Tens of thousands of people gathered Saturday in cities far from the United States to express their anger over the death of George Floyd, a sign that the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality is resonating with wider calls over addressing racism in Asia, Australia and Europe.
In Berlin, where police said 15,000 people rallied peacefully on the German capital’s Alexander Square, protesters chanted Floyd’s name and held up placards with slogans such as “Stop police brutality” and “I can’t breath.”
Floyd, a black man, died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck even after he pleaded for air while handcuffed and stopped moving. International protests started last weekend and were scheduled for this weekend from Sydney to Seoul and London to Naples.
Several thousand demonstrators in Paris defied a protest ban — issued due to the coronavirus pandemic — and assembled within sight of the U.S. Embassy, kept back by imposing barriers and riot police.
Among the crowd in the French capital was Marie Djedje, 14, a Parisian born on July 14, the French national day.
“I was born French, on the day when we celebrate our country. But on a daily basis, I don’t feel that this country accepts me,” she said, holding up a sign that read “Being black is not a crime.”
The teenager said that emerging from France’s virus lockdown and seeing officers on patrol again drove home how scared she is of the police and how she has steeled herself for a life of overcoming obstacles.
“I know that because of my skin color I’m starting out with a handicap, for example, if I want to get a flat or go to a top school,” she said. “I know I’m going to have to fight twice as hard as the others. But I’m prepared.”
In central London, tens of thousands staged a rally outside Parliament Square, invoking Floyd’s memory as well as people who died during police encounters or indifference in Britain. Some protesters ignored thickening rain clouds and later headed toward the U.K. Home Office, which oversees law enforcement and immigration, and to the U.S. Embassy.
Many dropped to one knee and raised their fists in the air outside the gleaming embassy building south of the River Thames. There were chants of “Silence is violence” and “Color is not a crime.”
The majority of those marching wore masks and other face coverings, and appeared to make an effort to adhere to social distancing guidelines by walking in small groups.
An estimated 15,000 people also gathered in the heart of Manchester, England, and a further 2,000 people joined in a demonstration in the Welsh capital of Cardiff.
Andrew Francis, 37, a black man from London, said there’s “a lot of frustration due to racial discrimination, and we want change for our children and our children’s children’s to be able to have equality within the U.K, the U.S., all around the world.”
Francis, who wore a face covering, said he wasn’t worried about the coronavirus and said the fight for racial equality was “more important” to him.
Floyd’s death has sparked significant protests across the United States; but it has also struck a chord with minorities protesting discrimination elsewhere, including demonstrators in Sydney who highlighted indigenous Australians who died in custody.
A rally there appeared orderly as police handed out masks to protesters and other officials provided hand sanitizer, though officers removed an apparent counter-protester carrying a sign reading, “White Lives, Black Lives, All Lives Matter.”
In Brisbane, the Queensland state capital, organizers said about 30,000 people gathered, forcing police to shut down some major downtown streets. The protesters demanded to have Australia’s Indigenous flag raised at the police station.
Indigenous Australians make up 2% of the country’s adult population, but 27% of the prison population. They are also the most disadvantaged ethnic minority in Australia and have higher-than-average rates of infant mortality and poor health, as well as shorter life expectancies and lower levels of education and employment than other Australians.
In South Korea’s capital, Seoul, protesters gathered for a second straight day to denounce Floyd’s death.
Wearing masks and black shirts, dozens of demonstrators marched through a commercial district amid a police escort, carrying signs such as “George Floyd Rest in Peace” and “Koreans for Black Lives Matter.”
“I urge the U.S. government to stop the violent suppression of (U.S.) protesters and listen to their voices,” said Jihoon Shim, one of the rally’s organizers. “I also want to urge the South Korean government to show its support for their fight (against racism).”
Chris Trabot, who works for Paris City Hall, said George Floyd’s death last week triggered his decision to demonstrate Saturday for the first time in his life.
Born in the French territory of Martinique, Trabot said he first experienced racism as a child when he moved with his family to mainland France and got in frequent fights with white kids who mocked his skin color.
As an adult, he says he’s been targeted with racial abuse during ID checks. Recently, his 9-year-old daughter has told him of being a target of racism, too, with schoolmates mocking her hair.
Jessica Corandi, a Paris Metro driver, said she cried when she saw the video of Floyd’s treatment by Minneapolis police. The 37-year-old said her three young girls have started to notice people looking at them strangely on the streets of Paris, which she believes is because they are black.
Protesters outside the U.S. consulate in Naples chanted “Freedom!” and “No Justice, No Peace, (expletive) the police” in English and Italian as they clapped and carried handmade signs and a big banner printed with “Black Lives Matter” and a clenched black fist.
In Italy, racist incidents have been on the rise in recent years with an influx of migrants from Africa and the growth of anti-migrant sentiment.
Police said 20,000 people rallied against racism in Munich, while thousands more took part in protests in Frankfurt and Cologne.
In Berlin, Lloyd Lawson, who was born in Britain but raised in Germany, said he had faced racism his entire life.
“The killing and these violent physical things that have happened is only just the top of it,” said Lawson, 54. “That’s why you’ve got to start right from the bottom, just like an iceberg.”