A police officer has fallen from her horse after appearing to collide with a set of traffic lights as mounted police charged at anti-racism protesters near Downing Street.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in cities across the UK on Saturday to protest against systemic racism and show solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters in the US following George Floyd’s death in police custody.
While the demonstrations were overwhelmingly peaceful, tensions broke out in Whitehall in the early evening, with some protesters reportedly throwing bottles, flares and other projectiles at police officers near Downing Street.
Footage showed a line of mounted police attempting to drive demonstrators away from the prime minister’s official residence, with one officer clattering from her horse as she collided with a set of traffic lights at high speed.
The crowd scattered as the animal bolted down the busy street, knocking a protester to the ground as it ran. Their condition is currently unknown.
The officer is currently in hospital, receiving treatment for her injuries which are not life threatening, the force said, adding that it is examining “the full circumstance of what took place” and that “the horse, uninjured, made its own way back to the stables, nearby”.
The officers remaining on horseback were met with some resistance, with protesters in the front line putting both hands up as Bob Marley’s “One Love” blared from a speaker amid cries of “stand your ground”.
A heavy line of police officers emerged in riot gear and attempted to disperse the remaining protesters, many of whom took one knee chanting “don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe” – a phrase repeated by George Floyd until he lost consciousness while Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Meanwhile, small groups of so-called ”patriots” and “football lads” were filmed patrolling war memorials and statues in central London.
However, the small initials “BLM” were daubed in black paint on the Cenotaph war memorial, and graffiti was sprayed on a number of Whitehall buildings, including the Cabinet Office.
Just before 8pm, Scotland Yard tweeted that the majority of protesters had left central London, adding that officers were asking the remaining crowds to return home.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed that by 5pm, four arrests had been made, however officers were largely keeping their distance from demonstrators earlier in the day, with the unrest starting to flare shortly after 5pm.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor had warned that such protests should not take place under current coronavirus restrictions, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The health protection regulations are really clear that it is unlawful.”
Ministers had paid lip service to the anger felt over George Floyd’s death, but implored people not to attend large gatherings, with Boris Johnson saying: “Everybody’s lives matter. Black lives matter but we must fight this virus as well.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock and home secretary Priti Patel also urged people not to attend the protests, with the latter tweeting: “Please for the safety of all of us, do not attend large gatherings – including protests – of more than six people this weekend.”
Tens of thousands turned out to demonstrate in cities across the country, including Cardiff, Bristol, Manchester, Sheffield, Leicester, Bath and Birmingham, with the vast majority wearing face coverings.
In Watford, boxing heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua addressed the crowds, urging people to protest peacefully and to “hit them where it hurts” by using boycotts and investing in black-owned businesses.
In Bristol, ahead of a large-scale event planned for tomorrow, protesters were photographed lying face down on the ground for eight minutes and 46 seconds – the length of time Mr Chauvin had his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck until paramedics told him to take it off.
In Manchester, demonstrators filled Piccadilly Square, with hundreds pictured “taking the knee” – the protest stance synonymous with Black Lives Matter and coined by American football star, Colin Kaepernick to oppose police brutality.
Hours earlier, Donald Trump had raged against the concept on Twitter, writing: “We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag – NO KNEELING!”
The president has been accused of pouring oil on the tensions in the US, threatening protesters with “the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons I have ever seen”.
He was widely criticised for stepping out from a White House hemmed in by a makeshift wall for a photo opportunity outside the vandalised presidential church clutching a bible, moments after riot police forcefully cleared protesters from the area, using tear gas and rubber bullets.
While the UK protests have been sparked by events across the Atlantic, our correspondent at Parliament Square reported that the anger against police and government in both countries was clear.
“No justice, no peace, no racist police,” the crowd chanted. “Boris Johnson is a racist, Donald Trump is a racist.”
The prime minister has previously used various racist slurs, also writing that seeing a “bunch of black kids” makes alarm bells go off in his head.
UK police forces have previously faced accusations of racism, with the 1999 MacPherson report published after the murder of Stephen Lawrence concluding the police response was “institutionally racist”.
Former Equality and Human Rights Commission chair Trevor Philips said a decade later that this was no longer true, however black people in the UK continue to face disproportionately high rates of stop and search, arrests and use of force.
Speaking to The Independent at the London protests, Jennifer, a 26-year-old from south east London of Nigerian heritage, said: Nobody here who is protesting believes that only black lives matter, but at this moment in our time, in our history, black people’s lives are the only ones at risk.
“We cannot walk down the street without feeling unsafe, we cannot go to a supermarket without being followed, we cannot anywhere without bringing up suspicion, we have young men who are pulled to the side and stopped and searched for absolutely nothing.
She added: “We need to dismantle every police unit and start again, find the people that really want to protect our community. But I have absolutely no hope when we have people like Boris and Trump in office.”
Additional reporting by PA