London, Jun 8 (PTI) The anti-racism demonstrations in the UK are 'subverted by thuggery', Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said, condemning the attacks on police officers after the 'Black Lives Matter' protests held over the custodial killing of George Floyd turned violent, with the statues of Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill here targeted with graffiti.
Thousands of demonstrators breached the COVID-19 lockdown for a second consecutive day on Sunday to protest against the custodial killing of African-American Floyd, leaving the word 'racist' imprinted on the steps below the plinth of the Gandhi statue at Parliament Square in London.
The words 'was a racist' were emblazoned on Churchill's plinth nearby as statues became the focal point, with the city of Bristol witnessing the dramatic pulling down of a bronze sculpture of a former slave trader by groups of angry protesters.
Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25 after white police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground and knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes while the 46-year-old handcuffed man gasped for breath.
The footage, which went viral, showed Floyd pleading with the officer, saying he can't breathe. The four police officers seen in the footage have since been charged. Floyd's death has triggered widespread protests across the US and in many other countries.
Prime Minister Johnson took to social media on Sunday to say that the anti-racism cause of the demonstrations had been betrayed by the 'thuggery' of some protestors as the Metropolitan Police made 12 arrests for public order offences as well as criminal damage to monuments in central London.
'People have a right to protest peacefully and while observing social distancing but they have no right to attack the police,' said Johnson.
'These demonstrations have been subverted by thuggery – and they are a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve. Those responsible will be held to account,' he said.
The Met Police said a 'small minority' of protestors had provoked scenes of violence and launched attacks at officers and threw objects, including glass bottles and fireworks at them.
It said as many as 35 of its officers had reported suffering injuries, two of them requiring hospital treatment for a head wound and a shoulder injury.
'In recent days a minority of protesters sought confrontation with police leading to many officers being injured, including several seriously. When officers sought to protect colleagues and iconic landmarks they faced further obstruction and sustained assault,' said Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick.
'The violent criminality we saw is disgraceful and will have been very frightening for others. It will never be acceptable to attack police officers, damage property and leave others in fear of their safety. We will be carrying out a thorough investigation so that those responsible for criminal acts are brought speedily to justice,' she said.
In a renewed plea regarding social distancing, the police chief said those attending mass gatherings risk exposing themselves and others to this deadly virus. 'I would ask them to find other ways to express their anger and frustration,' she said.
'This is a hugely impassioned movement and we understand the public's desire to have their voices heard – however it is not right that this passion has turned into violent attacks on officers,' said Superintendent Jo Edwards, the Met Police's spokesperson for the protests.
'The threat of coronavirus remains very real, and we need you to protect yourselves, your friends and your family,' Edwards said.
Demonstrators turned out in huge crowds over the weekend across London, Bristol, Leicester, Manchester, Wolverhampton, Nottingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh for a secong consecutive day.
In the city of Bristol, protesters used ropes to pull down the bronze statue of Edward Colston, a prominent 17th century slave trader and controversial figure. After the statue was toppled, a protester was pictured with his knee on the figure's neck, in reference to the video showing George Floyd, the black man who died while being restrained by a Minnesota police officer in a similar way.
The statue was later dragged through the streets of Bristol, south-west England, and thrown into the harbour.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel described the act as 'utterly disgraceful', which undermines anti-racism protests. The Indian-origin Cabinet minister had earlier urged demonstrators to not break social distancing rules in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.
'There was a small group of people who clearly committed an act of criminal damage in pulling down a statue near Bristol Harbourside. An investigation will be carried out to identify those involved and we're collating footage of the incident,' said Superintendent Andy Bennett of the local Avon and Somerset Police. PTI AK MRJ MRJ