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Out of lockdown to unite in protest

04 June, 2020 — By John Gulliver

Actor and activist John Boyega was among the thousands of people at the Black Lives Matter protest in Hyde Park on Wednesday

I JOINED the huge crowds in Trafalgar Square on Sunday afternoon breaking the lockdown rules in protest over the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by police in the US.

I wasn’t surprised by the fact they were ignoring lockdown. I was aware that lots of people in central London have been voting with their feet and abandoning the quarantine system – right or wrong.

But I was surprised by who had gone to the streets to protest. I have covered countless demonstrations in the Square over the years but this one was different.

Most of the 1,000-strong crowd were young, under 30, not carrying ready-made posters but home-made cardboard ones, all adding to a natural air of spontaneity in the Square – and significantly black.

I had not reported a demonstration of that sort since the poll tax protest 30 years ago that led to vast political changes.

Then there were riots and fires on building sites, the thick black plumes of smokes rising over Whitehall.

The crowd on Sunday were excited, animated, but peaceful and seemingly indifferent to government’s rules on the Covid disease.

I have seen dozens of protests in the Square and can remember the civil disobedience sit-downs led by the venerable philosopher Bertrand Russell at the launch of the Committee of 100 against nuclear weapons in the early 1960s.

Claudia Webbe MP. PHOTO: DAVID WOOLFALL

But Sunday’s was largely different because it was more spontaneous with participants who did not appear to have publicly demonstrated before.

It is this which made it significant – a harbinger, perhaps, that black youngsters were now joining street protests to air their grievances on a scale not seen in London since the early 1980s when – as a historical first – more than 20,000 black people marched over the death of 13 children in a Deptford fire.

Street protests and riots, for that matter, are almost part of a British tradition going back to the 18th century.

In a Zoom meeting to promote the demonstration organised by campaigning bodies, Black Lives Matter and Stand Up to Racism, on Saturday and attended by 6,000 people, Claudia Webbe MP, and also an Islington councillor, referred to the “violent killing” of George Floyd and the “centuries of dehumanisation, discrimination and denial of civil rights” in the US and called on the government to “reassess the racial disparities in our own criminal justice system…now is the time to end the severe class and racial inequalities that exist across the world”.

After speeches the protesters in a good-natured way crossed over to Whitehall, marched past No 10 Downing Street, voices raised, and then made their way to the American embassy in south London.

It was a historic occasion in the rich history of the capital but it was markedly ignored by the mainstream media. To some extent this may reflect the awkwardness of the political establishment in dealing with the growing political influence of ethnic minorities and the impact of the social media.

• Another protest rally was due to be held yesterday (Wednesday) by Black Lives Matter in Hyde Park – a further sign that a change in self-awareness is taking place in the black and brown communities.

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