Tens of thousands of people chanting “no justice, no peace, no racist police” marched through central London on Wednesday to protest against racism after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck, an event that has set off the biggest anti-racism protests seen in the United States since the 1960s civil rights era.
Demonstrators have also come out in cities around the world in solidarity with Floyd and to express anger over racism. Protesters in London chanted “George Floyd” and “Black Lives Matter” as they marched through the city centre.
On Parliament Square, on Trafalgar Square and at other locations, thousands knelt on one knee, a form of protest known as “taking a knee” famously used by American footballer Colin Kaepernick to denounce police brutality against black people.
Some demonstrators urged police officers lining the route of the march to also take a knee, and a few of the officers did.
“This has been years in the coming, years and years and years of white supremacy,” 30-year-old project manager Karen Koromah told Reuters.
“We’ve come here with our friends to sound the alarm, to make noise, to dismantle supremacist systems,” Koromah said, cautioning that unless there was action the United Kingdom would face problems like those in the United States.
“I don’t want to start crying,” she said of the images from the United States. “It makes my blood boil.”
The demonstrators booed as they walked past 10 Downing Street, official residence of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and some also booed and took a knee in front of New Scotland Yard, London’s police headquarters.
Some protesters waved banners with slogans such as: “The UK is not innocent: less racist is still racist”, “Racism is a global issue” and “If you aren’t angry you aren’t paying attention”.
The event was almost entirely peaceful. There were brief scuffles between police officers and some protesters outside 10 Downing Street but they were over within minutes.
Johnson, who was inside at the time giving the government’s daily briefing on the coronavirus outbreak, was asked what he would say to U.S. President Donald Trump about Floyd’s death and the protests it has sparked.
“We mourn George Floyd, and I was appalled and sickened to see what happened to him,” he said.
“My message to President Trump, to everybody in the United States, from the UK is that – and it’s an opinion I’m sure is shared by the overwhelming majority of people around the world – racism and racist violence has no place in our society.”
Johnson has been criticised in the past for comments that many considered racist. In 2018, when he was foreign minister, he wrote in a newspaper column that Muslim women wearing burkas looked like bank robbers or letter boxes.
Outside Downing Street, some protesters chanted “Boris is a racist”.
British police chiefs said they were appalled by the way Floyd lost his life and by the violence that followed in U.S. cities, but called on protesters in the United Kingdom to work with police as coronavirus restrictions remain in place.
“We can see feelings are running really high today. It’s been a peaceful protest,” said police commander Alex Murray.
“We’re committed to make London a lot safer and to build trust with all communities,” he said.
Many marchers said racism was a British problem too.
“It’s not like this is just about someone dying, we live our lives made awfully aware of our race. That’s not right, that’s not the natural order,” said Roz Jones, who came to Britain as a child from South Africa.