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I support the right to protest - but scenes in London are worrying, says Ipswich MP

PUBLISHED: 09:47 05 June 2020 | UPDATED: 09:47 05 June 2020

Protesters throw barricades at the gates of Downing Street during a Black Lives Matter protest rally in memory of George Floyd, who was killed on May 25 while in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Protesters throw barricades at the gates of Downing Street during a Black Lives Matter protest rally in memory of George Floyd, who was killed on May 25 while in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

I think we will have all been horrified by the killing of George Floyd on May 25 by a US police officer. I’m glad the officer in question has been charged with second-degree murder and I find it hard to believe that he won’t be found guilty.

Police officers line the street on Whitehall, London, during a Black Lives Matter protest rally in memory of George Floyd, who was killed on May 25 while in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis. Picture: Yui Mok/PA WirePolice officers line the street on Whitehall, London, during a Black Lives Matter protest rally in memory of George Floyd, who was killed on May 25 while in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

I’ve seen footage and the photos and it’s honestly difficult for me to think of a time where I’ve been left so disturbed by something; the way he called out for his mother, the devastation this has caused his family, and how he will never get the opportunity to see his six-year old daughter grow up.

It’s not good enough to say that this is in another country and has nothing to do with us. America is one of our greatest allies and our shared humanity means that understandably many within our country feel the need to do something in response, to show solidarity with George Floyd and his family, friends and everyone else who has and continues to experience racism.

As someone who has a deep interest in American political history, I find it utterly depressing that the country is again mired in race riots. Around half a century since the late 1960s and early 1970s when Martin Luther King was at his zenith, America still hasn’t decisively moved on from divides based on race.

Despite his complex character and his darker side, one of my favourite US presidents is Lyndon Baines Johnson. The key reason for this is the legislative genius he showed in delivering civil rights legislation. Despite the rose-tinted way in which many view JFK following his tragic assassination, I do not believe he would have decisively moved forward the civil rights agenda in the US as LBJ did.

Fortunately, in our own country we do not have the same level of tensions and the divides based on race are not as significant as in America. In many ways, over the past few decades, we have come on leaps and bounds when it comes to tackling racism but it would be wrong to be complacent and think there we are completely where we need to be. It pains me that many of my constituents, including some I have worked with closely over the past year or so, continue to feel that they suffer discrimination as a result of the colour of their skin.

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Some will say there is no need to respond to or engage in peaceful protest in response to the tragic incident in Minneapolis. I do not agree with this view. We share a common humanity and the urge and desire simply to do something in response to such a repulsive act is natural, even though the incident happened in a different country. Showing solidarity means something, and it means something significant.

However, what I would say in addition to this, is that I have found the disturbances over the past week in London deeply troubling. The sad reality is that there are a minority of people who have used this issue to hurl abuse at our police officers and cause significant disorder in our nation’s capital. On Wednesday we saw scenes of what looked like thousands of people congregated on Hyde Park with no regard whatsoever for the social distancing rules. The sad fact is that it’s highly likely that lives will be lost as a direct result of the protests that have taken place this week in London.

It could well be the case that there are significant issues within the US police force when it comes to racism. However my experience living in this country, and particularly in Suffolk, is that every police officer I’ve come across has been incredibly decent, public spirited and opposed to any kind of racism.

The scenes in London on Wednesday of members of our police force, who have really come to the fore during Covid-19 to keep us safe, being attacked both verbally and physically was deeply distressing to see and I do believe that when such behaviour takes hold we should come down on it very robustly and those responsible need to be adequately punished.

What is so sad is that it detracted so significantly from what should be a moment of unity in response to the horrific act that took place last month.

Whatever the actions of a minority, I completely support the right of people in Ipswich to be part of a moment of unity tomorrow with a protest against this tragic crime.

The organiser has stressed the importance of it remaining peaceful and that social distancing rules must be followed. This is absolutely right so that the important message this protest will send is heard loud and clear.


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