London Black Lives Matter protests: Thousands descend on Parliament Square as tensions mount

Patrick Sawer
Streams of demonstrators continue to cross Westminster Bridge to join the Parliament Square protest - Stefan Rousseau/PA

Thousands of people gathered in London and across the country yesterday to demonstrate against the brutal killing of George Floyd in the US – despite police and ministers urging them to stay away for fear of spreading Covid-19.

Protesters in Parliament Square went down on one knee while raising one fist in the air, before crowds began to chant “no justice, no peace” and called out Mr Floyd’s name.

Similar expressions of solidarity took place in cities across Britain to voice anger at the death of Mr Floyd, as well as wider racist violence and discrimination.

The African-American father of two was killed when a white police officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck in Minneapolis on May 25, sparking days of protests in the US.

A mural to George Floyd at Belfast's International Wall on the Falls Road - Brian Lawless/PA

After a day of overwhelmingly peaceful protests across the country, a section of the London march descended into ugly violence, with clashes in Whitehall near the gates to No 10.

Some of the crowd threw flares, bottles and sticks as police on horseback attempted to push them back away from the entrance to Downing Street.

The Metropolitan Police force said that ten officers were injured as a result of Saturday's demonstration and 14 arrests were made. 

At one stage, a police horse bolted – apparently spooked by a thrown missile – smashing its officer against a traffic light before galloping away and knocking a passer-by to the ground.

The officer was taken to hospital last night with injuries which are “not life-threatening”, the Metropolitan Police force said last night.

They added: “The officer fell from her horse, and we are examining the full circumstances of what took place. The horse, uninjured, made its own way back to the stables nearby.”

A mounted police officer lays on the road after being unseated from their horse, during a demonstration on Whitehall, - AFP 

The Conservative MP Tim Loughton tweeted: “Not surprisingly the horse bolted when spooked by the flares and missiles and bikes being thrown at police.”

Superintendent Jo Edwards, spokesperson for policing Saturday's demonstration, said: “We understand peoples’ passion to come and let their voice be heard, they protested largely without incident.

“Our officers have been professional and very restrained but there was a smaller group intent on violence towards police officers.

“Twenty-three officers have received injuries, doing their job, policing protest over the last few days, and that is totally unacceptable.

“There have been 14 arrests made today, but we expect that number to rise and there will be a post -event investigation carried out.”

During the clashes several people chanted for peace and told others to stop throwing objects.

Home Secretary Priti Patel condemned the violence, stating on Twitter: “Protests must be peaceful and in accordance with social distancing rules. Violence towards a police officer is completely unacceptable at any time. The police have our full support in tackling any violence, vandalism or disorderly behaviour. There is no justification for it.”

A child wearing a protective face mask holds a placard during a BLM protest in Leicester - Carl Recine/REUTERS

Several thousand people had earlier converged in the rain on Parliament Square – the majority wearing masks and face coverings, with some also opting for gloves – before marching to the Home Office and the US Embassy, in Vauxhall.

“If that was my neck that was being crushed, I’d want people to come out,” said one young woman in Parliament Square. “Everyone is being as sensible as they can be, but sometimes voices have got to be heard.”

Pop star Madonna was reported to have been among the crowds in Whitehall.

In Watford, boxing heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, on crutches after a training injury, joined a march in his home town.

Demonstrators also gathered at Leicester’s Clock Tower, Christchurch Park in Ipswich and Devonshire Green in Sheffield and Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens. Around 2,000 people filled Cardiff’s Bute Park where Andrew Ogun, 22, said: “This killing struck a match for everybody. Not just black people.”

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, praised those who protested peacefully but said people who became violent “let down the cause”.

More anti-racism demonstrations will take place in London and across the UK on Sunday.

A rally is scheduled outside the US Embassy in London's Battersea, an estimated 4,000 people are expected at a gathering in Bristol and demonstrations will also be held in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

A protester makes a Black Lives Matter fist at a demonstration in Trafalgar Square in central London on Friday - Tolga Akmen/AFP