Met feared 'serious disorder' if lockdown rules were enforced at racism protest
Britain’s top officer has said police feared there would be violence if they tried to intervene with protesters in London angered by the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of an American officer.
Demonstrators at protests in London on Sunday and Tuesday flouted coronavirus lockdown rules on how many people can gather together.
But the Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, said that with feelings running high over the police brutality case in the US and because of the effects of the coronavirus lockdown, officers feared serious and violent disorder if they stepped in to enforce lockdown rules.
Dick and other British police leaders said they were appalled by the video of an officer crushing Floyd’s neck with his knee for over eight minutes. It is rare for British police to condemn the actions of officers in another democracy.
Speaking to the London assembly, Dick said people should put themselves “in the shoes of a public order commander”, faced with a near spontaneous demonstration, with no chance to negotiate with organisers and a large crowd who would not listen.
“Then you have to make some judgments, at the time, in the moment about what is the best thing to do,” she said.
“And judgments, have been made, that people are out in such numbers, feeling so strongly, and are refusing to disperse when asked, that the officers have formed the view that if they were to try at that stage, with those sorts of numbers, to enforce en masse, we probably would have ended up with very serious disorder and a bad situation,
a difficult situation, a challenging situation for everybody, turning into a violent situation. So, these are the sorts of risks that public order commanders have [to assess].”
After the London protest on Sunday police made 23 arrests, of people aged 17 to 30, including for breaching Covid laws and other offences.
The Met commissioneradded: “I recognise, also, feelings are running higher in London.”
She also joined a denunciation of the police assault on Floyd, and the violence that followed. She echoed a statement from Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Mike Cunningham, chief executive of the College of Policing, and Paul Griffiths, president of the Police Superintendents’ Association.
It says: “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.”
The statement added: “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 statement urges those in the UK who want to protest to obey lockdown rules restricting how many people can gather together.
Thousands gather in London for George Floyd protest
Star Wars actor John Boyega among those taking part in Hyde Park Black Lives Matter protest
Police officers 'take a knee' in front of angry crowd of 2,000 Black Lives Matter protestors at the gates of Number 10 yelling 'f*** Boris, f*** Trump' as plastic bottles are thrown, an officer is punched and at least one demonstrator arrested
A line of Metropolitan Police officers 'took a knee' in tribute to George Floyd today as thousands of protesters gathered outside Downing Street.
At least 15,000 Black Lives Matter protesters including actor John Boyega and singer Liam Payne gathered in London, ignoring social distancing guidelines, as a show of anger against the death of Mr Floyd in the US.
And at least 2,000 of those demonstrated in front of Downing Street, shouting 'take a knee' at Metropolitan Police officers guarding security gates.
Four officers obliged, to the approval of the crowds, who urged other officers to follow the example of their colleagues. The 'take a knee' movement started in the US with NFL star Colin Kaepernick and has become a symbol of anger and solidarity against racism across the world
In the US, officers recently started taking a knee in support of protesters following days of unrest after Mr Floyd's killing at the hands of police.
There were pockets of anger among the crowd, however, with protesters chanting 'f** Boris' and 'f** Trump'.
At least three missiles were thrown at police lines, with one officer punched and at least one demonstrator arrested. However, the abuse was sporadic, with the crowd largely shouting down the culprits during the demonstration outside Downing Street.
Huge crowds had gathered in Hyde Park this afternoon as many campaigners wore face coverings and held signs with messages such as 'Please, I can't breathe', 'BLM' and 'Colour ≠ Crime'.
The rally comes as global demonstrations gather pace following the death of 46-year-old black man Mr Floyd who died after white police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on his neck for nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25.
Today, Star Wars actor Boyega told the crowd: 'Black lives have always mattered. We have always been important. We have always meant something. We have always succeeded regardless. And now is the time. I ain't waiting.'
Police were generally keeping in the background of the protest while their helicopters circled above. Banners included 'Enough is Enough', 'Remember Smiley Culture', 'Remember Cherry Groce', and 'UK is not innocent'.
After leaving Hyde Park, the protesters clambered onto traffic lights as they marched down Park Lane towards Victoria.
They then rallied in Parliament Square in the heart of Westminster where some of the demonstrators climbed up a statue of wartime prime minister Winston Churchill.
Bob Marley's Three Little Birds blared out on a loudspeaker. One protester wore a Colin Kaepernick shirt after the black American footballer who started the knee protest in the US. Thousands of demonstrators at times went down on one knee chanting 'George Floyd, George Floyd.'
It comes after UK chief constables joined forces to say they were 'appalled and horrified' by the death and called for 'justice and accountability', while warning those attending protests to do so while maintaining a safe distance.
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 which is also backing the Black Lives Matter movement
Boyega, 28, told fellow demonstrators gathered for a Black Lives Matter protest he was 'speaking to you from my heart'. The British actor referenced two other black Americans who controversially died in the US, as well as the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in London in 1993.
He said: 'We are a physical representation of our support for George Floyd. We are a physical representation of our support for Sandra Bland.
'We are a physical representation of our support for Trayvon Martin. We are a physical representation of our support for Stephen Lawrence.'
He added: 'I'm speaking to you from my heart. Look, I don't know if I'm going to have a career after this, but f*** that.
'Today is about innocent people who were halfway through their process. We don't know what George Floyd could have achieved, we don't know what Sandra Bland could have achieved, but today we're going to make sure that won't be an alien thought to our young ones.
'I need you to understand how painful this s*** is. I need you to understand how painful it is to be reminded every day that your race means nothing and that isn't the case any more, that was never the case any more.'
He urged protesters to remain peaceful as they demonstrated over the death of Mr Floyd.
'It is very, very important that we keep control of this moment. That we make this as peaceful and as organised as possible,' he said.
'Because they want us to mess up, they want us to be disorganised, but not today.
'This message is specifically for black men, black men we need to take care of our black women.
'They are our hearts, they are our future, we cannot demonise our own, we are the pillars of the family.
'Imagine this: a nation that is set up with individual families that are thriving, that are healthy, that communicate, that raise their children in love, have a better rate of becoming better human beings, and that's what we need to create.
'Black men, it starts with you. It's done man, we can't be trash no more.
'We have to be better.
'You lot came today, you left your kids, and when you see your kids they're aimlessly playing, they don't understand what's going on. Today's the day that we remind them that we are dedicated and this is a lifelong dedication.
'Some of you are artists, some of you are bankers, some of you are lawyers, some of you own shop stores.
'You are important, your individual power, your individual right is very, very important, we can all join together to make this a better world.'
Protesters were initially asked to sit two metres apart unless they were in the same household and were told to keep their arms stretched out to ensure social distancing when moving around the park.
However, as numbers grew, many of the protesters were seen standing at close distance as organisers still tried to maintain appropriate spacing.
Protesters chanted 'black lives matter' and 'we will not be silent' as they waited for the demonstration to begin.
Most of the protesters wore masks or gloves.
Filippa, a 20-year-old student, said: 'I know that I'm healthy. So this felt more important than to stay inside when I have the opportunity.'
It comes after 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.
'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.
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.
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.'
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