Star Wars actor John Boyega gave an impassioned speech to a socially-distanced Black Lives Matter protest in Hyde Park on Wednesday, namechecking Black people who have died at the hands of police in the UK and US.
Thousands of people gathered in the capital in a demonstration sparked by the brutal police killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd in the US last week. Since then, anti-racism rallies have been held in cities around the world, from Paris to Nairobi.
Boyega said: “Every Black person in here remembered when another person reminded you that you were Black.”
He added: “All those protesters on the other side, protesting against what we want to do, protesting against what we want to try and achieve – [...] I need you to understand how painful this shit is.
“I need you to understand how painful it is to be reminded every day that your race means nothing, and that isn’t the case.”
In his speech, Boyega referenced the deaths of Sandra Bland, a Black woman who died in police custody in the US in 2015, and Trayvon Martin, the Black teenager shot dead by George Zimmerman in Florida eight years ago.
He also referenced the racist UK murder of Stephen Lawrence, as he told demonstrators: “We are a physical representation of our support for George Floyd. We are a physical representation of our support for Sandra Bland.
“We are a physical representation of our support for Trayvon Martin. We are a physical representation of our support for Stephen Lawrence.”
He added: “I’m speaking to you from my heart. Look, I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this, but fuck that.
“Today is about innocent people who were halfway through their process, we don’t know what George Floyd could have achieved, we don’t know what Sandra Bland could have achieved, but today we’re going to make sure that won’t be an alien thought to our young ones.”
Protesters were initially asked to sit two metres apart unless they were in the same household and were told to keep their arms stretched out to ensure social distancing when moving around the park, PA Media reports.
One steward also held a sign asking participants to “isolate for two weeks after protest”.
Boyega, who was moved to tears during his speech to the protesters, continued: “It is very, very important that we keep control of this moment. That we make this as peaceful and as organised as possible.
“Because they want us to mess up, they want us to be disorganised but not today.
He added: “This message is specifically for Black men. Black men – we need to take care of our Black women. They are our hearts. They are our future. We cannot demonise our own. We are the pillars of the family.”
As numbers grew, many of the protesters were seen standing at close distance as organisers still tried to maintain appropriate spacing.
Filippa, a 20-year-old student, told PA: “I know that I’m healthy. So this felt more important than to stay inside when I have the opportunity.”
After Boyega spoke, the protesters left Hyde Park and made their way to Parliament Square and on to Downing Street while thousands of others walked to Victoria station, hanging a sign reading “justice for Belly Mujinga”.
Mujinga, 47, was a railway ticket officer who died of Covid-19 on April 5, two weeks after witnesses say she was spat on at work by a man who claimed to have the virus. Police have subsequently said they will take no further action and could find no evidence of a crime having been committed, which has left her family and community facing the prospect of no one being held to account for her death.
Chanting “black lives matter” and “justice for Belly”, demonstrators walked among traffic along Grosvenor Place. Many of the trapped drivers honked their car horns in time with the protesters’ chants.
Jaynielia, an 18-year-old student, said the Black Lives Matter protest was important because “Black innocent people are being killed by white police and it needs to stop”.
She told PA Media: “People’s families are getting destroyed by Black men being shot every day for no reason, they’re walking the street, they’re jogging, they’re going to the shops – why are they getting shot?”
She added: “The feds need to listen, white people need to listen, they ain’t hearing us. It’s like we have to fight back for them to hear us and it needs to stop from today.”
A police officer killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nine minutes in Minneapolis last week. Protests have swept across America in the days since – some have been met with violence by police, and even threats of military intervention by the president.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said the murder of Floyd had “rightly ignited fury around the world” and should serve as a “catalyst for change”.
He said that it was vital that protests in London were conducted “peacefully, lawfully” and in accordance with coronavirus social distancing rules.