Labour MPs and march organisers lashed out after the health secretary said: “Thankfully, this is all based in response to events in America rather than here.”
Gary McFarlane, a Black Lives Matter activist, pointed to the deaths of British black men after being restrained by police “in circumstances not dissimilar to the murder of George Floyd”, to explain the protests.
Anger was also fuelled by Boris Johnson’s “racist remarks”, the “disproportionate” lockdown-flouting fines levied on black people and the ongoing Windrush scandal, with no blanket amnesty for those caught up in it.
“Hancock's comment betrays his ignorance,” Mr McFarlane told The Independent.
“This is the government that has brought us the hostile environment, the Windrush scandal and the mounting disproportionate BAME [black and minority ethnic] death toll in this ongoing pandemic.
“This is the governing party that refuses to investigate Islamophobia within its own ranks.”
David Lammy, Labour’s justice spokesman, echoed the criticism, saying: “Racism and prejudice exist in the United Kingdom as well as the United States.
“To suggest there is only a problem on the other side of the Atlantic might make Matt Hancock feel better, but it shows real ignorance.
“People in this country are not only showing solidarity with George Floyd and other African Americans. We must turn this moment into one of change and justice in the UK too.”
Diane Abbott, the former Labour shadow home secretary, said: “Hancock is completely wrong. Events in America have triggered the protests. But they are overwhelmingly a response to a long-standing issue about police brutality here.”
And the historian David Olusoga, appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, criticised a tendency in the UK to dismiss “the psychological damage” from deep-wired racism.
“When black people have talked about how powerfully this moment connects with them they’ve been told ‘there’s no comparison with America, you’re exaggerating’,” he protested.
The comments came after Mr Hancock said the UK was not racist, but “one of the most tolerant and open societies in the world”.
“I think the substance of what’s been said, and arguments made by those who are marching, I think there’s a lot to it,” he told Sky News.
“I think, thankfully, this is all based in response to events in America rather than here but we also must continue the drive here for tolerance and genuine equality of opportunity.”
Mr Hancock also warned the protests “undoubtedly” risked increasing coronavirus infections, adding: “Gathering in large groups is temporarily against the rules precisely because it increases the risk of the spread of this virus.
“I would urge people to make their argument – and I will support you in making that argument – but don’t spread this virus which has already done so much damage and which we are starting to get under control.”
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