Anti-racism demonstrators are planning to gather in London as George Floyd is laid to rest in the US, after a killing Boris Johnson said had awakened an “incontrovertible, undeniable feeling of injustice” worldwide.
Mr Floyd, who died after a police officer in Minneapolis restrained him by holding a knee on his neck, will be buried in his home town of Houston in Texas on Tuesday.
A symbolic and socially distanced commemoration is planned at the Nelson Mandela statue in Parliament Square in London at 5pm, organised by Stand Up To Racism.
Following protests across the UK on the weekend, the Prime Minister – who had previously condemned the “thuggery” by a minority that marred some demonstrations – acknowledged many of the activists’ concerns were “founded on a cold reality”.
He said leaders “simply can’t ignore” concerns that black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) groups face discrimination in education, employment and in law.
In the video statement released by Downing Street on Monday evening he said: “In this country and around the world his (Mr Floyd’s) dying words – I can’t breathe – have awakened an anger and a widespread and incontrovertible, undeniable feeling of injustice, a feeling that people from black and minority ethnic groups do face discrimination: in education, in employment, in the application of the criminal law.
“And we who lead and who govern simply can’t ignore those feelings because in too many cases, I am afraid, they will be founded on a cold reality.”
Still, the PM said those who harmed police or property would face “the full force of the law”.
After campaigners pulled down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, graffiti was scrawled on the Sir Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square and nearly 50 London police officers were injured, Mr Johnson warned legal repercussions must follow, and called for people to “work peacefully, lawfully, to defeat racism”.
He added he could not condone people breaking social distancing rules aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, which he acknowledged was disproportionately harming Bame communities.
“So no, I will not support those who flout the rules on social distancing, for the obvious reason that we risk a new infection at a critical time and just as we have made huge progress,” he said.
The Mayor of London flagged further progress on Tuesday morning when he announced the city’s landmarks would be reviewed to ensure they reflect the capital’s diversity.
Sadiq Khan said the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm will review the city’s landmarks – including murals, street art, street names, statues and other memorials – and consider which legacies should be celebrated before making recommendations.
Meanwhile, Stand Up To Racism co-convenor Sabby Dhalu said of Tuesday evening’s planned commemoration in London: “The uprising of black communities and others against racism since (George) Floyd was killed must lead to transformation against racial discrimination. We demand justice.”
Bristol’s police chief defended his officers for not stopping protesters pulling down the Colston statue, saying had they attempted to make arrests there would have been a “very violent confrontation”.
It comes as The Times newspaper reported Home Secretary Priti Patel – who condemned the actions of a minority of protesters as “shameful” – had a “firm” conversation with the force’s chief constable Andy Marsh, in which she demanded an explanation for what had happened.
In his video speech Mr Johnson praised his own record in politics, citing work “to recruit and promote more young black people”, and noted his Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Ms Patel were of Indian heritage.
Mr Sunak had earlier said that as a British Asian “of course” he knows racism still exists in the UK, but he promised peaceful protesters that although their progress felt slow, they were helping to make a permanent change.
Meanwhile, a council has committed to removing part of a “racist” pub sign which has been likened to a gollywog “with immediate effect” after mounting pressure from campaigners.
Thousands of people signed a petition demanding the removal of a caricature of a black man above the 18th century Greenman pub sign in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.