Black Lives Matter: Protesters must be off streets by 5pm, say police

13 June 2020, 08:29

Police have imposed new restrictions ahead this weekend's protests
Police have imposed new restrictions ahead this weekend's protests. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Police in London have told those attending protests this weekend that they must be off the streets by 5pm on Saturday.

The move comes after violent clashes with anti-racism demonstrators last week, during which 27 officers were injured.

Statues in the capital have been boarded up ahead of marches this weekend to prevent them being defaced or toppled, as was seen in Bristol last Sunday.

The Metropolitan Police have introduced new measures ahead of the marches, including a 5pm curfew and the need for protesters to stick to the planned march route, which runs from Hyde Park to Whitehall.

It is feared the anti-racism protests, in support of Black Lives Matter (BLM), could be hijacked by far-right counter-demonstrations.

BLM protesters must stay north of a police barrier erected on Whitehall, while right-wing protesters must remain to the south of the line.

The conditions have been set under section 12 of the Public Order Act.

However, the force has asked protesters to reconsider attending at all due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We are asking you not to come to London, and let your voices be heard in other ways," Met Commander Bas Javid said.

He added: "If you were planning to come to London, I again would urge you to reconsider, but if you are still intent, please familiarise yourself with what the conditions are.

"Please keep yourself safe by complying with government guidance on social distancing."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said recent protests have been "hijacked by extremists intent on violence" as he urged people to avoid marching this weekend.

"The attacks on the police and indiscriminate acts of violence which we have witnessed over the last week are intolerable and they are abhorrent," he said.

"The only responsible course of action is to stay away from these protests."

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also told right-wing groups not to come to the capital to protect statues and monuments as they have now been boarded up ahead of demonstrations.

He said: "If their concern is they're worried about Winston Churchill being vandalised, or the Cenotaph having graffiti on it, we've not covered those things up, and the flags. So I am not quite clear what they'd be seeking to do, expect to sow discord and disharmony."

Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick also urged protesters to "stay away" from London this weekend amid fears right-wing groups could clash with Black Lives Matter supporters.

"I think people should stay away from these protests," she said.

"I think it's clear that we're in the middle of a public health crisis, so it's not safe for them, it's not safe for people around them.

"Secondly, we do have information that people are intent on coming to cause violence and confrontation. Of course, we will do everything we can to prevent violence and disorder."

Organisers of one demonstration planned for Saturday cancelled the event over fears of clashes with right-wing groups, but the Met believe thousands of people will still attend.

Statues that have been boarded up in London include Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.

Last week, the statue of Sir Winston, the UK's war-time prime minister, was defaced with the words "was a racist."

Demonstrations have been taking place across the UK and the rest of the world following the death of African American George Floyd in the US last month, who was killed when a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Anti-racism group Hope Not Hate has said football gangs from West Ham, Chelsea, Millwall, Sheffield Wednesday, Hull and Spurs are among the groups planning on coming to London.

Far-right group Britain First has also said its members will attend.

On Friday, the prime minister expressed his dismay at the growing focus on removing statues in the wake of the toppling of the memorial to slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol on 7 June.

More than 60 other statues are now listed as targets on a website called Topple the Racists.

Mr Johnson said to take statues down would "be to lie about our history" and wrote in a series of social media posts: "We cannot pretend to have a different history.

"Those statues teach us about our past, with all its faults."

Meanwhile, Bristol-based organisation the Society of Merchant Venturers, has come out in support of the removal of Colston's statue.

The society has been accused of blocking previous attempts to have the statue removed or the plaque amended to include details of Colston's role in the slave trade.

It said on Friday: "To build a city where racism and inequality no longer exist, we must start by acknowledging Bristol's dark past and removing statues, portraits and names that memorialise a man who benefited from trading in human lives."

It apologised for interfering in attempts to reword Colston's plaque in 2018, adding: "As we look forward, we are examining our own role within the city, how we collaborate with others and accelerate our part in ensuring that Bristol overcomes inequality and disadvantage wherever it exists."