British Embassy voices concern over US police handling of George Floyd protests

Patrick Sawer
An elderly man bleeds from his ears after falling, after appearing to be shoved by riot police during a protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Buffalo, New York, U.S. June 4, 2020  - WBFO/Reuters TV

Britain has raised its concern with the US government about police treatment of people protesting over the death of George Floyd and in particular UK journalists covering recent events.

It comes as hundreds of people around the UK prepare to voice their anger this weekend over the death of the African-American father of two and other victims of racist violence.

TV and smart phone footage has repeatedly shown US police officers pushing, punching and blocking cameramen and photographers covering the protests in American cities - with several bundled to the ground by baton-wielding police.

In one case a British photographer was thrown to the ground by police while taking pictures of demonstrators near Union Square in New York City on Saturday evening. 

Andy Gray, 33, was arrested and put into a police van, despite telling officers he had a foreign press card issued by the US State Department. Mr Gray has been summoned to court in September for "unlawful assembly".

There have also been numerous allegations of police assaulting apparently peaceful protestors, including an elderly man admitted to hospital after being thrown to the ground in Buffalo, NY (see main picture).

Prime minister Boris Johnson's official spokesman said on Friday: "Our embassy in the US has raised the issue of the protests with the US administration, including on behalf of British journalists who were subject to police action.

"The prime minister and foreign secretary have both spoken publicly to condemn the death of George Floyd, to express concern at the violence we’ve seen, and to underline people’s right to protest peacefully.

“As we have always said, journalists must be free to do their job and to hold authorities to account without fear of arrest or violence."

It follows Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer writing to the Prime Minister urging him to contact US President Donald Trump over the situation, though No 10 said the embassy had already raised the issue with the administration.

Australian officials have also expressed concern after a US law enforcement officer was filmed slamming a shield into a cameraman and then punching the journalist with his fist as they covered protests outside the White House on Monday.

A BBC cameraman was also charged by a shield-carrying police officer near the White House on Sunday night.

The British embassy’s warning comes as people in cities across the UK prepare to stage protests, with action planned in London, Manchester, Sheffield, Leicester and Ipswich on Saturday and in Nottingham, Glasgow, Colchester, Derby and elsewhere on Sunday.

Police have urged those attending protests to follow social distancing rules, warning that mass gatherings are still forbidden because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

A senior Metropolitan Police officer has warned future mass protests over the death of Mr Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis would be "unlawful" due to the current coronavirus restrictions, 

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The health protection regulations are really clear that it is unlawful.

"The Government said that for health reasons people should not be meeting in groups of six, so we would strongly encourage people not to come out and gather in these large numbers because they are putting themselves and others at risk.

"And if they do come out, then we would ask them to observe that social distancing, think about those around them."

Crowds have gathered in London and Birmingham this week to protest over the death of Mr Floyd, 46, after a white officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck for almost nine minutes on May 25.

The shocking images of his death have sparked days of protest in the US, with Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations taking place in solidarity across the world.

Following a largely peaceful demonstration by thousands in Hyde Park and Parliament Square on Wednesday 13 people were arrested after some activists attacked police outside Downing Street.

In Trafalgar Square on Friday small group ‘took the knee’ - a gesture of protest adopted by black lives matter demonstrators across the US - in protest at continued discrimination and violecne against black and ethnic minority people (see picture below).

Protesters employing social distancing "take a knee" as they attend a demonstration in Trafalgar Square in central London on June 5, 2020, to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd  - Dominic Lipinski/PA

They held placards reading: "White People Must Do More", "Colour Is Not A Crime" and "Justice for Belly Mujinga" in reference to a rail worker who died of COVID-19 after being spat at by a man who said he was infected.

At a memorial to Mr Floyd in Minneapolis on Thursday night, the veteran US civil rights leader the Rev Al Sharpton said he had been inspired to see protests taking place in London and other European cities.

He told mourners: "When I looked and saw people in Germany marching for George Floyd, it's a different time and a different season. When they went in front of the Parliament in London, England, and said it's a different time and a different season, I've come to tell you America, this is the time of building with accountability in the criminal justice system."