Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum worldwide with fresh weekend of protests

People gather near the Eiffel Tower on Paris's Champ de Mars to participate in worldwide 'Black Lives Matter' protests against racism and police brutality, on June 6, 2020.
People gather near the Eiffel Tower on Paris's Champ de Mars to participate in worldwide 'Black Lives Matter' protests against racism and police brutality, on June 6, 2020. © Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt, AFP

From Sydney to London to Washington, D.C., protesters launched a weekend of action to support Black Lives Matter, in many cases defying bans on public gatherings. In Paris, at least two protests went ahead despite a ban.

Advertising

Taking a knee, chanting and ignoring social-distancing measures, outraged protesters kicked off a weekend of global rallies Saturday against racism and police brutality.

The May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man arrested in the US state of Minnesota, has brought tens of thousands out onto the streets despite a pandemic that is ebbing in Asia and Europe but spreading rapidly in other parts of the world.

In Paris, riot police held back a crowd of several thousand who gathered outside the US embassy compound for an unsanctioned protest. Another group also gathered at the Champs de Mars park facing the Eiffel Tower.

“I find it scandalous that all these injustices go unpunished,” Dior, a 21-year-old Senegalese-Ivorian student, said amidst crowds holding up placards reading “Being black is not a crime” and “Our police are assassins”.

The French rallies spread to about a dozen cities, including Lyon, Bordeaux, Nice, Lille and Metz. More than 23,000 people participated nationwide, according to the Interior Ministry, including 5,500 in Paris. The fresh protests came as racist comments leaked from a private Facebook group for police officers added to outrage over racism among French law enforcement.

‘This is how we stay alive’

Protesters also took to the streets across the Channel.

“It is time to burn down institutional racism,” one speaker shouted through a megaphone at a crowd of thousands outside the parliament building in London.

“This is how we take care of each other,” she added, after urging everyone to pull on a face mask.

“This is how we stay alive.”

A demonstrator wears a protective face mask holds a placard during a Black Lives Matter protest in Watford, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis, Watford, Britain, June 6, 2020.
A demonstrator wears a protective face mask holds a placard during a Black Lives Matter protest in Watford, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis, Watford, Britain, June 6, 2020. © Paul Childs, Reuters

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock spoke for many concerned officials as he tried to convince Britons not to gather for events involving more than six people this weekend, no matter the cause.

“Like so many people, I am appalled by the death of George Floyd. I understand why people are deeply upset,” Hancock said on Friday.

“But we are still facing a health crisis and coronavirus remains a real threat.”

Londoners nevertheless rallied outside parliament on Saturday and plan to hold another large demonstration in front of the US embassy on the opposite bank of the river Thames on Sunday.

Thousands defy bans

Aboriginal protesters performed a traditional smoking ceremony at the start of a “Black Lives Matter” protest in Sydney, which was sanctioned at the last minute after initially being banned on health grounds.

Tens of thousands of Australians defied government orders to stay home regardless, holding up signs and wearing face masks marked up “I can’t breathe” – the words Floyd kept repeating while handcuffed as a policeman knelt on his neck.

“The fact that they have tried to push us all back and stop the protest, it makes people want to do it even more,” said Jumikah Donovan, one of thousands who turned up thinking the Sydney ban was still in place.

Thousands more dressed in black to mourn Floyd’s death protested in Melbourne and other Australian cities.

Floyd’s death came during the spread of a disease that has disproportionately affected black people and ethnic minorities in global centres such as London and New York.

It also came in the throes of a historic economic downturn that has statistically affected the poor and the marginalised the most.

This confluence, and accompanying outrage at US President Donald Trump’s partisan response, has refocused attention on the world’s racial divides like few other events since the 1960s.

The US embassy in London said it stood “united with the British public in grief”.

“We welcome this exercise of free speech, which contributes to constructive dialogue, education and change,” the embassy said of the London protests, adopting a more conciliatory tone than the one taken by Trump.

“There remains much work to be done.”

‘Red card to racism’

Memorial events and peaceful tributes in Europe stretched from Warsaw to Lisbon on Saturday, before shifting to major US cities and Canada’s Montreal.

In Germany, football players from Bayern Munich were among those to voice support for the protests, warming up in jerseys that read “Red card to racism #BlackLivesMatter”.

“White silence is violence,” the chant went up in a crowd of 10,000 in Berlin.

 

“How many more?” asked a poster held up in a crowd of thousands in Frankfurt.

In North Carolina, a long line of cars snaked its way down a highway as mourners arrived for a viewing and memorial service at a church not far from Floyd’s hometown.

And tens of thousands were again expected in Washington, D.C., where Mayor Muriel Bowser renamed the area near the White House as “Black Lives Matter Plaza”.

With tensions soaring, several US police departments have launched investigations into officers who were recorded hitting, pushing or baton-charging protesters and some reporters – including foreign ones.

The protests have even resonated in war-scarred countries such as Iraq, where the “American Revolts” and the Arabic phrase for “We want to breathe, too” hashtags are spreading on social media.

“I think what the Americans are doing is brave and they should be angry, but rioting is not the solution,” Yassin Alaa, a 20-year-old camped out in Iraq’s protest-hit Tahrir Square.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning