ANGER: A protester makes her message known along Oxford Street, central London (PA)
ANGER WAS on full display in central London last night (Nov 26) as hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets over a US grand jury’s verdict to not bring a criminal trial against the police officer who shot dead unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
The protest started at 7pm outside the American embassy in Mayfair where people held placards reading “black lives matter”, listened to speeches by families who have lost loved ones in police custody, and lit candles in memory of Michael, who was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, in August this year.
After about two hours outside the embassy, which is protected by high iron gates and armed police inside the perimeter, the protest transformed into an ad-hoc march that brought traffic to a standstill along Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square, before people dispersed in Whitehall.
The raw emotion of the largely young protesters was evident – chants of “hands up, don’t shoot” and “being black is not a crime” drowned out the noise of traffic, while some bus and car drivers beeped their horns in recognition of the message.
The families of Mark Duggan, shot dead while unarmed by police in Tottenham in 2011, and Sean Rigg, who died after being restrained by officers in Brixton in 2008, were present outside the US embassy.
Duggan’s aunt, Carole, gave an impassioned address, as did Rigg’s sister Marcia.
Speaking to The Voice beforehand, Ms Duggan said: “My reason for being here is probably the same as everyone else’s. My nephew Mark Duggan was executed by the Metropolitan Police – he was unarmed and surrendering.
“After they killed him, they set up a smear campaign of character assassination. Mike Brown’s death mirrored Mark’s death.
“In America the police are very, very trigger-happy. When they can go around shooting black people in the back, when they can shoot dead a 12-year-old child [Tamir Rice] who's playing with a toy gun – you tell me, is that sensible or is that murder with impunity?"
She continued: “It seems to be a pattern – not just in America, not just in Britain, but it seems to be all over.
“Black lives don’t matter to the police – they are murdering with impunity, but there are some murdering white, working class people too.
MESSAGE: Young women outside the US embassy (PA)
“We don’t see ourselves as being different from black people – we have the same value.”
Ms Duggan added: “We are living in a police state now. Mark Duggan’s death proved it.
“I have to give my respect to the people of Ferguson because these police here are not armed, but if this was America, the police would be armed up to the teeth.
“We don’t want this police militarisation to happen here.”
Ms Duggan sent her condolences to the family of Brown, and said: “We feel their pain. We know what it is like to have a member of your family with you one minute and dead the next. The pain does not go away.”
Ms Rigg, who has waged a long campaign seeking justice for her brother, was fired up before delivering her speech. She told The Voice: “I’m here in solidarity with Michael Brown’s family and for the community in Ferguson and the USA – to stand in unity against police corruption, brutality and murder of young black men, in particular, on the streets.
“I’m not surprised [about the Ferguson verdict], but it’s completely unfair, unrealistic and ridiculous. It just shows there is no justice in the judicial system in America.
“We have to speak for the voiceless. The community has to unite to speak for the loved and lost ones – we have to try to make effective change.”
MARCH: Protesters take to the streets (PA)
Ms Rigg continued: “The government in America and here can hear what our views are.
“The parallels [between my brother’s killing and Ferguson] are that there is no justice and the officers are corrupt. The only difference is that Sean was restrained and Mike Brown was shot.”
On the subject of how Britain’s police are using lethal force and equipment, she said: “It’s very worrying. Recently [London mayor] Boris Johnson bought a water cannon, and I believe that is for people like us peacefully protesting.
“Are they going to start bringing water cannons here? This is not the Sixties anymore.”
The bereaved sister added: “People just want to be listened to and have effective change. There needs to be a political will to listen to our pain; it’s as simple as that.”
Community activist Zita Holbourne, who helped organise the protest and vigil, told The Voice: “I’m angry about the pain black communities and families are going through, globally, because of the corruption, institutional racism, combination of power, privilege and prejudice that has caused a system to control everything at the expense of black people.
“Black people here and in the US are still treated like third-class citizens.”
Holbourne, the co-chair of group Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, added: “This is not first time we have been here. Whether it is Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice, the system has to stop. How many more years, decades and centuries are black people supposed to fight and campaign for justice and equality when we have suffered for generations.
“Every black family is worried and concerned about what might happen to their youth in the hands of the police.”
SOLIDARITY: Protesters stand together (PA)
Tracey-Ann Munroe, a mother from south London who attended with her 13-year-old son Kian, told The Voice: “I feel angry that these things are happening. I know it’s in the US, but it’s in the world, it’s a part of us and it’s happening in the UK too.
“I’m worried, because the verdict [in Ferguson] can make the situation worse – it’s saying to the police it’s ok to kill.
“I don’t let my son go anywhere on his own, which is sad because he’s at that age where he should, but what’s even more sad is that he doesn’t even ask because he doesn’t feel comfortable.
“It’s obvious that people are upset and more needs to be done.”
Kian, who said he asked his mum before the protest if police would have guns, added: “I don’t think it’s right what has happened and is going on in America. It makes me wary of going to America.
“It’s scary – I stay away from police. The point of the police is to protect, to help and let people know they are safe.”
Student Iolanda Neto, 18, who is planning to study in America, said: “I don’t want an America where people face no repercussions for murdering boys in the street.
“[Wilson] not going to trial is the biggest injustice of all… he hasn’t faced any repercussions and I am baffled how this could happen in a so called modern society.
“When police have to restrain someone, it just cannot be lethal. That’s the main issue.”
She added: “I don’t know how police in Ferguson thought they could get away with it. Protests here, in Ferguson, and so many places in the US and around the world are showing that they cannot get away with this, and I’m proud of humanity.”
Carl Hassan, 19, a student a Kings College London, said: “This shows that racism is alive in America. It’s sad, and it especially shouldn’t happen in the UK.
“It makes me think twice about visiting the US as a tourist. If it’s like that now, then what would it be like for me as a black British man?”
His friend Josh Baah, 18, who also studies at Kings, added: “Cases like this don’t help police win back trust. I don’t just want to hate police – they can build trust again by not openly lying. There needs to be more honesty and truth.”
“We’re really not against the police at all, we don’t agree with people shouting ‘fu*k the police.’”
Speaking for the first time to the media about how he shot Michael dead, Wilson this week told ABC News that he was “doing his job” and that race was not a factor.
The officer also said he was afraid Michael would kill him, despite being unarmed, and that there was were no other actions available to avoid deadly force.
The Met said they made no arrests last night following the "impromptu march" and their "appropriate policing operation" outside the US embassy.