The UK should be having a racial reckoning. Instead, Black Lives Matter activists say they fear for their safety

Aima is one of Britain's most prominent Black Lives Matter activists.

This story is part of CNN's commitment to covering issues around identity, including race, gender, sexuality, religion, class and caste.

London (CNN)Aima, 19, is one of Britain's most prominent Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists, but at a protest in London she is nervous. She has her hood up and, while a pandemic-mandated mask covers most of her face, she keeps her head down for fear of being recognized. Her eyes constantly dart to check the location of the police.

She has reason to be scared. Campaigners say that standing up for the rights of Black people in the UK comes at a high price. They say they've seen an angry backlash and have even received death threats.
Attending a march last month against a proposed bill to increase police powers at demonstrations, Aima was flanked by two White allies. Assigned by a trusted volunteer group, they are there to help keep her safe.
    "If you are constantly getting people saying they want to kill you and they want you dead, then you don't feel safe anymore, you don't feel safe at all," she says.
      "I am getting quite a lot of threats online, but not just me -- other Black activists too," says BLM activist Aima (center).
      She says the allies also help deflect unwanted attention from her detractors and from the authorities, whom she does not trust.
        Speaking to CNN at the march, Aima, who uses only one name for security reasons, says some of the Twitter messages she has received in recent months have left her fearing for her life.
        "People were bragging about the types of guns that should be used against us," she says, recalling another tweet which read: "Go die, I'd do better if you weren't breathing."
          "I am getting quite a lot of threats online, but not just me -- other Black activists too," says Aima, adding: "This is just a normal daily thing for us to have to witness."
          But her lack of trust in the police means these threats go unreported.
          She is not alone. In the UK, public trust in the police and other institutions has been eroded by examples of systemic racism over decades.
          A government report on race and ethnic disparities, which concluded that the UK "should be regarded as a model for other White-majority countries," sparked outrage.
          Activists say the government commission's statement that it, "no longer see(s) a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities," means that race relations are effectively going backwards.

          Anti-racists blamed for racism

          When Britain's first female Black Member of Parliament, Diane Abbott, tweeted a message of support for another Black activist recently, she was accused of stoking racial tensions.
          Blaming anti-racism campaigners for racism appears to be a mind-boggling but growing trend in the UK.
          Outside London and other large cities, where there is less diversity, the vitriol is even more direct, said Sarah Chevolleau, founder of the Stoke-on-Trent chapter of BLM.
          Chevolleau says she received a death threat just 30 minutes after calling for the first BLM rally in the central English city last June, from the influential head of a football supporters' group.
          "It's not shocking for people to be so open with their racism here," she explains, "It was really frightening. I took extra security precautions at home, but I had to keep talking. I had to keep speaking out. I feel I didn't have a choice."
          Protesters attend a march on May 1, 2021, against a proposed bill to increase police powers at demonstrations in Trafalgar Square, London.
          A year on, Chevolleau is proud to have built up a group with more than 1,300 members. The mother-of-four says she even has supporters who were once members of the English Defence League, a far-right organization.
          "What kept me going was the amazing show of support from our White allies and non-Black allies," she told CNN. "The fact that so many people saw the humanity in me and in our calls. This movement is changing the world because it's changing lives."
          Both Aima and Chevolleau say the constant barrage of threats is part of a wider backlash against the anti-racism movement by an increasingly vocal corner of the British population.
          And mistrust of the police means there is nowhere for them to turn.
          A 1999 inquiry into the botched investigation of the racist murder of Black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993 found there was "institutional racism" in London's Metropolitan Police.
          And despite some changes in the decades since, Black people and those from other ethnic minorities are still disproportionately represented when it comes to police checks, imprisonment, and deaths in custody. ​
          A 2020 survey by the charity HOPE not hate revealed that 65% of people from ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK felt that the police were biased against their community.

          Sympathy and defensiveness

          ​The murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis last year sparked massive protests across the globe. In the UK, those demonstrations were led by a new generation of activists demanding that the country address its racial divide.
          At first, the campaigners were met with curiosity and sympathy, but that quickly turned into defensiveness and outright denial from Britain's ruling class, campaigners say.
          In one particularly divisive episode, a controversial statue of Edward Colston, a 17th century merchant and slave trader was torn down and dumped into Bristol harbor by a crowd of protesters. Home Secretary Priti Patel condemned its removal as "utterly disgraceful."
          In the wake of the BLM protests last June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a commission to investigate racial and ethnic disparities in the country.
          The report, published in late March, concluded that there was no evidence of institutional racism across a broad range of public sectors from education to healthcare.
          Aima was flanked by two White allies at the march in May. Assigned by a trusted volunteer group, they are there to help keep her safe.
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