LONDON: Labour has called on the Prime Minister to show “national leadership” by leading government action on tackling racism in the wake of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said Boris Johnson needed to recognise the “deep hurt” felt by black people in the UK, with further BLM protests expected in the coming days.
As part of the demonstrations, statues of figures linked to the slave trade have been targeted while Sir Winston Churchill’s monument in Parliament Square has been boarded up to protect it after campaigners wrote “Was a racist” on the plinth last weekend.
Johnson said on Friday it was “shameful” that the statue of the former prime minister, who helped lead Britain to victory against Hitler in the Second World War, was at “risk of attack by violent protesters”. The Conservative Party leader said the country had “made huge progress in tackling racism” and would continue to do so.
But, after saying he understood “why people feel outraged” at what happened to George Floyd in the United States, he urged people to stay away from protests scheduled for the weekend, predicting they would “end in deliberate and calculated violence”.
Floyd died after a white police officer held him down by pressing his knee into his neck for almost nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25, an incident that has sparked global protests, including violent scenes at some demonstrations in the UK.
Thomas-Symonds said: “It is clear that the weekend ahead is likely to cause major challenges, with the risk of violence in our streets, not least as far-right extremists seek to exploit the situation and sow hate for their own divisive ends.
“I have no doubt that police across the country have the skills, experience and dedication to respond as well as possible to the challenge, and the vast majority of protesters intend to be peaceful.
“However, the Prime Minister should be showing national leadership, by co-ordinating the government’s response to the complex issues underpinning these protests. “This means recognising the deep hurt so many black people in our country have spoken so powerfully about, and setting out steps for meaningful action against racism in our country. This is a powerful moment in our history and it is important the Prime Minister is not found to be wanting.” His comments come after BLM campaigners unveiled a billboard on Westminster Bridge Road in central London, near to Parliament, highlighting the plight of black people in the UK.
Forming the words “I can’t breathe” -- uttered by Floyd as he choked -- the poster lists more than 3,000 names of people who have died in police custody, prisons, immigration detention centres and in racist attacks in the UK, as well as those who have died with coronavirus and in the Grenfell Tower fire.
The display was put up after organisers cancelled an anti-racism protest in London’s Hyde Park today (Saturday) over fears it would be hijacked by far-right groups.