‘No justice, no peace’: Tens of thousands protest against racism across UK despite coronavirus warnings

‘I’ve been hurt by the police. I was pinned down and had a knee on my face when I was 14. It felt like like nobody cares, like you’re nothing’

Gemma Fox
Sunday 07 June 2020 12:38 BST
Protestors in London show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement

Across the UK, tens of thousands joined Black Lives Matter protests calling for an end to systemic racism and police brutality, despite calls from the government to stay at home.

In London, demonstrators held up signs reading “racism is a pandemic”, “silence is violence”, and “the time to change was yesterday.”

Starting in Parliament Square, crowds marched through Whitehall as well as towards the US embassy in Nine Elms.

The atmosphere early on was peaceful and welcoming, but the anger against the police and the government – both in the UK and the US – was clear.

“No justice, no peace, no racist police,” the crowd chanted. “Boris Johnson is a racist, Donald Trump is a racist.”

As evening drew in, tensions began to mount. Some threw bottles at officers in protective gear, while mounted police drew back some demonstrators along Whitehall.

One female officer was knocked off her horse, which then bolted – sending crowds of people scattering.

The Metropolitan police said that the officer was in hospital for non-life threatening injuries. As of midnight on Saturday, 14 people had been arrested at the London protest and police reported 10 officers injured.

Ahead of the event, police chiefs and the home secretary pleaded to the public to stay indoors for fear of spreading coronavirus, and although many wore masks at Saturday's protest, there was little social distancing.

Placards carried by demonstrators referenced the coronavirus crisis, with one that said: “There is a virus greater than Covid-19 and it’s called racism.”

“I can’t breathe” – George Floyd’s final words – were etched on several facemasks.

The average age of the crowd in London seemed young, although some families did attend with small children.

Sparked by the killing of Floyd in Minneapolis, who died after police officers knelt on his neck for nine minutes on 25 May, the UK has witnessed mass demonstrations against racism and police brutality for the past two weeks.

Protesters on Saturday demanded justice not only for Floyd’s death, but for the killing of Mark Duggan, Breonna Taylor, Sarah Reed and Belly Mujinga.

Standing on a ledge overlooking the square, 23-year-old Tamarra shouted “Black Lives Matter” through her megaphone, leading the crowd below her.

Protesters defy a plea from the home secretary to stay indoors
Protesters defy a plea from the home secretary to stay indoors (Gemma Fox/The Independent)

“When I was younger I was in social services and I did get in trouble with the police. I’ve been hurt by the police. I was pinned down and had a knee on my face when I was 14,” she told The Independent.

“As a child he probably didn’t hurt me as much as George Floyd had it. I feel I had some privilege being in this country because when I look back I think I could have lost my life if I was in America.

“But when it was happening it felt like I was not relevant, you’re not part of the world, you’re just a little piece of s***t on their shoe, like nobody cares, like you’re nothing.”

She said she hoped that the protests would force change within the system, so that black people like her could become less scared, and start to build up their faith in the police.

“We want the police to serve us and protect us, instead of murdering and stereotyping,” she added.

Placards carried by demonstrators referenced the coronavirus crisis and called for justice
Placards carried by demonstrators referenced the coronavirus crisis and called for justice (Gemma Fox/The Independent)

The UK police has faced numerous accusations of racism, with the 1999 MacPherson report published after the murder of Stephen Lawrence concluding those responsible were “institutionally racist”. Nearly a decade on, statistics show that black people in the UK are still twice as likely to die in police custody.

Many of those out demonstrating said they were regularly harassed by police, including 25-year-old Michael.

“I’ve been stopped and searched numerous times, it’s frustrating,” he told The Independent. “There’s so much that needs to be changed. A lot to do with education, our schools and how we raise our own kids.”

Another protester, who asked not to be named, said he had long lost track of how many times he had been stopped and searched.

“When I was younger, going to the shops for my mum, I’d come back in handcuffs, just because you’re young and black, so you look suspicious. You fit a stereotype,” he said.

As the protest tailed off towards Vauxhall, members of the public banged on pots and pans out of their windows, akin to the weekly clap for NHS staff. Cars stopped along the road and beeped in time with chants of “Black Lives Matter”.

Many demonstrators said they were regularly harassed by police
Many demonstrators said they were regularly harassed by police (Gemma Fox/The Independent)

At one point, about a dozen or so police walked alongside protesters chanting “no justice, no peace, no racist police”.

Thousands also attended protests in Manchester, Sheffield, Glasgow, Cardiff, Leicester – with Anthony Joshua attending in his home town of Watford.

Several hundred marchers gathered in Newcastle, while thousands more watched an online protest organised in the north east. A march is also planned for Sunday outside the US embassy.

For Sonia, from east London, the BLM movement is “fundamental” to creating a paradigm shift in the UK.

“Nothing has changed in hundreds of years, there’s constant oppression, systematic oppression, for too long people have felt uncomfortable to talk about something that is insidious and part of the fabric of our society today,” she told The Independent..

“It’s about love. We need to unite. It’s not about making people feel alienated, it’s about educating, and trying to minimise ignorance. Until there is equality of opportunity and serious reformation – consistent penalties for maintaining institutionalised racism – the problems will continue,

“We need to be shown that all lives matter by showing that black lives matter.”

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