Thousands join Black Lives Matter protests across UK

Thousands of protesters have joined an anti-racism rally outside the US embassy in London as Black Lives Matter demonstrations take place in cities across the UK.

Crowds of demonstrators wore face coverings and held placards outside the embassy in Battersea, south-west London, on Sunday, in protest against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The Metropolitan Police warned drivers of disruption on Nine Elms Lane, while video footage showed protesters flooding the roads outside the embassy.

Protesters then marched on Parliament Square, where rapper Stormzy joined demonstrators and listened as the crowd, many of whom were black, spoke about the struggle for equality and the need for solidarity.

Free masks, gloves and hand gel were being given out to the thousands of people at the US embassy, with some wearing t-shirts reading “I can’t breathe”.

Another protester had written “get your knee off our necks” in luminous ink on the back of his jacket, echoing the words black civil rights leader Rev Al Sharpton who spoke at Mr Floyd’s memorial service earlier this week.

South London painter and decorator Christopher Green, dressed as comic book hero Black Panther, urged his fellow demonstrators to film any acts of brutality they see.

People take part in the protest rally at the US Embassy (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
People take part in the protest rally at the US embassy (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Holding a Black Lives Matter sign, the 53-year-old said: “I am here to support all the people in America and all those who are being oppressed.

“The most important thing that people have got to do is take out their video phone and document any counter-action with police because without this simple thing with George Floyd, we would probably never have known what happened.”

Graffiti was scrawled on the statue of former prime minister Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, with spray paint used so the name plate read Churchill “is a racist”.

Meanwhile, London Black Lives Matter organised an online protest via Zoom for those who are unable to attend demonstrations in person.

Shortly after 6pm, the operational patrol unit of Warwickshire Police tweeted that the M6 southbound was temporarily closed after pedestrian protesters blocked the carriageway at Junction 3.

Protesters outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Westminster (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)
Protesters outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Westminster (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)

The force said the M6 began to reopen an hour later, as demonstrators “headed into Coventry at Junction 2″.

In Bristol, thousands marched through the city centre after a crowd of at least 5,000 packed into the College Green area to hear from speakers and hold an eight-minute silence.

Police have launched an investigation after protesters pulled down the controversial statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston, situated in Bristol’s city centre since 1895, from its plinth.

Avon and Somerset Police superintendent Andy Bennett said the force would be seeking to identify those involved, while Home Secretary Priti Patel called toppling the statue “utterly disgraceful”.

“I think that is utterly disgraceful and that speaks to the acts of public disorder that actually have now become a distraction from the cause in which people are actually protesting about and trying to empathise and sympathise with,” she said.

“That is completely an unacceptable act and that speaks to the vandalism – again as we saw yesterday in London – but sheer vandalism and disorder completely is unacceptable.”

Protesters in Bristol pulled down a statue of Edward Colston (Ben Birchall/PA Wire)
Protesters in Bristol pulled down a statue of Edward Colston (Ben Birchall/PA)

The bronze memorial has been the subject of an 11,000-strong petition to have it removed.

Many activists wore masks and gloves, but the majority were unable to adhere to the two-metre social distancing guidance and were pressed against one another in the city’s narrow streets.

In Edinburgh, protesters including pop superstar Lewis Capaldi gathered in Holyrood Park to listen to an array of speakers, with speeches punctuated by chants of “black lives matter”, “no justice, no peace” and supportive horn honking from passing cars.

Elsewhere, hundreds of people crowded into Manchester’s St Peter’s Square, kneeling in silence as a mark of respect for Mr Floyd, who died after a white police officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck on May 25.

Following speeches, protesters are expected to march through the city centre for a second day of demonstrating in Manchester.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is “undoubtedly a risk” that there will be an increase in Covid-19 cases following the protests, as he urged people not to gather in groups of more than six people.

Black Lives Matter protests
Protesters go down on one knee in Manchester (Danny Lawson/PA)

Mr Hancock said he supported the activists’ arguments, but said: “Please don’t gather in groups of more than six people because there is also a pandemic that we must address and control.

“And so we’ve got to make the argument, we’ve got to make further progress, on top of the significant progress that has been made in recent years, but we’ve got to do it in a way that’s safe and controls the virus.”

Protesters also took to the streets on Saturday for events held in London, Manchester, Cardiff, Sheffield and Newcastle, among other cities.

Demonstrations in central London were carried out peacefully for much of the afternoon, but disturbances began breaking out at around 6pm outside Downing Street.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said 14 officers were injured during clashes with a minority of protesters, while 29 people were arrested.