‘Taking the knee’ became widespread during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests PETER CHURCH/GEOGRAPH

Cambridge residents gathered at Parker’s Piece to participate in a ’Take the Knee’ event today (06/03). The in-person event was organised by the Cambridge Stand Up to Racism group, and lasted from 1-1:30pm. There was an accompanying online alternative on zoom, which was live-streamed on Facebook.

In the online event, Barnie Hakata, a member of Cambridge Stand Up to Racism, stated that the “event [was] in particular solidarity with the footballers who are keeping the action going, often getting disgusting abuse from fans online and in their own stadiums.”

In December, several Cambridge United fans faced repercussions for booing while players took the knee before a match against Colchester United. Hakata praised the football club for their response to these individuals, some of whom received “bans to the end of the season”, with others only allowed to return once they had attended educational courses.

Cambridge United manager Mark Bonner condemned those who had booed, saying after the match: “I’m disgusted to be honest, it shines a light on our club for all the wrong reasons”.

The action of ‘taking the knee’ began in 2016 with the American Football player Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the national anthem before matches in 2016 in protest against police brutality. It became a widespread symbol of anti-racist protest and solidarity during the Black Lives Matter marches during the summer of 2020, following the murder of George Floyd by an American police officer.

Premier League and English Football League clubs began ‘taking the knee’ in June during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, and have continued kneeling before games in 2021.

Speakers at the protest also criticised comments by Home Secretary Priti Patel, who called last summer’s protests “dreadful”, adding that she would not take the knee herself during an interview with LBC News last month (12/02). At the time, these comments received widespread news coverage and prompted backlash with Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds labelling Patel’s comments “unacceptable”.

Organisers emphasised the importance of abiding by Covid-19 safety measures during the event, at which attendees were required to be socially distanced and wear face coverings. A speaker at the event defended the decision to hold an in-person protest during lockdown, saying it is “absolutely vital” to protest during the pandemic, noting that black people have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“This is enough. You have to look after people. You have to make sure that those health inequalities aren’t there.”

Today’s event was a precursor to an upcoming protest scheduled to take place on UN Anti-Racism Day (20/03). Cambridge Stand Up to Racism will hold a protest at 1pm on Parker’s Piece that day to commemorate the occasion, which will also be live-streamed. There will also be an international rally held online at 5pm.