Prime Minister Boris Johnson castigated the “extremists” who “took hostage” anti-racism protests on Friday, speaking out against the will to “censor the past” by attacking statues of colonial figures.
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Slave traders, imperialist businessmen or personalities known for remarks deemed racist: several monuments have been targeted in recent days during protests following the death of George Floyd in the United States.
With actions planned this weekend, the statue of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill in London has been protected by a box, disappearing from public view. It didn’t take much to get Boris Johnson, the author of a biography of the hero of the Second World War and who often cites him as a model, out of his hinges.
“The protests have unfortunately been taken hostage by extremists with the goal of violence,” Johnson wrote on Twitter, denouncing “intolerable and abominable attacks on the police.”
“It is absurd and shameful that this national monument is today exposed to the risk of attack by violent demonstrators,” said Boris Johnson. “Certainly he sometimes expressed opinions that were and remain unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero and he deserves his memorial. “
Winston Churchill is accused of having made racist remarks, in particular against the Indians. His statue, located near the Parliament, had been degraded last weekend and the inscription “was a racist” added under his name.
In Liverpool, the street signs for the famous Penny Lane, made famous by the Beatles, have been vandalized, while the question of whether or not it was named after a slave trader agitates the northern city from England.
The move has led some streaming platforms to remove or suspend content that may be perceived as offensive, including one from the cult series “Fawlty Towers”.
Several symbols of the UK’s colonial past have been the target of protesters recently since the death of the African American George Floyd, who was asphyxiated by a white police officer.
In Bristol, the statue of a slave trader was knocked down and thrown into the water, in London, the statue of another was hastily removed.
Thousands of people demonstrated at Oxford on Tuesday against the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the architect of the British Empire’s expansion into southern Africa.
In the port of Poole (south), demonstrators came to prevent the removal of a statue of the founder of scouting Robert Baden-Powell, accused by his detractors of racism, homophobia and links with the Nazi regime.
“Lying about our history”
Calling not to “rewrite or censor the past”, Boris Johnson defended the presence of this type of monument: “These statues teach us things about our past, with all its faults. To withdraw them would be to lie about our history, and to impoverish the education of generations to come. “
While recognizing a “legitimate desire to demonstrate against discrimination” at the start of new planned rallies, he said “the only responsible attitude is to stay away”.
Labor Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also urged people to stay home, saying “extremely concerned that further protests in central London would not only spread COVID-19, but lead to harm.” disorder, vandalism and violence ”. The UK has the second heaviest death toll, over 41,000, from the pandemic.
Hundreds of people nevertheless marched on the streets of London on Friday.
The London Black Lives Matter (BLM LDN) movement has canceled a scheduled demonstration in Hyde Park for Saturday after calls to protest from far-right groups.
Another organization, Black Lives Matter UK, suggested that activists instead demonstrate in their neighborhoods on Saturday. On Friday, the movement deployed in the center of the British capital a list of “more than 3000 names of people who have died as a result of racist and state violence”.