'Mindless thugs' at Black Lives Matter protests doing a disservice to George Floyd's memory, MP says

"Mindless thugs" who defaced a statue of Sir Winston Churchill and clashed with police during anti-racism protests have done a "huge disservice" to George Floyd's memory, an MP has said.

A worker cleans graffiti from the plinth of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square
A worker cleans graffiti from the plinth of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square

Marco Longhi said the appalling behaviour of of some demonstrators at Black Lives Matter protests would lead to a "hardening of opinion" against the movement and overshadow its "important message".

The Conservative MP for Dudley North also hit out at police chiefs for failing to enforce the law by allowing officers to "stand by and watch" while violence took place on Britain's streets.

The weekend's protests saw violent clashes between demonstrators and police in Whitehall, while graffiti was scrawled on the Churchill memorial in London and a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was hauled down by protesters in Bristol.

The protests, which included events in the Black Country and Birmingham, came after the death of George Floyd last month, which sparked a wave of demonstrations across the US.

Protesters throw the statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour

Mr Longhi said: "The important message being delivered by peaceful protesters is being completely undermined by the thuggish behaviour of some.

"I strongly believe that they are doing George Floyd's memory and his family and the whole cause a huge disservice by their behaviour.

"We will end up with a hardening of opinion against the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Protests can often achieve change, but this violence doesn't. Defacing the statue of Churchill – the man who fought the biggest racist ever to live on this planet – is just offensive to so many people.

"This is mindless thuggery, and the tragedy of it all is that the important message that is being delivered by the peaceful protesters of the Black Lives Matter movement is being completely overshadowed."

Dudley North MP Marco Longhi

Mr Longhi also questioned why some police chiefs had apparently allowed violent behaviour to go unchecked during the protests.

"Something really needs to be done about allowing police chiefs to make their own judgment about how they should manage this violent behaviour," he said.

"Since when is it down to a police chief to allow which law should be enforced and which shouldn't? It is making a mockery of our laws. The message is that it is fine to cause a disturbance because the police will just stand by and watch and leave you alone.

"That message is an utter disgrace and I think the silent majority in this country are feeling really fed up.

The Churchill statue's plinth is cleaned

"We should be really examining the issues that are at the route cause of the Black Lives Matter movement, because while a lot of progress has been made there is clearly a lot more that could be done."

Other MPs across the region have also had their say.

'No excuse for missiles'

Jane Stevenson, the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton North East, praised protesters in Wolverhampton for maintaining social distancing and behaving responsibly, but said she "absolutely horrified" to see protests in London being "overtaken by thugs".

"There's not really any excuse for people to throw missiles at police or service animals," she said.

"Generally, I can understand the anger after George Floyd's death and there are some very valid points but what we've seen in London has been unjustified."

People came from across Wolverhampton to attend the Black Lives Matter rally in the heart of West Park. Image: © Josh Power

West Bromwich West's Conservative MP, Shaun Bailey, said: "If we're going to enact real change we need to build a coalition of people who wouldn't be touched by racism day-to-day – we need them to stand up.

"But what we've seen have been acts of thuggery and vandalism. With the Churchill statue, irrespective of the views people have, it's irresponsible to do that.

"With the Bristol statue [of Edward Colston], I get that. I understand it because he was a slave trader and there's been a big back and forth about it.

"I want to say 'look', if we're going to enact change it has to come from a coalition of people and when people see carnage such as this it puts people off.

"The silent majority of people won't want to stand up because they don't want to be associated with these actions.

"In the USA, there's been businesses being trashed and it detracts from the main message – it's for equality and putting an end to institutional racism."

Stourbridge MP Suzanne Webb

Stourbridge MP Suzanne Webb, also a Conservative, emphasised the need for protests to stay peaceful.

“Like many, I was appalled by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis," she said.

"As a society, we must reflect on the issues that have been raised by our fellow citizens.

"I am proud to live in a democracy where all people have the right to protest.

"However, protests should be peaceful and, at this critical time, protesters should take care to protect themselves and others from the spread of coronavirus.

"It is possible to support the movement against racism peacefully, as the vast majority of protestors have shown. But there are sadly people who will use this important moment to spread violence, damaging the cause that peaceful protestors have been highlighting.

"Our police have my full support in bringing this small minority of rioters to justice.”

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