This past weekend saw around 200 anti-racism protests in the UK. These were in part a response to the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a police officer during an arrest in Minnesota, USA, and a response to widespread and structural racism in Britain highlighted by the Black Lives Matter campaign.
Home Secretary Priti Patel updated the House with a response to these protests.
Priti Patel: "unlawful and reckless act"
Priti Patel told the House that she was "sickened" by George Floyd's death. She said that she appreciated the "strength of feeling" and "sense of injustice" that led to the protests.
Ms Patel said that "in normal circumstances" the Government would not oppose "peaceful protest", but that due to coronavirus it is illegal to hold large gatherings.
The Home Secretary said 137,000 people attended Black Lives Matter protests across the UK. She said that although the majority were peaceful, "a lawless minority" of protesters had "regrettably turned to violence". Ms Patel said that 27 police officers were injured in London and that 135 people had been arrested.
The Minister listed acts of "hooliganism", such as throwing flares at police officers and vandalising the statue of Winston Churchill. She reiterated that the police had her "full backing" and that those responsible for "thuggery" would "face justice".
Referring to protests in Bristol during which the statue of slaver Edward Colston was removed from its plinth and thrown in the harbour, Ms Patel said "it's not for mobs to tear down statues".
The Secretary of State concluded:
"To the criminal minority who have subverted this cause with their thuggery, I simply say this: your behaviour is shameful and you will face justice."
Nick Thomas-Symonds: "it should go without saying, black lives matter."
Responding on behalf of the Opposition, Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said he was "appalled" by George Floyd's death. He said that black people in the UK were "bravely stepping forward" to talk about their experiences of racism. Mr Thomas-Symonds said that "although it should go without saying, black lives matter".
The Shadow Minister said that "violence and vandalism" was "never the solution". He said that although the "vast majority" of protesters were peaceful, it was "unacceptable" that some were violent. He wanted to "pay tribute" to police officers, and asked for an update on the condition of those injured.
Regarding the statue of Edward Colston, Mr Thomas-Symonds said that he did "not condone an act of criminal damage to remove it" but that he "will not miss the public statue of a slave trader", adding that it should've been removed "a long time ago".
The Member said that he stressed caution and the importance of social distancing when protesting during the pandemic. He raised the fact that black men were four times more likely to die from Covid-19, and said that the recommendations of the report into the impact of the disease on BAME communities "need to be released now".
"Now is not the moment for divisive rhetoric, instead this is a time for the Government to listen, to learn and to act."
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