After the rally, a group of protestors marched through the town centre chanting 'No Justice, No Peace'Anna Oakes

The Cambridge Black Lives Protest drew an estimated four to six thousand protesters to Parker’s Piece on Saturday (06/06) afternoon. The protesters expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and solidarity with ongoing demonstrations in the United States over racial injustice and police killings of Black people, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade.

Saturday’s protest, which was organised by affiliates of AfroCam, a local black-centred promotions brand, and Good Health Africa, was planned as a seated and stationary event in order to comply with current lockdown and social distancing restrictions.

Protesters maintained a two or three-meter distance at nearly all times, facilitated by dozens of volunteer stewards, who also handed out face masks.

The protest was organised independently of the national Black Lives Matter (BLM) network, who have stated that they are not directly calling for protests out of concern for safety during the pandemic. BLM have, however expressed support for protesters and have shared contact details for any protesters needing legal advice.

The event brought a range of protesters from around Cambridgeshire. A Cambridge resident, originally from Trinidad, told Varsity that he was attending the protest “to express my feelings against all injustice, not just now but for 401 years of slavery and oppression. It’s time we get equal opportunities like everyone else”.

“The 2011 riots were caused by police violence against a black person, so nine years later we’re still fighting it”

A woman from Bury St. Edmunds, who is a university student, said: “I want to be able to apply for a job and not be scared that I won’t get chosen because of my last name”. Three young Black women, all aged 18, from the Cambridge area said that many other students from their school had also attended the protest.

Speakers at the event emphasised the connections between police violence in the United States and the United Kingdom, and cautioned against dismissing racism as an American problem.

The recent wave of protests in outrage over the death of George Floyd have come to encompass broader frustrations over persistent racial injustice and police violence.

Protestors were asked to keep distance from others and organisers distributed face masksAnna Oakes

Attendees at Cambridge’s protest shared this sentiment. A young Black woman compared police violence in the United Kingdom with the United States: “The police violence here is different. But if the police had guns in this country they’d act in the same way. The 2011 riots were caused by police violence against a black person, so nine years later we’re still fighting it”.

Maha Rafi Atal, from New York, said she attended the Cambridge protest in solidarity with protesters in the United States. Atal, who completed a PhD in Politics at Cambridge last year, cited police brutality in the US while drawing attention to the UK: “The police are not always violent [here], but sometimes they are. There is certainly huge discrimination, and a huge discrepancy [in policing] – black communities are over-policed, and over-aggressively policed,” she argued.

Barnie Hakata, a speaker and one of the event organizers, highlighted that national and local inequalities are systemic, including that Black women are five times more likely to die during childbirth than white women, and that Black people are more than twice as likely to die in police custody than white people. He also cited higher rates of policing within Cambridge itself: Black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched by police in Cambridgeshire.

Other speakers spoke of traumatic police encounters from childhood with the police, and of feeling inferior due to racism at school, from both classmates and teachers.

One speaker, who has three sons, spoke of her “fear of the police and the murder of black boys”.

Protesters kneeled for a minute of silence, and Hakata later read the names of Black people killed by police in the United Kingdom in recent years, insisting that “all should be alive today”.

Black people have long experienced violence and death in UK police custody at rates disproportionate to the population. Some of the victims mentioned by Hakata include Sarah Reed (2016), Sheku Bayoh (2015), Mark Duggan (2011), Sean Rigg (2008), Christopher Alder (1998), Joy Gardner (1993) and Leon Patterson (1992).

At the end of the rally, a group of around 200 protesters marched through Market Square, down King’s Parade and back to Parker’s Piece, to chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace”.

In anticipation of protests this weekend, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned the public to avoid mass gatherings, including protests, due to concerns for public health.

Some protesters expressed concern for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but were satisfied by the precautions taken by the organisers.

Andrea Sisneros, a scientist from Cambourne, attended with her daughter, Kim, and son, Jesse. In response to the warnings to avoid protesting, she explained: “We can’t pick and choose the time. This is the best time and we need to be out here”. She also emphasised that the pandemic has affected people from Black and other minority communities, who are disproportionately employed in front line, customer-facing roles as a result of wider and pervasive issues of systematic racism.

Other protestors joked that the rain was a bigger concern for attendance than public health reasons.

No arrests were made and no warnings were issued at Saturday's eventAnna Oakes

There was minimal police presence at the protest, with only one police vehicle parked at the edge of Parker’s Piece. Around ten volunteer legal observers were in attendance, at the request of the event organizers, but reported no encounters with police. Afrocam confirmed in a statement after the event that no arrests were made and no warnings were issued.

Hakata told Varsity that the event was a “very powerful protest which sent the exact right message, that we have the ability and the dedication to care for each other and grow as a community”. He reiterated the group’s demands for the Cambridge police: “Either the complete removal of stop and search or the bare minimum, that stop and search represent the same demographics as the population of Cambridge. The Cambridge police [need to] slowly rebuild trust between the Black and minority communities by encouraging representation in the police force but also recognising that the police force, as an inherently racist institution, is not something that most Black people want to be part of”.


READ MORE

Mountain View

Do Black Lives Really Matter to the University of Cambridge?

Three postgraduate students at Wolfson College explained their reasons for attending, and their experiences as Black and minority students at Cambridge. One of the students argued that there is need for “greater representation of Black but also other minority groups across all levels of the University, at the student, lecturer and administrative levels”.

They added that this requires “greater funding for those groups to be present at Cambridge, so that Black people’s voices and experiences are heard and can influence how this university operates”.

Another Wolfson student called for greater acknowledgement of racist incidents in the University, and spoke about the limits of diversity: “You can have ethnic diversity of the staff, but that’s not the same as being inclusive of their backgrounds. When I was thrown into this system of education in Cambridge, there was so much that was new and different from my personal experience that made me feel really alienated because I didn’t understand how to behave or what was expected of me in this new environment”.

A white man in attendance also explained his reasons for attending: “Until there’s justice for all, and no racism about, then I can’t sit happy and be comfortable with my white privilege, knowing that people are suffering so much, so frequently. It’s important to not be silent and compliant”.

Saturday’s protest follows other responses in Cambridge, over the last week, to the death of George Floyd. Between October 2014 and April 2019, Cambridge received the highest number of formal complaints relating to racism of 131 UK universities. Cambridge students have raised concerns about micro-aggressions and difficulties with reporting racist incidents within University environments.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following information and support is available:

Sponsored links

Partner links