Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in London on Wednesday evening
"London to Ferguson" rally in support of family of Michael Brown, shot dead by police in U.S.
Crowd chanted "killer police off our streets" and "hands up! don't shoot" while waving placards
Relatives of two Britons who died after contact with police addressed the demonstration
Shouts of “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and “No justice, no peace. Stop the racist police,” fill the chilly November air as the crowd jostles for position in a fenced-off pen on the sidewalk.
Hundreds have gathered to voice their anger and frustration at events in Ferguson, Missouri, and to offer their support for the family of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager shot dead by a white police officer in August.
Many of those taking part in the protest also demonstrated here during the summer; months later, following the decision of a Grand Jury not to indict Darren Wilson for killing Brown, they have returned.
Some wave placards reading “Justice for Michael Brown,” “Solidarity with Ferguson” and “Black Lives Matter,” while others cup candles in their hands, protecting them from the autumn drizzle as their chants of “killer police off our streets” echo around the square.
But this isn’t St Louis or New York or Chicago. It is London, England – more than 4,000 miles from Ferguson and a sign of how fury at the controversial case has resonated across the Atlantic.
The protesters have gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Grosvenor Square, an imposing fortress-like structure amid the 18th-century terraces of one of London’s most exclusive addresses.
Carole Duggan is among those to address the crowd, which organizers say numbered up to 1,500 people. Her nephew Mark, 29, was shot by police in north London in 2011. His death sparked protests that led to days of rioting across London and other English cities.
His family say he was unarmed, a victim both of the police and of a smear campaign by the media which portrayed him as a “gangster.” An inquest into his death found that he was lawfully killed, and that it was more likely than not that he had thrown a gun away shortly before police fired at him.
Duggan’s aunt said the people of Ferguson had been “pushed to the edge” and felt they had no other choice but to take to the streets. She insisted they were “very, very brave” to do so despite the threat posed by “trigger happy” U.S. police.
Offering her condolences to the Brown family, she told the crowd: “We feel the pain, we know the pain of losing somebody at the hands of the police. We stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson.”
It was this feeling of solidarity which had brought most people – black, white, young and old – onto the streets of Mayfair. Duggan warned the crowd: “What happens there will eventually happen here: If they can murder Michael the way they did, they can murder anyone’s mother, father, brother, sister, daughter or son.”
Marcia Rigg sees painful parallels between the case of Brown and that of her brother Sean. The 40-year old died in police custody in London in 2008. An inquest ruled police officers used an unsuitable degree of force to restrain him.
She says “institutional racism” is a global problem. “We need change” she insists. “There needs to be a political will to change, a political will for justice.”
Rigg refuses to condone the looting and arson attacks in Ferguson and elsewhere but says she understands the frustration people feel when loved ones are killed. “What else are they supposed to do? People are dying unnecessarily on the streets. How can there be peace if there is no justice?”
Several hours after the rally began, dozens of protesters marched from the embassy along New Bond Street – home to some of London’s most upscale designer stores – and into Oxford Street, one of the capital’s biggest shopping centers, their windows filled with Christmas displays and twinkling fairy lights.
Others marched along Whitehall, past Downing Street – home of the Prime Minister – to Parliament Square and New Scotland Yard, headquarters of the Metropolitan Police, which covers London.
Protester Diane Neville says she is an “ordinary mother” just like Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, and that like her she has brought her son up to respect the police. But she is still anxious whenever her son goes out that something will happen to him.
“I saw [Brown’s] mother crying this morning – I’m a mother just like her; I’ve raised my son, I love my son, as much as she loves – or loved – hers,” Neville told CNN. “The very thought of someone taking my son’s life, I don’t know what would happen to me, I don’t know if I’d survive… I would die of a broken heart.”
Alejandro Hernandez, from Mexico City, says it is important for communities outside the U.S. to come together in support of the people of Ferguson.
“We can pressure the U.S. government… [show them] that there are people in solidarity, from different movements in different countries who speak different languages, and who are going to be promoting these calls for accountability against Darren Wilson.”
Glenroy Watson took part in the protest “in solidarity with another murder of African people, whether it is here or in the U.S.” adding that while Brown’s death had hit the headlines, he was just one black American to die in such a situation: “we know that there are many, many more going on… the situation of enslavement is continuing.”
Watson says hopes had once been high that the election of Barack Obama – the first black U.S. President – could mend the U.S.’s troubled civil rights history, but that in practice it had done little to improve the situation.
“He was given the Nobel Peace Prize almost before he went into office, but where’s the peace?”