From Trafalgar Square to Grenfell Tower


Protesters take a knee outside the US Embassy in London on 31 May

The first London protest for George Floyd was much bigger than I could have imagined for a demo organised at the last minute. Maybe three to five thousand at its height? We started at one o’clock on Sunday afternoon in Trafalgar Square and walked to Grenfell Tower, arriving there at half past five. We went through Vauxhall, where we stopped for a while outside the US Embassy to take a knee (and several protesters were arrested), Battersea, Chelsea, Marble Arch and South Kensington. There were maybe 250 of us left by the time we reached North Kensington. It was a scorching day and people were underprepared: not enough water, wearing flip-flops, basic errors to be corrected next time.

In eight years of going on protests in London, I’ve never seen the Met Police caught so off-guard by a march of predominantly black and brown youth. Clearly they misjudged how much we care. We always outnumbered them and they didn’t have any riot gear or dispersal weaponry. At Sloane Square they antagonised a small group of protesters and the whole mass of us quickly descended on them. Using their own tactics against them we kettled about twenty officers against a shopfront. The police were forced to retreat in single file, their backs against the glass of the shop windows, as protesters threw debris and the occasional kick.

There was a moment when it looked as if the stand-off in Sloane Square might turn into a more violent confrontation with the police, but we stuck with the makeshift tactic that had developed since the start: keep moving. I’m not sure if there were clandestine elements pushing us in a single direction, but it really felt as if all we were doing was moving forwards at any cost and causing maximum disruption to traffic.

A small group wanted to turn back to the Royal Albert Hall, but as we got closer to Grenfell it became the obvious destination, an index of the UK’s own racist history. There were many references to Mark Duggan and Belly Mujinga throughout the day.

We faced two more confrontations with the police as we approached Latimer Road. Two police lines formed, two hundred metres apart, blocking our route, but the protesters broke through both and remarkably no one was arrested here (as far I know). This is rare at a London demonstration and it certainly left us feeling emboldened.

One of the things that surprised me most about the protest was the lack of obvious leadership. There were no dreaded SWP signs and no other political parties trying to hijack the day.

Two other moments from the afternoon:

Near Hyde Park, a car tried to get through the middle of us. Uncharacteristically, the crowd parted and as the car got closer I saw the driver was holding her NHS badge out the window as people around me yelled: ‘Make way! NHS worker!’

Two black women were sitting on the steps of the Albert Memorial, enjoying the balmy May sunshine. As we marched past, the mantra ‘Black Lives Matter’ rang out. The women lifted their heads and rushed towards the crowd. As they got closer, phones in hand, smiles on their faces, they began to weep. And all around, the cry of ‘Black Lives Matter’ grew louder and louder.


  • 2 June 2020 at 4:51pm
    Graucho says:
    My heart may be with this demonstration, but my head isn't. That damned virus is still around. No distancing, no face masks and shouting generating aerosols. If idiot Johnson had done his job and sacked that mendacious little man the country would have been in no doubt that this is an on going emergency. Now many people aren't listening and if we have a second wave events like this will have generated it. I hear that the Minister of health is being sued over his poor initial advice. Good. Throw in the PM and Cummings for good measure.

    • 2 June 2020 at 5:31pm
      ht says: @ Graucho
      Perhaps, if over long years, you'd been made to feel that your life didn't matter very much to your own society, you'd protest during a lockdown, too.

    • 2 June 2020 at 6:03pm
      Graucho says: @ ht
      I do understand, but this virus isn't just about you getting it, it's about all the other people you are going to infect and then they are going to infect and so on until some of them die or end up a shadow of their former selves. As though it couldn't be any worse, if there is a second wave black people will be disproportionately affected.

    • 4 June 2020 at 11:43am
      JamesBaldwin says: @ Graucho
      It's not true that there was "no distancing" or "no face masks" at these protests.

    • 5 June 2020 at 12:08am
      Graucho says: @ JamesBaldwin
      Fair enough, there was some mask wearing and some social distancing, but this virus doesn't need much of a chink to get a foothold as the we have learned to our cost.

  • 2 June 2020 at 6:36pm
    William Bloom says:
    Touches my heart. Thank you.

    • 3 June 2020 at 5:58am
      Podge says: @ William Bloom
      Thank you

  • 3 June 2020 at 8:04am
    Joe Coghlan says:
    Thank you. A refreshing account of what is actually happening from those who are there. Stands in stark contrast to commentators appropriating events to support their existing world view.

  • 4 June 2020 at 12:30pm
    Jenny Turner says:
    Hi -- I don't think this was the first London protest exactly. People gathered in front of Peckham Library on the Saturday, the day before, and I'd imagine there were local demonstrations in other parts of London too.

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