George Floyd protests: MPs launch UK police racism inquiry as officers warn against joining weekend demonstrations

Home Affairs Committee to examine use of force, stop and search and disproportionate coronavirus fines

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 05 June 2020 21:29
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Matt Hancock urges people not to attend George Floyd protests this weekend 'for safety of your loved ones'

MPs are to examine police racism in the UK, it has been announced ahead of a weekend of demonstrations sparked by the killing of George Floyd in America.

Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee will be questioning police leaders and human rights groups on issues including the use of force, stop and search and disproportionate fines during the coronavirus lockdown.

Chair Yvette Cooper said: “The murder of George Floyd in Minnesota and the subsequent outpouring of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement across the world has rightly shone a bright spotlight on racial inequality and injustice everywhere.

“All of us have a responsibility to identify and tackle racism and injustice wherever we find it.”

The announcement came amid fresh protests by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement in London, with further demonstrations planned across the UK over the weekend.

Police have warned that they violate coronavirus laws, which still prohibit public gatherings of more than six people who are not from the same household.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, urged people not to join large demonstrations.

“Like so many, I am appalled by the death of George Floyd and I understand why people are deeply upset, but we’re still facing a health crisis and coronavirus remains a real threat,” he said at Downing Street’s daily coronavirus briefing.

”The reason that it is vital that people stick to the rules this weekend is to protect themselves and their family from this horrific disease.

“So please, for the safety of your loved ones, do not attend large gatherings including demonstrations of more than six people.”

Asked whether police should break up protests, Mr Hancock said it was an “operational matter for police”.

Australian TV crew attacked by protesters live on air in London

While police in England, Scotland and Wales have not so far stopped rallies, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) suggested it would intervene.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: “The best way to resolve this for everybody’s interests is to call off these events … if people choose to ignore these warnings and break the law then there will have to be consequences.”

Mr Todd said the PSNI would normally facilitate the protest but “this is not any other day, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and gathering in crowds, socially distanced or otherwise, is both a risk to public health and a breach of the Health Protection Regulations”.

In a joint statement, police leaders in England and Wales previously urged protesters to “work with” officers.

“Coronavirus remains a deadly disease and there are still restrictions in place to prevent its spread, which include not gathering outside in groups of more than six people,” it added.

On Friday, a senior Metropolitan Police officer reiterated warnings that protests are a breach of coronavirus laws.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The Health Protection Regulations are really clear that it is unlawful, so we would strongly encourage people not to come out and gather in these large numbers because they are putting themselves and others at risk.

”And if they do come out, then we would ask them to observe that social distancing, think about those around them.”

Police arrested 13 people at a demonstration in London on Wednesday that saw clashes between protesters and officers following a peaceful rally in Hyde Park.

The 11 men and two women were accused of offences including assaulting police, drug possession, violent disorder, affray, criminal damage and racially aggravated public order offences.

There were further demonstrations in Trafalgar Square on Friday, where people knelt two metres apart in the shadow of Nelson’s Column carrying placards condemning racism.

Demonstrations are due to take place in cities including London, Manchester, Sheffield and Swansea on Saturday, while more will take place on Sunday including in Edinburgh, Coventry and Nottingham.

Mr Floyd died after a white officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck in Minneapolis on 25 May, sparking days of protest in the US that escalated into riots and looting in some cities.

Donald Trump has pressed state governors to take a more forceful approach against protesters, sparking outspoken political resistance.

Boris Johnson said he was “appalled and sickened” to see what happened to Mr Floyd, while chief constables from across the UK issued a joint statement saying they “stand alongside all those across the globe who are appalled and horrified”.

They vowed to “tackle bias, racism or discrimination wherever we find it”.

But writing in The Independent, the chair of the police watchdog said forces must listen and respond to “real and growing concerns” about racism within their own ranks.

The director general of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), Michael Lockwood, added: “Only two weeks ago we highlighted increasing community concerns about the use of Taser.

“We are also hearing concerns about stop and search and most recently, fines issued during lockdown being disproportionate to black people.

“There must be more research to understand issues of disproportionality, as well as assurance and scrutiny around tactics like use of force and stop and search.”

In the year to March 2019, 16 per cent of police use of force incidents in England and Wales were against black people, who only make up 3.3 per cent of the population.

Black people were also involved in 25 per cent of firearms incidents and a fifth of “less lethal weapons” incidents, including Tasers.

The Home Affairs Committee said it would be taking on the issues, as well as the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on relationships between police and black and minority ethnic communities.

“We will be taking evidence on the troubling reports that BME communities have been more frequently penalised under Covid-19 lockdown rules,” Ms Cooper added.

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