The death of George Floyd at the hands of police last Monday in Minneapolis sparked protests in cities across the US, and quickly impassioned people around the world to speak out against racism and condemn police brutality.
This was the case in Britain, which has its own track record of racist state violence. On Sunday, peaceful demonstrators gathered at Trafalgar Square in central London to kneel in tribute to George Floyd, then marched through Whitehall and past Downing Street – many of them holding "Black Lives Matter" and "Silence is Violence" placards. Thousands also gathered in Manchester and Cardiff to pay tribute to George Floyd and show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Further demonstrations are planned for this weekend, including a peaceful protest outside the US embassy in London on Sunday the 7th of June at 2PM. The event has been organised by 18-year-old Aima and 21-year-old Tasha. It's their first time organising a direct action protest, but the killing of George Floyd compelled them to act.
I spoke to Aima and Tasha about what it was like to organise their first protest, why institutional racism isn’t just an issue for the US and the ups and downs of getting organised during a pandemic.
VICE: Hi Aima. Hi Tasha. Is Sunday's demonstration outside the American embassy the first protest you’ve ever organised?
Aima: I’ve helped people organise Pride protests and women’s marches, but I’ve never actually been so involved like this. It was quite overwhelming for me because I didn’t know it was going to become this big. I didn’t think I could just instantly do it and it just came so naturally to me.
Tasha: I didn’t feel scared to do it, it just felt like we were supposed to do it. It wouldn’t have blown up if we weren’t supposed to do it, I don’t think it would have gained that much traction. Although I’m stressed about it, I’m fearless about it!
Is Sunday’s protest directly linked with Black Lives Matter UK?
A: We aren’t directly involved with them, but we are in conversation with them because they were confused about what was happening. Someone reached out and messaged us.
T: A lot of people were confused at first and we had a lot of tweets about how our protest had just popped out from nowhere and they didn’t trust it. But we just decided to do something, we didn’t realise that it would go so crazy! I think we’ve done it pretty well.
How does it feel for your protest to have gained so much traction before it happens?
T: It’s going to be a historic date. We have to realise that we’ve done that. It’s something that everyone who’s involved across the country should be proud of because we’re doing something that is making history and change. For two young girls to have this going on all over the country with no backing or anything from anyone. We’ve done this all on our own. We’ve raised nearly £1,000 on our own and that’s getting split between all of us to help with buying PPE. We’ve done a lot without any official company supporting us.
Social media has played a big part in organising the protest. How has that been for you both?
T: If you post on social media, your face is going to be connected to it. The fact that a lot of people are being supportive is making the situation a lot easier. Doing this is making people realise that young people are about it, they’re actually doing something.
A: At last Sunday’s protest, so many people came up to me to thank me for organising ours. I was like, "What’s going on?"
Some of the attention has been negative, with people suggesting that the UK doesn’t have any racism. What’s it been like to deal with that?
T: It’s not for me to force people to unlearn racism. It’s easy for them to do, they just don’t want to do it. They can be mad about it and tweet about it, and incite hate but the fact is that so many people are actively doing something, we’re always going to be more than the racists. It might take a long time and it might not be while I’m here, but we’ve started something that will progress.
This is the turning point now. If we don’t do it, we’ll have missed an opportunity to do something. This whole next week is probably going to be one of the most important of our whole lives, I just hope everything goes well!
What’s been the most surprising thing about organising all of this?
A: I’m an 18-year-old girl, I didn’t expect this to happen now. I’m going to uni in September. I think the thing that’s hurt me are the people who don’t have belief in me as a young black woman. Right now, I’m just trying to process my emotions and I’m trying to tell myself that what I’m doing is good because the amount of hate that I’ve been getting from a lot of people on both sides telling me it’s bad. I’m really trying to compose myself and put my energy into the fight rather than into irrelevant people.
T: We’re already the angry black women, so we can’t be angrier. They’ll spin it whatever way they can so we have to keep our heads above water. I think the fact that so many non-black people are supporting us, is going to make it a lot easier. So many of my white friends have been on it!
How important is it for non-black people to show up and protest alongside black people?
A: We really need a lot of non-black people to come and support us because if we just have ourselves they are not going to take us seriously. It’s not only black people who know that this is messed up. If you’re not speaking about it you are enabling the people who are against us.
T: I’ve been having so many conversations with white men especially, just to see what they’re doing. I messaged this guy I know asking him if he’s seen what’s going on and he said, "My Instagram is just a bit of fun, I’m not a news page. Why are you reacting, just because you feel some type of way.” I’ve got to finish third year [at university] and hand all my stuff in in August but I can’t think about that right now. Other people are thinking about other things and I would love to have that privilege. People need to wake up, it’s getting long.
Of course, people have concerns about coronavirus. How have you found planning a protest during a pandemic?
A: I’ve been telling multiple people on so many platforms, if you have symptoms, if you’re at risk or if anyone at your home is at risk, do not come to these protests! I’m an anxious person as it is, so the fact that I’m even doing this, I’m going to be on the ball. We've bought 200 masks, so I’ll be passing those out at the protest. I don’t want anyone to get sick. One of the most worrying things about all this, is if people blame us for the second wave.
T: We’re putting things into place, especially as there are a lot more people than we thought would come. We’re going to have volunteers to make sure people are being safe. We’re going to release a statement with instructions for the protest too.
What should people expect on the day?
T: We’re reading a speech, and then we’re all kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds [the amount of time police officer Derek Chauvin pinned George Floyd to the ground with his knee] for commemoration and then we’re marching.
It will be the same in all the cities we’re co-hosting [Aima and Tasha are in contact with organisers in Bristol and Norwich]. You know, that’s unity and that’s the reason we’re doing this. The whole reason we’re spreading to other cities is because there is power in numbers! We’re clapping for the NHS and now we’re kneeling for Black Lives Matter.
For a lot of young people, Sunday could be their first protest. What should they know before they come along?
T: Don’t let anybody tell you shit. Don’t let anybody make you feel bad for making a change. You know in your heart you’re doing something right. Even if you can’t physically go but you’re still showing support, it’s good. Remember to ask questions and stay safe.
A: Bring water, bring snacks and bring a backpack. A backpack is an essential, as well as comfortable shoes. As soon as you see the police, just scooch yourself out of their way and then continue. Finally, be vocal and say what you want! If any young person has any fears on Sunday they should speak to me because I’m open. I want people to feel safe.
Thanks Aima, thanks Tasha. And good luck!