Nottingham, people gathered at the Forest Recreation Ground, chanting, “Enough is enough”, and held placards carrying slogans such as “I stand on the shoulders of our ancestors” and “Stop killing us”.

The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, said there was “a better way” for Black Lives Matter protesters to express their feelings, as thousands of people across Wales gathered to rally against racism. Northern Irish police said they had issued “a significant number” of fines on Saturday following gatherings.

There were demonstrations big and small in towns and cities throughout the UK: in Cardiff, Sheffield and Newcastle, in Carlisle and Dumfries, in Derby, in Chester, Wolverhampton, Middlesborough, Lytham, and Wrexham among others.

Many more people took part in virtual protests. Black Lives Matter London said thousands had joined an online protest to show their support on Sunday, in which rapper and poet George the Poet, the MAMA Youth Project, Dope Black Dads and BLM UK gave speeches interspersed with live streams of the London BLM protest.

BLM said 22,000 people from across the world used Zoom, Facebook Live and Instagram to take part in the online rally. Apollo Sankara of BLM London said of the protests: “This isn’t just a moment, this is a movement.”

It was the second day of mass protests across the UK, after thousands gathered on Saturday to call for the end of institutional racism, and observe a minute’s silence on one knee to commemorate black people killed by police in the UK.

After a day of largely peaceful protest, including speeches in London’s Parliament Square, there were skirmishes in the early evening when a small number of protesters threw bottles and flares at police, and officers on horseback advanced on protesters at about 6pm. One officer was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries after her horse panicked and hit a traffic light. A total of 29 arrests were made on Saturday.

On Sunday Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan police commissioner said 27 police officers had been injured during a week of protests, 14 of which came on Saturday, when “a minority of protesters became violent” towards officers outside Downing Street. Two officers were seriously injured, she said.

Dick urged protesters to find “another way” to get their voices heard, adding that she was “deeply saddened and depressed” about the violence by a small number of protesters.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he stood with Londoners of all ages, races and backgrounds who had come together peacefully, but said the “vital cause” had been let down by a tiny minority. “This is simply not acceptable, will not be tolerated and will not win the lasting and necessary change we desperately need to see,” he tweeted on Sunday.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, earlier urged protesters not to gather, saying that, with an estimated one in 1,000 people being infectious with the coronavirus, the protests risked spreading the disease.

But Labour’s Lisa Nandy backed the demonstrations, saying people “cannot be silent in the face of racism”. The shadow foreign secretary said people were “right to raise their voices” but urged demonstrators to take precautions and physically distance.