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Protesters around the world rally for George Floyd and against police brutality

Protesters raise fists in the French riviera city of Nice, on June 6, 2020, during a demonstration as part of 'Black Lives Matter' worldwide protests against racism and police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
Protesters raise fists in the French riviera city of Nice, on June 6, 2020, during a demonstration as part of 'Black Lives Matter' worldwide protests against racism and police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd. © Valery Hache, AFP
7 min

Tens of thousands of people gathered in cities around the world on Saturday and Sunday to express anger over the death of George Floyd as the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality resonates with global calls to address racism.

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Thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and London on Sunday in support of the movement, adding to tens of thousands who rallied in France, Germany, the UK and other European countries on Saturday.

Several thousand people massed on Sunday outside the US embassy in Madrid, repeating “I can’t breathe”, Floyd’s last words as he was asphyxiated by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis on May 25, and demanding racial justice.

George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after white Minneapolis police officer Chauvin pressed a knee on his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed on the ground and pleading for air. The officer has since been charged with second-degree murder.

“Racism knows no borders,” said Leinisa Seemdo, a 26-year-old Spanish translator from Cape Verde. “In all the countries where I have lived, I have experienced discrimination because of the colour of my skin.”

At a police cordon, they knelt in silence in a gesture against racism first made by American football player Colin Kaepernick in 2016.

Rome’s Piazza del Popolo (“People’s Plaza”) also fell silent for eight minutes – around the time Floyd was pinned down by the white police officer – with thousands of people taking a knee in memory of Floyd, their fists in the air.

“We can’t breathe,” shouted the crowd, after the collective silence.

“It’s really hard to live here,” said Senegalese migrant Morikeba Samate, 32, one of the thousands to have arrived in Italy after risking the perilous crossing across the Mediterranean.

Opposition to that wave of migration buoyed the far-right in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, creating a culture of mistrust those in the crowd said needed to end.

“There are so many people our age in the street,” said one young Italian, 17-year-old Eleonora, who showed up with her friend holding signs. “It’s important to be here.”

Weekend of worldwide protests against racism

In Berlin on Saturday, where police said 15,000 people rallied on the German capital's Alexanderplatz, protesters chanted Floyd's name and held up placards with slogans such as, “Stop police brutality” and “I can’t breathe”.

“The killing and these violent physical things that have happened is only just the top of it,” said Lloyd Lawson, 54, who took part in the Berlin protest. “That’s why you’ve got to start right from the bottom, just like an iceberg.”

A video shared on social media showed several police with dogs arresting a black man scuffling with an officer. Anja Dierschke, a spokeswoman for Berlin police, said the incident happened sometime after the protest ended and officers had ordered a group of people, some of whom were throwing bottles at passers-by, to disperse.

Some 20,000 people rallied in Munich while thousands more took part in protests in Frankfurt and Cologne.

Smaller protests took place outside the US embassies in Warsaw and Sofia. 

The protests are even resonating in war-torn countries such as Iraq, where the "America 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," said Yassin Alaa, a 20-year-old camped out in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, once the site of months of anti-government protests.

'Being black is not a crime'

Several thousand demonstrators in Paris ignored a protest ban – issued due to the coronavirus pandemic – and assembled within sight of the US embassy, kept back by imposing barriers and riot police.

Among the crowd in the French capital was Marie Djedje, 14, a Parisian born on July 14, the French national day. “I was born French, on the day when we celebrate our country. But on a daily basis, I don’t feel that this country accepts me,” she said, holding up a sign that read, “Being black is not a crime".

The teenager said that emerging from France's virus lockdown and seeing officers on patrol again drove home how scared she is of the police and how she has steeled herself for a life of overcoming obstacles.

“I know that because of my skin colour I’m starting out with a handicap, for example, if I want to get a flat or go to a top school,” she said. “I know I’m going to have to fight twice as hard as the others. But I’m prepared.”

In central London, tens of thousands staged a rally outside Parliament Square, invoking Floyd's memory as well as people who died during police encounters or indifference in Britain. Some protesters ignored thickening rain clouds and later headed toward the UK Home Office, which oversees law enforcement and immigration, and to the US embassy.

Many dropped to one knee and raised their fists in the air outside the gleaming embassy building south of the River Thames. There were chants of “Silence is violence” and “Colour is not a crime”.

The majority of those marching wore masks and other face coverings, and appeared to make an effort to adhere to social-distancing guidelines by walking in small groups.

An estimated 15,000 people gathered in the heart of Manchester, England, while 2,000 people joined in a demonstration in the Welsh capital of Cardiff.

Andrew Francis, 37, a black man from London, said there’s “a lot of frustration due to racial discrimination, and we want change for our children and our children’s children to be able to have equality within the UK the US, all around the world”. Francis, who wore a face covering, said he wasn’t worried about the coronavirus and said the fight for racial equality was “more important” to him.

Police and protesters clashed at the end of a rally near the offices of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Objects were thrown at police wearing protective gear and video shared on social media appeared to show a horse bolting amid the clashes, unseating a police officer as he hit traffic lights.

From South Korea to Senegal: 'Enough is enough'

Floyd's death has sparked significant protests across the United States, but it has also struck a chord with minorities protesting discrimination elsewhere, including demonstrators in Sydney and Brisbane who highlighted indigenous Australians who died in custody.

Indigenous Australians make up 2 percent of the the country's adult population but 27 percent of the prison population. They are also the most disadvantaged ethnic minority in Australia and have higher-than-average rates of infant mortality and poor health, as well as shorter life expectancies and lower levels of education and employment than other Australians.

While the demonstrations were largely peaceful, there was a brief scuffle in Sydney when police removed an apparent counter-protester carrying a sign reading, “White Lives, Black Lives, All Lives Matter”.

In South Korea's capital, Seoul, protesters gathered for a second straight day to denounce Floyd's death. Wearing masks and black shirts, dozens of demonstrators marched through a commercial district amid a police escort, carrying signs such as, “George Floyd Rest in Peace” and “Koreans for Black Lives Matter”.

In Senegal, people staged a protest in front of the African Renaissance Monument in the capital of Dakar, holding placards with slogans such as “Enough is enough”.

Chris Trabot, who works for Paris City Hall, said George Floyd's death last week triggered his decision to demonstrate Saturday for the first time in his life.

Born in the French territory of Martinique, Trabot said he first experienced racism as a child when he moved with his family to mainland France and got in frequent fights with white kids who mocked his skin colour. Recently, his 9-year-old daughter has told him of being a target of racism, too, with schoolmates mocking her hair.

Adele Letamba, a 39-year-old consultant protesting in Paris, put it bluntly: “The death of George Floyd was the spark that spread across the world.”

(FRANCE 24 and AP and AFP)

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