Hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters gathered in Hyde Park, London today, after Saturday’s planned demonstration was cancelled over fears of a far-right presence.
The toppling of slaver statues throughout the UK, as well as the vandalisation of a Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square, has led to a call from far-right groups and figures – including Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who goes by the name Tommy Robinson – to “defend” statues and monuments from protesters. Yaxley-Lennon posted a video earlier this week encouraging “every single man” to descend on London this weekend, before U-turning today, saying he realised his “presence in London would be detrimental to racial tensions”.
Protest organisers said in an Instagram post that they had decided to postpone Saturday’s protest because they want each demonstration “to be a safe space for people to attend”, but “don’t think it will be possible with people like them [the far-right] present”.
On Friday morning, the Cenotaph and the Winston Churchill statue were boarded up. In response, Conservative MP Sajid Javid tweeted, “How depressing,” while Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted of the Churchill statue, “It is absurd and shameful that this national monument should today be at risk of attack by violent protestors. Yes, he sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial.”
Johnson also tweeted that “the protests have been sadly hijacked by extremists intent on violence”, despite the fact that every protest held in the UK since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis – including those today in London and other locations around the country – has been overwhelmingly peaceful. This morning, the UK government was accused of the racist criminalisation of the Black Lives Matter protests after announcing controversial plans to fast-track criminal prosecutions for protesters.
Smaller protests throughout London are still going ahead as planned on Saturday, but it’s currently unclear if demonstrators will show up in Hyde Park, or whether members of the far-right will descend on the capital as planned. Today, the rescheduled protest went off without a hitch, with demonstrators meeting in Hyde Park and marching to Trafalgar Square.
See more photos by Johnathan Williams below.