Thousands of people took to the streets of European cities on Sunday in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has drawn large protests against racism and police brutality around the world.
A rally in Rome’s sprawling People’s Square was noisy but peaceful, with the majority of protesters wearing masks to protect against coronavirus. Participants listened to speeches and held up handmade placards saying “Black Lives Matter” and “It’s a White Problem.”
The rally came a day after largely peaceful anti-racism protests took place in cities from Australia to Europe to the U.S. in response to the May 25 death of American George Floyd.
Floyd, a black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck even after he pleaded for air while lying handcuffed on the ground.
In Madrid, a few thousand protesters gathered around the U.S. Embassy. Many carried homemade signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” “Human rights for all” and “Silence is pro-racist.”
Protesters chanted “Police murderers!” and “No justice, no peace!” Police were present but the atmosphere remained peaceful. The turnout meant that social distancing was difficult, though face masks were ubiquitous.
“We are not only doing this for our brother George Floyd,” said Thimbo Samb, a spokesman for the group that organized the events in Spain mainly through social media. “Here in Europe, in Spain, where we live, we work, we sleep and pay taxes, we also suffer racism.”
Thousands more filled a central square in Barcelona. There were other protests called in smaller cities.
In London, thousands of people congregated around the U.S. Embassy for the second day running.
Following clashes on Saturday at another demonstration in central London that saw 14 police officers injured, there were concerns that Sunday’s demonstration might take a violent turn.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said violence was “simply not acceptable” and urged those protesting to do so lawfully while also maintaining social distancing of remaining two meters (6.5 feet) apart. But most demonstrators didn’t heed that call, packing themselves tightly in front of the U.S. Embassy.
Britain’s most senior police chief said 14 officers were injured Saturday during clashes with protesters in central London that followed a largely peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration attended by tens of thousands.
London’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said the assaults on officers were “shocking and completely unacceptable.” She said a number of arrests have been made and “justice will follow.”
The clashes broke out in the early evening near the Downing Street office of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Video footage online showed one mounted police officer colliding with a traffic light and striking the pavement before her horse bolted away. Police said the officer was hospitalized and her injuries weren’t life-threatening.
In Berlin, police said 93 people were detained in connection with a demonstration in the German capital on Saturday — most of them after the main rally of 15,000 had ended.
Police said several officers and one photojournalist were injured in Berlin when bottles and rocks were thrown from a crowd that had gathered despite police orders to clear the city’s Alexander Square.
In France’s southern port city of Marseille, police fired tear gas and pepper spray in skirmishes with protesters who hurled bottles and rocks after what had been an emotional yet peaceful demonstration.
The Marseille protest was one of several Saturday that attracted 23,000 people across France, where Floyd’s death has shone a spotlight on similar French police abuses and given voice to complaints from minorities that they are frequent targets of harassment and worse from French police.
In Hong Kong, about 20 people staged a rally in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement on Sunday outside the U.S. Consulate in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
“It’s a global issue,” said Quinland Anderson, a 28-year-old British citizen living in Hong Kong. “We have to remind ourselves despite all we see going on in the U.S. and in the other parts of the world, black lives do indeed matter.”
Among those at Sunday’s rally in Rome was 26-year-old Ghanaian Abdul Nassir, who is studying for a master’s in business management at one of the Italian capital’s public universities.
Organizers called off the Hong Kong rally late Saturday because of the city’s coronavirus restrictions. Those that still showed up gathered in groups of eight to follow size limits on public gatherings.
“It’s quite unfortunate, you know, in this current 21st century that people of color are being treated as if they are lepers,” Nassir told The Associated Press. He said he occasionally has felt racist attitudes, most notably when riding the subway.
“Maybe you’re finding a place to stand, and people just keep moving (away) and you’ll be, like, ‘What?’” Nassir said: “We’re strong people but sometimes everyone has a limit.”
Rome’s first major rally against racism had many organizers, including a 25-year-old Roman student, Denise Berhane, a group called Black Italians, a women’s group, the environmental group Fridays for Future Rome, a U.S. expatriates’ organization and the Sardines, a grassroots Italian protest group that encourages civic involvement.
Asked by broadcaster SKYTG24 whether Italy has a racism problem, Berhane replied: “There are some problems in the country if all these people turned out.”
The gathering was useful, she said, to help people develop awareness of the problem.
At one point, the protesters, most of them young and some with children or siblings, took the knee and raised a fist in solidarity with those fighting racism and police brutality.