Far-right activists scuffled with police and other protesters Saturday in London and Paris as more demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter unfolded across Europe. In the U.S., a police shooting drew people to the scene where a man was killed outside an Atlanta fast-food restaurant.
Tensions were high in cities around the globe, nearly three weeks after George Floyd, a black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck. European protesters sought to express solidarity with their American counterparts against police brutality and racism and to confront bias in their own countries. The demonstrations also posed a challenge to policies intended to limit crowds to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In Paris, police stopped protesters from confronting far-right activists who unfurled a huge banner from a building denouncing “anti-white racism.” The banner was partly torn down by residents in the building, with one raising a fist in victory.
A Black Lives Matter group in London called off a demonstration, saying the presence of counter-protesters would make it unsafe. Right-wing activists and soccer fans descended on the U.K. capital, saying they wanted to guard historical monuments that have been targeted by anti-racism protesters.
Many gathered around the statue of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Cenotaph war memorial, which were boarded up Friday to protect them from vandalism. Officials feared far-right activists would seek confrontations with anti-racism protesters under the guise of protecting statues.
The statue of Churchill, who has long been revered for his World War II leadership, had been daubed with the words “was a racist.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Churchill a hero but acknowledged that he “sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today.”
Some activists threw bottles and cans at officers, while others tried to push through police barriers. The mostly white crowd chanted “England” and sang the national anthem while riot police on horses pushed them back.
Police fired tear gas and blocked people from marching through Paris to protest racial injustice. The rally, which drew 15,000, was led by supporters of Adama Traore, a French black man who died in police custody in 2016. No one has been charged in his death.
An enormous portrait showed one face with images of Floyd and Traore. Banners strung between trees around Republique plaza bore the names of dozens of others who have died or suffered violence at the hands of French police.
Myriam Boicoulin, 31, who was born on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, said she marched because she wanted to be heard.
As a black woman living in mainland France, she said, “I’m constantly obliged to adapt, to make compromises, not make waves — to be almost white, in fact.”
“It’s the first time people see us,” Boicoulin said. “Let us breathe.”