Despite calls by British authorities to avoid gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, large crowds have formed in five major British cities in solidarity with the anti-racism protests sweeping across the United States.
Tens of thousands have turned out for large demonstrations in London, Manchester, Cardiff, Leicester and Sheffield to protest against systemic racism in the US and also the UK.
The British establishment went out of its way to try to prevent the protests on the grounds they violate coronavirus-related restrictions, notably the need to maintain social distancing even as the UK’s lockdown rules have relaxed significantly in recent weeks.
The rearguard action was led by hardline Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who tried to use social distancing to deter protesters.
Speaking to Sky News, Patel urged people not to join protests in London on the grounds of placing “public health first at this particular time”.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, went even further by calling the protests “unlawful”.
Speaking to LBC radio, Dick risked inflaming the situation by instructing her officers not to “take the knee” in solidarity with the protesters.
Even the mayor of London, who is renowned for his strong opposition to racism and US President Donald Trump, tried to dissuade people from protesting.
Sadiq Khan, who is a Muslim, tweeted protection against COVID-19 when addressing today’s protests.
The establishment’s apparent show of unity has failed to deter protesters, thousands of whom converged on London’s Parliament Square holding placards emblazoned with the words: “There is a virus greater than Covid-19 and it’s called racism”.
Meanwhile in Manchester, more than 15,000 protesters defied Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s warning against “mass gatherings”, to assemble at Piccadilly Gardens in the city centre.
The large protests across the UK are a reminder to the British establishment of the strength of feeling across the country against institutionalized racism and discrimination in Britain.
Whilst the protests have remained largely peaceful the British security apparatus is nevertheless wary of more robust action in the days ahead.