Scenes of violence have gripped the streets of London as groups containing far-right activists congregated in the nation’s capital. Protesters claim they were protecting statues from anti-racism protesters who have also been assembling in London and other areas of the United Kingdom.
Police were attacked by activists as reports emerged of officers being beaten, punched and kicked. Scotland Yard says more than 100 people were arrested during the protests for a range of offences which include violent disorder, assault on police and possession of an offensive weapon. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said: “racist thuggery has no place on our streets” after footage was revealed of large groups of white men singing the national anthem and chanting “England”.
Groups supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign after the recent killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in the United States, were heavily criticised for congregating during the coronavirus pandemic. Many were angry at such large crowds despite social distancing rules remaining in place. Despite this, much of the demonstrations have largely been carried out maintaining the social distancing rules. Photos and videos have been reported showing a demonstration in Peterborough which had maintained the two-metre apart ruling to huge success.
Many have voiced their concerns over the potential defacing of Winston Churchill’s statue in London after a number of statues were targeted by demonstrators, including one of slave trader Edward Colston which toppled by anti-racism protesters last week. The statue of Churchill was boarded up to prevent any damage that may come during the tense situation in the capital. Despite leading Britain through the Second World War, anti-racism protesters have labelled Mr Churchill “a racist” due to certain comments and controversial decisions he made during his tenure. The former prime minister told the Palestine Royal Commission that there was nothing wrong with the treatment of Native Americans and aboriginal Australians due to his ideas that “a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place”. Additionally, Churchill had advocated the use of chemical weapons against “uncivilised tribes” and faced huge backlash after the Japanese occupation of Burma in which the prime minister halted supplies to a famine-stricken India in which at least three million people died. Supporters of Mr Churchill argue these thoughts were common during this time and Boris Johnson has said that Churchill voiced opinions that were “unacceptable to us today” but remains a hero for saving the country from “fascist and racist tyranny”.
The far-right activists have said they are in London to protect symbols of British identity. However, many have clashed with police and a number of protesters, largely consisting of white men, have reportedly been raising their arms, a symbol often used to represent Nazism. Much confusion has come from this as those taking part are claiming to defend memorials of war veterans whilst also relaying a symbol to which much of said veterans fought against. Groups, who are visibly not maintaining social distancing, spread to Trafalgar Square and some managed to break down metal barriers around the Cenotaph war memorial whilst launching various objects at police in riot gear.
Many concerns exist over the potential clashes between anti-racism and far-right groups in the nation’s capital. Whilst the Black Lives Matter protests have remained largely peaceful, the same cannot be said for the latter. Scenes of violent clashes between police and demonstrators have led to numerous arrests and injuries, whilst imagery of Nazi salutes and nationalist chanting have left a bitter taste in the mouths of those attempting to spread the message of anti-racism and equality. The Black Lives Matter protests look set to continue; however, demonstrators now face harsh opposition from those on the far-right who look determined to bring unrest to the streets.