Thousands of BlackLivesMatter protesters gathered in Hyde Park London today as UK chief constables said they were ‘appalled and horrified’ by the death of George Floyd in the US.
The police chiefs called for ‘justice and accountability’ and condemned the violent scenes in US cities following the 46-year-old’s death in Minneapolis on May 25.
But they also warned BlackLivesMatter protesters gathering at Hyde Park in London this afternoon to obey coronavirus lockdown social distancing rules.
Photographs showed demonstrators clad in face masks while standing apart holding signs with messages such as ‘Please, I can’t breathe’, ‘BLM’ and ‘Colour ≠ Crime’.
Separately, anti-racism campaign group Stand Up to Racism is urging Britons to ‘take the knee’ on their doorsteps at 6pm tonight for a protest against discrimination.
Demonstrators observed social distancing as they met in Hyde Park to protest against the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis
Supporters are the protest wore face coverings and held up signs with messages including: ‘We will remember the silence of our friends’ and ‘If you’re not angry you’re not paying attention’
A woman wearing a face mask stands up, holding a sign saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ as hundreds of other demonstrators remain sat down
Protesters hold up a number of different signs during the event, including one which read: ‘Use your white privilege, save lives’
A woman is seen with the phrase ‘I can’t Breathe’, uttered by George Floyd before his death, painted on her face at Hyde Park
A black man and a white woman hold their hands aloft in a show of defiance during the protest, attended by thousands
People hold banners at Hyde Park in London during the Black Lives Matter protest today
Protesters wearing face masks hold up signs during a Black Lives Matter protest at Hyde Park in London today
An aerial photograph of Black Lives Matter protesters at Hyde Park in London this afternoon
Protesters hold up signs during a Black Lives Matter protest in Hyde Park in London today
People wearing face masks hold signs at Hyde Park during today’s Black Lives Matter’ protest
People observe social distancing during the Black Lives Matter rally in London this afternoon
A man holds a banner saying ‘white silence is violence’ during the protest in London today
People wearing face masks hold banners in Hyde Park during the protest this afternoon
The protests in London today come after violent demonstations across the United States
Global demonstrations are gathering pace following the death of Mr Floyd who died after white police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on his neck for nine minutes.
A joint statement from UK chief constables said today: ‘We stand alongside all those across the globe who are appalled and horrified by the way George Floyd lost his life.
‘We are are appalled and horrified’: Full statement from UK chief constables on George Floyd protests
‘We stand alongside all those across the globe who are appalled and horrified by the way George Floyd lost his life. Justice and accountability should follow.
‘We are also appalled to see the violence and damage that has happened in so many US cities since then. Our hearts go out to all those affected by these terrible events and hope that peace and order will soon be restored.
‘In the UK we have a long established tradition of policing by consent, working in communities to prevent crime and solve problems. Officers are trained to use force proportionately, lawfully and only when absolutely necessary. We strive to continuously learn and improve. We will tackle bias, racism or discrimination wherever we find it.
‘Policing is complex and challenging and sometimes we fall short. When we do, we are not afraid to shine a light on injustices or to be held to account.
‘The relationship between the police and the public in the UK is strong but there is always more to do. Every day, up and down the country, officers and staff are working to strengthen those relationships and address concerns. Only by working closely with our communities do we build trust and help keep people safe.
‘We know people want to make their voices heard. The right to lawful protest is key part of any democracy, which UK police uphold and facilitate. But 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. So for whatever reason people want to come together, we ask that people continue to work with officers at this challenging time.’
‘Justice and accountability should follow. We are also appalled to see the violence and damage that has happened in so many US cities since then.
‘Our hearts go out to all those affected by these terrible events and hope that peace and order will soon be restored.’
It added that officers in Britain have a ‘long established tradition of policing by consent, working in communities to prevent crime and solve problems’.
The statement added that forces will ‘tackle bias, racism or discrimination wherever we find it’ but acknowledged that ‘sometimes we fall short’.
It added that police would ‘uphold and facilitate’ the right to lawful protest, but warned demonstrators that the coronavirus lockdown is still in place.
They said: ‘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.
‘So for whatever reason people want to come together, we ask that people continue to work with officers at this challenging time.’
Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Commons that he can understand the anger and the grief felt following the death of Mr Floyd.
SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford said: ‘In the seven days since George Floyd was murdered, the UK Government has not even offered words, it has not expressed that pain, it has shuttered itself in the hope no-one would notice.’
He added: ‘Can I ask the Prime Minister what representations has he made to his ally Donald Trump? And at the very least Prime Minister, say it now - black lives matter.’
The Prime Minister responded: ‘Of course black lives matter and I totally understand the anger, the grief that is felt, not just in America but around the world and in our country as well.
‘I totally understand that and I get that and I also support, as I’ve said, the right to protest.
‘The only point I would make to the House is that protests should be carried out lawfully and in this country, protests should be carried out in accordance with our rules on social distancing.’
Also today, Stand Up to Racism has organised a ‘take the knee’ protest for 6pm as part of a day of action against discrimination in response to the death of Mr Floyd.
SUTR said the campaign was inspired by the kneeling protest staged by American football star Colin Kaepernick in 2016 that has become synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Protesters hold up placards as people gather for a demonstration at Hyde Park today over the death of George Floyd
A protester wearing a face mask holds a sign saying ‘I can’t breathe’ in London this afternoon
People wearing face masks hold signs in Hyde Park during today’s Black Lives Matter protest
A woman wears a face mask saying ‘silence is violence’ during the protest in London today
Four women walk while wearing face masks and holding banners at London’s Hyde Park today
People participate in a Black Lives Matter protest rally at Hyde Park in London this afternoon
People wearing face masks hold banners in Hyde Park during this afternoon’s demonstration
Protesters wearing face masks hold up signs at today’s Black Lives Matter protest in London
A further demonstration by Black Lives Matter is scheduled for 1pm on Saturday in Parliament Square.
Yesterday, hundreds of people gathered outside St George’s Hall in Liverpool as part of a separate Black Lives Matter protest.
Merseyside Police said in a tweet that while it recognised people’s right to demonstrate peacefully they should still adhere to social distancing guidelines.
It comes as a review by Public Health England found black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people are at significantly higher risk of dying from Covid-19.
Protesters take part in a demonstration at Hyde Park today over the death of George Floyd in the US
Protesters wearing face masks gather for the demonstration at Hyde Park this afternoon
Demonstrators socially distance while gathering for the protest at London’s Hyde Park today
People participate in the Black Lives Matter protest rally at Hyde Park in London this afternoon
A woman wearing a face mask holds a banner in Hyde Park during the protest this afternoon
People hold banners in Hyde Park during the Black Lives Matter protest in London today
Campaigners are now calling for a public inquiry into the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities.
Weyman Bennett of SUTR said: ‘Racism is the underlying condition that continues to kill black and BAME communities.
‘Take the knee at 6pm because there is a boot on the neck of millions of people in the BAME community.
‘Part of the cure for the virus of racism is to embrace anti-racism and anti-fascism.’
Protesters wear face masks and observe social distancing during the protest in London today
People wearing face masks as they sit at Hyde Park during today’s Black Lives Matter protest
SUTR’s Sabby Dhalu said: ‘BAME communities are suffering disproportionately from Covid-19, economic decline and police brutality.
‘We call on people to ‘take the knee’ on their doorstep in solidarity with George Floyd, at 6pm, Wednesday 3 June. We stand for justice for George Floyd and say Black Lives Matter.’
Large gatherings are still banned under shutdown rules, and yesterday Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon asked protesters to find an alternative to physical demonstrations.
Speaking at her daily briefing in Edinburgh, she said: ‘Right now, it is the case, unfortunately and regrettably, that large gatherings of people could pose a risk to health and indeed to life.
‘We need to find ways of allowing people to make their voices heard and to make the points that many of us want to be made and to be heard right now, but to do so in a way that is safe and is not putting people protesting or wider communities at risk.’
The Met Police said its approach was to engage with protesters and encourage them to follow social distancing rules.
Last Sunday, thousands of people took part in Black Lives Matter protests in London’s Trafalgar Square and outside the US embassy, while demonstrations were also staged in Cardiff and Manchester.
Thousands of people in Dublin protested outside the US embassy on Monday.
There were 23 arrests in London on Sunday, at least three of which were for breach of Covid-19 legislation.
US President Donald Trump has declared that ‘the National Guard is ready’ as he repeated his threat to send troops to New York City to ‘put down’ the Floyd protests - but the violence in the city was less severe last night.
Thousands ignored mayor Bill de Blasio’s 8pm curfew to continue their demonstrations, but police arrested more than 200 people as night fell and some of the rampant destruction of the previous few days was quelled.
The calmer scenes were echoed across much of America where protesters once again turned out in force but the confrontations with police were subdued and widespread rioting was limited.
It followed a day of anger from President Trump’s critics over the way he threatened to deploy the military to quell riots across the US and cleared protesters in Washington DC so he could visit damaged St John’s Episcopal Church.