George Floyd protests give fresh impetus to UK anti-racism campaign | UK news


It was the week that Britain’s young people stood up against racial injustice after watching the brutal killing of George Floyd, declaring in their thousands that Black Lives Matter via a succession of passionate and largely peaceful protests that show no sign of abating.

The anti-racism demonstrators, overwhelmingly aged under 30, have largely been part of a movement using the LDNBLM hashtag that has no identifiable leaders and whose events are publicised via word of mouth and social media.

It has, almost incidentally, blown apart the lockdown, and some politicians and police are warning against further protests due to physical-distancing rules.

“It’s a very organic response and reaction to what’s happening in the US with the unlawful murder of George Floyd and also challenging the unlawful murder of our brothers and sisters [not only] in the US, but also worldwide,” said a one of the organisers, a 22-year-old man who asked not to be named.

Akira, a young organiser of a protest in Brixton, south London, said: “We wanted to do something to contextualise police brutality and institutional racism in the UK”, adding that people wanted to demonstrate because “they were feeling really disempowered now by what was going on in social media”.

Protests have been organised across the UK for Saturday and Sunday after a week of demonstrations that began with events in London, Manchester and Nottingham​ and gained momentum when thousands came to Trafalgar Square and outside the US embassy in the capital on Sunday​.





A mural of George Floyd in Manchester.



A mural of George Floyd in Manchester. Photograph: Kenny Brown/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock

​But it was the ​unexpected success of Wednesday’s protest, when thousands of multiracial marchers streamed down Park Lane from Hyde Park chanting “I can’t breathe” in reference to Floyd, and took the knee outside the gates of Parliament and Downing Stree​t, that has exemplified the depth of feeling.

Almost immediately, the protests took on a British dimension. Demonstrators on Wednesday carried handmade placards listing Mark Duggan, Julian Cole and others killed or left disabled by British police, chanted “no justice, no peace, no racist police” and carried signs that declared “the UK is not innocent”.

Trey Campbell-Simon, the BAME officer for the Chelsea and Fulham Labour party, who went to the rallies this week, said: “We’ve had enough. George Floyd is [one of] a long line of black males that have died at the hands of police. And the UK is not innocent, as I chanted at the marches I’ve attended, because there is a long history of police abuse here too.”

Particularly striking was how many cited the decision by British Transport Police not to bring charges in the case of Belly Mujinga, the ticket inspector at Victoria station who died of coronavirus a few weeks after reporting being spat at while on duty, arguing it was an injustice that demonstrates the reality of Britain today. On Friday, the Crown Prosecution Service was asked to review evidence into her death in recognition of wider public interest.





Belly Mujinga, left, with her husband, Lusamba Katalay.



Belly Mujinga, left, with her husband, Lusamba Katalay. Photograph: Belly Mujinga/PA

Lusamba Katalay, Mujinga’s husband, thanked protesters for their support and said it inspired him to fight on. “Belly’s life mattered. It mattered to me, to our daughter, our friends and family, to Belly’s colleagues, and now it matters to many thousands of you out there,” he said. “We want justice for Belly. Belly didn’t lie about being assaulted.”

Florence Eshalomi, a Labour MP whose Vauxhall constituency in south London covers part of Brixton, said people have been brought – again – to the point of protest through a long history of police brutality and racism​ in the UK​. “We need to listen to black people’s lived experience; we have to recognise the structural inequality that exists.”

Many believe the​ coronavirus crisis has exacerbated the deep-seated issue of race. “Young people are getting angry because black people aren’t being taken care of during the coronavirus,” said Aima, 18, one of the organisers of the LDNBLM hashtag.

This week, the government released a long-awaited analysis of coronavirus deaths, which showed BAME groups dying disproportionately from Covid 19.​

In response to this report and Floyd’s killing, campaigners flooded social media, with one slickly produced TikTok video of Wednesday’s demonstrations viewed 1.4m times, while the LDNBLM site shares legal information for protesters in case they are arrested and links to a host of individual campaigns in the UK and US – as well as upcoming events. One group invited protesters to download educational materials asking “how can we demand racial justice locally” via a supermarket-style QR code.


Eshalomi cited Metropolitan police figures showing that nearly half of fixed penalty notices for breaching lockdown rules​ in the capital​ between 27 March and 14 May were levied on BAME people. “People are tired of reviews, tired of hashtags, they just want action,” she added.

Police have been on alert since the weekend and so far have largely handled the protests with a light touch​,​ knowing it may only take one incident to trigger a stronger reaction.​ ​They made no effort to police physical distancing rules as crowds crammed together as Wednesday’s demonstration reached Westminster.

Senior officers from the National Police Chiefs Council ​also held an emergency meeting on Monday to agree a statement​ saying they were “appalled and horrified by the way George Floyd lost his life​”​​​ and said “we know people want to make their voices heard​”.

But there were limits to the empathy: only occasionally officers heeded calls from protesters to join them in taking a knee to remember Floyd. Clashes that took place in the late afternoon and evening with a tiny minority of protesters led to 13 arrests.

On Friday, Laurence Taylor, deputy assistant commissioner at the Met, ​ warned that this weekend’s demonstrations against the death of Floyd would be unlawful ​unless protesters respected physical distancing – although it is unclear what this will mean in practice.

Nicola Sturgeon and Scotland’s chief constable, Iain Livingstone, urged Black Lives Matter supporters to avoid taking part in large public protests because of the risk of transmitting coronavirus.

Politicians have been scrambling to keep up as the movement gathers strength and have avoided joining the marchers. ​Sir ​Keir Starmer ​only ​briefly raised the topic at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday​, before sending a longer letter to Boris Johnson a day after calling on him to urge Donald Trump “to respect human rights” as police contend with the protests in the US.

Tim Newburn, a professor of criminology and public policy at the London School of Economics, said the protests showed that Britain had ​entered a new “transitionary” phase after a long period where the public largely willingly adhered to the lockdown. “I think the public are less clear about whose interests are being protected now the lockdown is being eased,” he said.

“Add into the mix substantial social inequality in the impact of both the pandemic and the lockdown – and significant racial inequality in particular – and the dangers are clear. Missteps by the police and by other authorities now could have grave consequences for public order and public safety.”



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