A Black Lives Matter march in central London drew thousands of peaceful protesters today, bringing traffic to a standstill in the city.
The march comes after the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis PD police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes. Floyd's death has reignited the conversation around the disproportionate number of black people who have died in police custody, sparking protests across America and Europe.
After a long spell of hot weather, London's first rain in weeks didn't dampen enthusiasm for today's mass action. Nor did the looming threat of the coronavirus pandemic, which has left London on lockdown since the 23rd of March.
On a slightly grey day, thousands of people – many under the age of 25 – turned up to Hyde Park’s Speaker's Corner to protest the violence and discrimination faced by black people.
When I arrived, young volunteers in high vis jackets were directing protesters to social distance. They handed out masks and held signs reading "Supplies here" and "WHITE SILENCE EQUALS VIOLENCE".
"I found out about [the protest] because one of my friends posted about it on Instagram," said Zen, a 19-year-old volunteer. "The lead organiser posted a link and I DM'd her."
Zen and many other young people were there today to speak up against racism: "We're here today because black people around the world face racial injustices on a daily basis," said Zen. "We really hope it brings racial injustices to the attention of the masses, the UK government and the international community. They can't just stand by and watch what is going on in the USA and in their own countries. It's not fair that racial minorities are dying disproportionately of coronavirus."
It didn't take long for the crowds to swell in size. Actor John Boyega, who has been outspoken online since the death of George Floyd, led the chants. "Say my name, George Floyd!" he shouted. "Stop killing the mandem!" and "Boris is a racist!" also rose from the crowd.
Alongside George Floyd, the march today was also held to remember Belly Mujinga, the black rail worker who died of coronavirus after being spat at while on duty. Many want more transparency over her death and are calling for CCTV footage of the incident to be released.
Mujinga's family were present at the protest, and hugged and cried as the crowd chanted, "Remember her name, Belly Mujinga." Mujinga's widower wore bearing the message, "I want justice for my wife."
Although the protest was only meant to take place in Hyde Park, the crowds – led by Mujinga's family and Boyega – marched down Park Lane and towards Parliament Square. Traffic came to a standstill as thousands made their way through central London. Many who had been stopped beeped their horns in solidarity with the protest, holding their fists up as the crowds passed.
I spoke to Mace, a 17-year old volunteer who confidently led chants. He told me it was his first ever protest.
"I'm here because I face injustices myself," he said. "Every single one of us has faced injustice by our system that has failed us, that was never for us. I'm here today to speak up. It's not fair on us. It's happened to our parents, to our grandparents, and I'm tired."
Was he happy with the turnout? "Everyone is peaceful," he said. "No one is coming to riot. We're here for each other and we're taking care of each other, and that's a beautiful thing."
The protest remained peaceful, bar a couple of scuffles and two arrests outside Downing Street later in the day. For the vast majority of the march, however, people tried to keep to social distancing measures, while peacefully holding up signs and chanting.
More protests are set to take place this weekend across the UK.