Blog Post June 2020 by Wendy Dobing

Posted on June 15, 2020 at 03.08PM

 I predict a riot

This month I decided to document a part of the reaction to the social movement against racism which was sparked by the terrible events in the USA surrounding the death of George Floyd. Protests were planned by the Black Lives Matter movement in Parliament Square, Westminster in mid Jude so at a distance I hoped to capture some of the activity around this. They had already been held the previous day because right wing extremists had threatened to disrupt and boycott the protest.

Due to statues around the world being targeted as representations of racist people, some of these had already been 'boxed up' to be protected from vandalism. The famous statue of Winston Churchill (Parliament Square) and the Cenotaph (Whitehall) were some of these boxed up and protected monuments. A group of people decided that they would be protecting these two monuments in particular, even though they were already safely contained. This all seems straightforward and yet a bit odd. But with all the aspects of the goings-on of Brexit oddness is nothing to be surprised at.

Unfortunately 'odd' turned out to be a massive understatement of hostility. The people protecting the statue didn't seem to be doing that. Instead they seem to be spoiling for fights with everyone, from protestors from the Black Lives Matter movement to anyone with cameras! (One journalist had his nose broken). There were two of us, I had a zoom lens on my camera with the idea that I can capture events from a distance...I didn't even get that far. It was assumed by several 'statue protectors' that we were from the press. I was threatened with having my camera smashed up and my friend had the same but was surrounded and pushed hard. It was a frightening situation which I didn't see coming. We weren't even in Parliament Square but the atmosphere became quickly threatening everywhere.

As a result I was too afraid to take photos until much later. The ones on this blog are from the very periphery of activity, from outside of the police 'kettled area'. Even though I was far away (or so I thought), I still managed to get hurt by flying glass from smashed bottles hurled by both sides. It was difficult even in this areas to take photos because everything around you is changing so quickly.

The police were working really hard to contain everything but the main trouble from what I could see was from a particular group of people that had been drinking (they were holding cans and bags full of cans and bottles), were openly shouting racist abuse, attacking the police, singing "Eng-er-land" and raising arms in nazi salutes. I had read that there would be a far right faction attending, I just didn't think the sentiment and behaviour would be this extreme.

A lesson learned.