George Floyd death: Why US protests resonate in the UK

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London protestImage source, Getty Images

Over the weekend thousands of people chanted "Black Lives Matter" across the UK - at protests in London, Manchester and Cardiff.

They were marching in support of protesters in America angered by the death of George Floyd on 25 May.

He died nearly 4,000 miles away from the UK in Minnesota, but his death was felt here in our black community too.

That's why people like Shayne defied UK government coronavirus guidance and went out to protest on the weekend.

"We didn't expect that many people to turn up at the protests, it was mad," the 20-year-old tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

Media caption,

Thousands marched from Trafalgar Square to the US embassy in South London

"The general vibe was electric because you could literally see that everybody was hurt."

'When one is hurt, we're all hurt'

Shayne says she and her friends wore military boots to the London protest and were impressed to see lots of other women dressed like members of the Black Panther movement.

"There were a lot of black women with their natural hair out," she says.

"We wanted to show we're proud of who we are and that we shouldn't have to hide our blackness to stay alive."

Image source, Shayne
Image caption,
Shayne says black people in the UK are angry about how their community is treated by the police

Shayne says although George Floyd was killed in the US, "we know that it happens here too", citing the case of Mark Duggan.

He was a 29-year-old who was shot and killed in 2011 while police in London were trying to arrest him in possession of a gun.

His death sparked riots in London, where police officers are four times more likely to use force against black people than white people, and later across the UK. An inquest jury in 2014 found that Mark Duggan was lawfully killed.

In 2016, ex-Aston Villa footballer Dalian Atkinson died when he was restrained by police and Tasered in Telford, Shropshire.

Rashan Charles died in hospital due to a cardiac arrest and obstructed airway during restraint from police officers in 2017.

Last week a public inquiry was announced into the death of Sheku Bayoh in police custody in Scotland in 2015.

Protesters in London held signs bearing their names, and the names of other black people who have died after encounters with British police, at the weekend.

"It's just very frustrating, I'm very angry and very tired. To constantly be hearing about black people being aimlessly killed for no reason is draining," Shayne says.

"We have our issues within the black community but we are still very united.

"The prejudice that black people in America face is the same prejudice we face here. When one is hurt, we're all hurt, because it could have been us."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
George Floyd was heard crying "I can't breathe" before he died

In America, protests have led to violent clashes between protesters and police.

The police officer who was seen with his knee on George Floyd's neck for nine minutes during his arrest for using a fake $20 note has been charged with murder.

Eyram Kiakia, who's 20 and has a YouTube channel speaking about the UK Black Lives Matter movement, says she became more upset about the death of George Floyd the more she learned about his life.

"I watched a few seconds of when they were kneeling on his neck but I wasn't able to finish watching it, I was really upset," she tells Newsbeat.

"What upset me more was watching the videos of him as an activist and him being vocal about certain things in his community, they upset me more than the video of the police killing him."

Image source, Eyram Kiakia
Image caption,
Eyram says she has seen racism since she was in school

Eyram says people think the UK is more progressive on race than America, "when actually it isn't".

The UK Home Office was accused of racism following the Windrush scandal - when black people who came to Britain as children were wrongly told they were here illegally and deported or threatened with deportation.

"Race clearly played a part in what occurred," the long-awaited review into what happened said earlier this year.

The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 and the Windrush scandal were mentioned by rapper Dave when he called Prime Minister Boris Johnson racist during a performance at the Brit Awards after winning album of the year - causing Home Secretary Priti Patel to defend the PM.

Eyram says racism in the UK is institutionalised and also evident in schools - where Black Caribbean pupils are more likely to be excluded than White British pupils - and the workplace.

"There's a lot of more covert things that have happened to us and still happen to us, like when we were in school they policed black people's hair, we weren't allowed certain hairstyles or colours even though our white counterparts were able to dye their hair any colour," she says.

"In the workplace, there's always micro-aggressions. Everyone I know has experienced some sort of ignorant comment at the hands of a fellow employee or even an employer.

"Just because it's so subtle and it's not overt, it doesn't mean it's not racist."

Correction 10 May 2021: This article has been amended to remove a line which incorrectly stated that police had sought to arrest Mark Duggan because they suspected he was planning an attack.

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