Anti-racism protesters rallied again around Britain on Saturday, with scuffles breaking out in London as counter-demonstrators also came out to protect monuments targeted for their links to colonial history.
Statues of historical figures including Winston Churchill – Britain’s World War Two leader whom protesters call a xenophobe – were boarded up to try and minimize trouble.
In Trafalgar Square, police separated two groups of about 100 people each, one chanting “Black Lives Matter”, the other racial slurs. Some groups jostled, tossed bottles and cans, and set off fireworks, as riot police with dogs and horses lined up.
Demonstrations have been taking place around the world over the death of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis after a white policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
In Britain, debate is raging over monuments to those involved in the nation’s imperialist past, especially after the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was torn down and thrown into the harbour of Bristol port last weekend.
Police said on Saturday that some people were bringing weapons to the London rallies. They imposed route restrictions on both groups and said rallies must end by 5 p.m.
“Anyone who thinks they can commit a crime or vandalise property will be arrested,” Commander Bas Javid said in a statement.
In and around Parliament Square, hundreds of people wearing football shirts, chanting “England, England”, and describing themselves as patriots, gathered alongside military veterans to guard the Cenotaph war memorial.
The group sang songs in support of right-wing activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who goes by the name of Tommy Robinson.
“Winston Churchill, he’s one of our own,” they also chanted, near his statue which last weekend was sprayed with graffiti reading: “Churchill was a racist”.
“My culture is under attack. This is my culture and my English history: why should Churchill be boarded up? Why is the Cenotaph attacked? It is not right,” said David Allen, one of the protesters.
About two miles away, around 20 anti-racism protesters gathered at Hyde Park, holding Black Lives Matter placards, even though organisers had told them not to attend fearing clashes.
Hundreds also attended rallies in other English cities, many donning masks due to the coronavirus pandemic. “To Be Black Is Not A Crime,” read one placard at a rally in Reading.