Thousands join Black Lives Matter protest in London after George Floyd death

Thousands of protesters have flooded central London for a Black Lives Matter demonstration in response to the death of George Floyd.

Activists chanted “black lives matter” and “we will not be silent” as they waited for the demonstration to begin at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park on Wednesday.

Star Wars actor John Boyega was among those to speak at the rally before protesters, many wearing masks and holding placards, marched on Westminster.

It came as chief constables from across the UK issued a joint statement saying they “stand alongside all those across the globe who are appalled and horrified” after a black man died after being restrained by US police.

Mr Floyd died after a white officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck in Minneapolis on May 25, sparking days of protest in the US.

At the London event on Wednesday, organisers provided masks and gloves to protesters who were asked to sit two metres apart unless they were from the same household.

Protesters were also told to keep their arms stretched out to ensure social distancing when moving around Hyde Park for the protest.

Black Lives Matter protests
Social distancing during the protest (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Naomi Smith, one of the event organisers, told the PA news agency: “We want people to understand that people are dying from coronavirus and people are dying from racism.”

The 21-year-old said one of her reasons for protesting was Belly Mujinga, a railway worker who died with Covid-19 after reportedly being spat at by a man who said he was infected with the virus.

British Transport Police launched an investigation into her death but have since said it would not be taking any further action.

Thousands of activists, including members of the railway worker’s family, descended on Victoria Station – where Ms Mujinga was working at the time of the spitting incident – holding a sign that read “Justice for Belly Mujinga”.

“I think that is my main reason for this, because she’s black she doesn’t have a voice right now,” Ms Smith said.

“This is our story, this is a UK story, this is what’s going on right now with us. George Floyd is in America, and we’re here for him as well.“

Protesters also headed to Downing Street, where hundreds knelt with one fist raised while facing police officers.

Protesters took to the the gates outside Downing Street (Victoria Jones/PA Wire)
Protesters at the gates outside Downing Street (Victoria Jones/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in the Commons that Mr Floyd’s death was “inexcusable”, in his first public comments on the widespread demonstrations.

A spokesman for Sir Keir Starmer said the Labour leader supported the “solidarity” being shown by UK demonstrators but urged them to uphold the rules on staying two metres apart.

“We support the right to protest, of course we do,” said Sir Keir’s spokesman. “But of course we would also say that we need to do it in a way which follows the Government’s guidance on social distancing.”

In a statement, the chief constables, the chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the chief executive of the College of Policing and the president of the Police Superintendents’ Association said: “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.”

They also urged people who want to make their voices heard to be aware that “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”.

People hold banners during the protest (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
People hold banners during the protest (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In the US, Tuesday marked the eighth night of protests, which began in Minneapolis where Mr Floyd died, and quickly spread across the country.

Demonstrations have taken place in areas including New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Columbia, South Carolina and Houston.

Some have included clashes between police and protesters, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by officers.

US President Donald Trump has pressed state governors to take a more forceful approach against protesters.

In the UK, demonstrators previously protested outside the US Embassy in south London as well as in Trafalgar Square following Mr Floyd’s death.

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