From Trafalgar Square to Grenfell Tower
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.