Last Sunday we turned up at Trafalgar Square at 1pm to find it packed out with thousands of people, gathered to demonstrate against police brutality and racism, in defiance of the lockdown. As we all took to one knee and raised fists, clapping and chants of George Floyd, Say his name! Black Lives Matter! and No Justice, No Peace! filled the square. As George Floyd was brutally murdered by a white police officer his last words, like those of Eric Garner who was killed the same way 6 years ago, were “I Can’t Breathe”. These words are now one of the main chants of the protest movement, demonstrating this is oppression we can’t tolerate any longer – all lives can’t matter until black lives matter.
The crowd swelled to upwards of 5000, then we began marching to parliament, fists raised to the sky, and at first there were hardly any police officers in sight. The protest was black led, and different to previous protest movements because this time black, brown and white people were marching together in unity. The demonstrators were mostly young and working class and unlike the left wing protests we’re used to the demonstration and most of the chanting was led by women. From Parliament we marched to Thames House, across Lambeth Bridge then on towards the new American embassy in Vauxhall. It was then that the riot squad showed up to block our route.
At this point the protest remained peaceful and we refused to rise to the provocation. There was a sit down blockade, we took to one knee again and there was a minutes silence. The speeches led by first time organisers focussed on how the UK was not innocent and the names of many black people killed by British police were read out. The speeches also talked about how the protests had united black, white and brown people against police brutality and just as importantly there were calls for black unity. One of the speakers spoke of the radical tradition from slave rebellions to Assata Shakur and Nelson Mandela to the fight against police racism today – the same struggle remains ongoing.
We then moved on towards Battersea Park where the police attacked the protest for the first time, but they were overwhelmed by our numbers and moved on. As we crossed Battersea Bridge a bicycle block took over the front of the demonstration including some of the young BMXers who recognised us from the Brexit day protest. The organised left, overwhelmingly white and middle class, were almost entirely absent from the demonstration, as they were in 2011, the only exception being a handful of anarchist squat crews. There were no paper sellers in sight, no mass produced placards or stale 40 year old chants. Instead protesters vocalised passion and rage but remained peaceful, there because of our own shared experiences of police brutality and recognition of disproportionate racism as well as for the black lives that have been taken, and fighting for each other and our communities – this is a movement that can not be co opted.
As the march passed through the wealthy streets of South Kensington chants of “Eat the rich, feed the poor,” and “We’ve gotta get rid of the rich” which had been picked up from the school strikes, became mixed in with the anti racist chants. The police attacked us again as protesters began to occupy a whole foods store. The lockdown has further exposed the amount of segregation in London, in Holloway Road for example the middle class gentrifiers who queue outside Waitrose are almost all white while the working class people who queue for Morrisons on the opposite side of the road and are being socially cleansed from the area are almost all black and brown. The organic and whole food stores are at least 3 times the price of Waitrose even – making them inaccessible to everyone except the upper class who exploit us for profit. The protesters were far from mindless rioters, paying for water at corner shops and targetting only the store that’s not part of our community, that we’re segregated out of and exists to feed the gentrifiers socially and racially cleansing our areas.
As we moved further north the police repeatedly attempted to block our route, eventually forming a line to try and split us, but we persevered and broke through, then ran to get ahead of the police but still remained peaceful. By 5pm we eventually reached Grenfell Tower, where the demo finished with rousing speeches. Grenfell was chosen as the final destination because the majority of lives taken by the fire were black and brown, the majority were Muslim and they were all working class. They were killed not just out of negligence but by unsafe cladding from cost cutting, profit maximisation and neoliberal economics of the Tory council which values the profits of shareholders over black and working class lives. For the protesters it was clear that the fight against police brutality and the campaign for justice for Grenfell are part of the same struggle against white supremacy and capitalist hierarchy. Our position as LAFA is clear – antifascism must be anti racist, and we will continue to support the black lives matter protests however we can, from boosting and amplifying the callouts to distributing water, providing arrestee support and putting our bodies in front of police lines.
#BlackLivesMatter #LDNBLM #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor #JusticeForSarahReed #SayHerName #SayHisName #JusticeForSmileyCulture #JusticeForMarkDuggan #SayTheirNames