Anger and sadness as Londoners protest George Floyd killing

Charlotte DURAND
1 / 3
Protestors remonstrate with police officers during an anti-racism demonstration in London after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after a police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest in Minneapolis, USA

There was solidarity, sadness and anger in London on Wednesday as thousands of mostly young people gathered to protest the death of George Floyd in US police custody.

"I've seen the video going around on social media and it's genuinely a collective trauma," said Sharleen, 18, who joined the protest in Hyde Park.

"All of my friends -- since this, we've not felt the same. It's like this pain through all of us at the same time.

"It goes from anger to sadness, it's just something you can't explain."

Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The incident, which was captured on camera, has sparked violent protests across the United States and demonstrations around the world.

In London, emotions were running high as protesters defied coronavirus restrictions on mass gatherings to march through the capital to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Downing Street office.

They were largely peaceful, with demonstrators chanting Floyd's name as they walked and passing vehicles beeping in support, although there were some clashes with police.

"Star Wars" actor John Boyega gave a speech in which he often struggled to contain his emotion, expressing solidarity with Floyd and our "black brothers and sisters" in the United States.

"This is an important movement," Lisa Ncuka, a 26-year-old student, told AFP.

"Everybody should be here fighting for equality. It's not just a US problem, it's the whole world problem and we need to come together and spread this awareness."

- UK is not innocent -

There were placards demanding to "Make racists afraid again", parodying US President Donald Trump's election campaign slogan, but also those proclaiming that "The UK is not innocent".

"It may not be as bad here now, but the racism we see in the UK is usually undercover," said Leyla, 20.

"As a black woman living in London, I have seen too many times when police abuse their power for stopping and searching black people for no reason."

"Enough is enough," said the banner held aloft by Sharlae, 18, among many in the crowd wearing a mask against coronavirus.

"My friends, my family, my brothers, my father, my cousins should be able to walk the street without fear of being killed by police, when they are meant to protect us and keep us safe," she said.

She said she had "millions of examples" of friends and family being stopped by police: "It just something we have to deal with everyday, and we shouldn't."

Despite police reforms in recent decades, a 2015 study by educational charity the Runnymede Trust found "systemic and institutional racism persists" within British policing.

The US police officer who kneeled on Floyd's neck is being charged with second-degree murder and three colleagues also face charges.

The protesters expressed hope of justice, but several called for more ethnic minorities in the UK parliament.

"That's the only way to get changes," said Layla, while adding: "It shouldn't be black versus whites, it should be everyone versus racism."