As black squares appear all over social media to mark #BlackoutTuesday, London is gearing up for a series of peaceful protests for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. But how safe is it to attend a protest during a global pandemic?
Following the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody last week, protests against systematic racism have spread around the world.
On Tuesday 2 June, the music industry united under the banner of #BlackoutTuesday, a day of silence in solidarity with protestors, refraining from any business activity to ‘disconnect from work and reconnect with our community’.
— theshowmustbepaused (@pausetheshow) June 1, 2020
London protests are being scheduled for Wednesday 3 June at 1pm in Hyde Park, Saturday 6 June at 1pm in Parliament Square, Westminster, and Sunday 7 June at the US Embassy site in Nine Elms, Battersea, at 2pm.
The emphasis on these protests is on the word ‘peaceful’, but it’s not just escalating tensions that concern many, it’s also large gatherings during a global pandemic.
While we must all stand together as one to decry racism, is it possible to protest safely when large gatherings are still banned across the UK under lockdown restrictions, and the coronavirus R-rate remains disconcertingly high?
The UK Black Lives Matter Twitter account has disassociated from the #LDNBLM organisation over concerns of ‘calling a mass march in the middle of a pandemic’ that is disproportionately affecting the BAME community.
— #BlackLivesMatterUK (@ukblm) June 2, 2020
Protest organisers have asked participants to observe social distancing, but police have already arrested 23 protesters at previous events, for offences including breaching lockdown.
The central London locations of the protests will inevitably mean crowding on local bus and tube services, which also carries a risk in terms of spreading coronavirus.
There are ways to show support without attending public events, including a number of online petitions to sign and donating to the Official George Floyd Memorial Fund. The blacklivesmatter.com site has further information.
But if you feel compelled to join the protests, organisers are circulating the following advice:
- Remain peaceful
- Take protective masks, gloves, wet-wipes and anti-bacterial gel
- Observe two-metre social distancing guidelines
- Pack food and water
- Take identification and emergency contact information
- In case of arrest, carry essential medicines (e.g. inhalers) on your person
- Follow the #BLMLDN hashtag for further useful information, including your rights in case of arrest and advice on limiting the harmful effects of tear gas (such as not wearing contact lenses)