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George Floyd death: Thousands 'take knee' as chants of 'I can't breathe' echo globally

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Solidarity: Cuthbert Tura Arutura shouts his message as a protest over the death of George Floyd is held at City Hall in Belfast yesterday. Photo: Kevin Scott /Belfast Telegraph

Solidarity: Cuthbert Tura Arutura shouts his message as a protest over the death of George Floyd is held at City Hall in Belfast yesterday. Photo: Kevin Scott /Belfast Telegraph

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Solidarity: Cuthbert Tura Arutura shouts his message as a protest over the death of George Floyd is held at City Hall in Belfast yesterday. Photo: Kevin Scott /Belfast Telegraph

At protests around the world yesterday, thousands "took a knee" in memory of George Floyd and the unarmed black people killed every year by police.

Copying the gesture adopted by the American football star Colin Kaepernick in 2016, protesters in London's Hyde Park dropped to one knee and bowed their heads to demonstrate against anti-black violence.

Addressing the Black Lives Matter protest before it marched to Westminster, the Star Wars actor John Boyega said: "I need you to understand how painful this s**t is. I need you to understand how painful it is to be reminded every day that your race means nothing and that isn't the case any more, that was never the case any more.

"We are a physical representation of our support for George Floyd. We are a physical representation of our support for Sandra Bland. We are a physical representation of our support for Trayvon Martin. We are a physical representation of our support for Stephen Lawrence."

He added: "I'm speaking to you from my heart. It is very, very important that we keep control of this moment. That we make this as peaceful and as organised as possible."

More than 1,000 people had gathered in the park from midday, trying in vain to maintain social distancing and wearing masks and gloves, to express their anger at the death of Mr Floyd at the hands of a white policeman who had knelt on his neck.

It came as Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, told parliament the death of Mr Floyd was "appalling" and "inexcusable" and that he understood why people were demonstrating.

The chant of "I can't breathe" rang out around Hyde Park and in cities as far afield as Paris, Sydney, The Hague and Tel Aviv, echoing the father-of-two's last words as he died on a Minneapolis footpath nine days ago.

Pointing to his black T-shirt emblazoned with those chilling words Kaled Smith, a 17-year-old student from Essex, sitting next to his parents in Hyde Park, said: "I came here today because it is important to be part of my community and fight for what is right.

"Black lives matter everywhere. While we are protesting about the death of George Floyd in America, we are still trying to get a message across to everyone - black lives matter."

Kaled says he had been stopped and searched by police while his white friends look on. "It's embarrassing," he said. "It's only me and my black friends who are stopped. We are all equal and want to be treated equally."

Dr Gail Lewis, a psychotherapist and academic, admitted a sense of sadness that she has been protesting "for decades" about the rights of black people in the UK. "I have been going on anti-racist demos since I was knee high. I am here because the fact black lives matter isn't recognised in this country and America," the 69-year-old said.

"That black and other racial minorities are over-represented among deaths from Covid-19 shows why we need to be here. These deaths from coronavirus are because of racial segregation in this country. We are being pushed into those jobs, which are low paid and wrongly described as unskilled."

The mood outside No 10 later turned ugly, with some of the demonstrators throwing placards and bottles, apparently angry at police attempts to arrest a man in the crowd. Two men were arrested and taken into custody during the protests.

Protesters in Paris also took the knee in front of the city's main courthouse and riot police fired tear gas at the protesters.

Firefighters struggled to extinguish multiple blazes as a largely peaceful, multiracial demonstration degenerated into scattered tensions. Police said at least 20,000 people joined the demonstration, defying a virus-related ban on protests to pay homage to Floyd and Adama Traore, a French black man who died in police custody.

As demonstrations escalated worldwide, solidarity with US protesters increasingly mixed with local worries.

"This happened in the United States, but it happens in France, it happens everywhere," Paris protester Xavier Dintimille said. While he said police violence seems worse in the US, he added, "all blacks live this to a degree".

Around 3,000 marched in Sydney to remember Mr Floyd and call for a radical change in Australia's treatment of its indigenous population. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent