'Profound, moving and dignified': Praise for Luton's Black Lives Matter rally
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Hundreds of people converged outside Luton Town Hall shortly after 2pm to rally against racial injustice across the globe.
The protest was organised by youngsters from Luton Sixth Form and Barnfield College. It follows the death of George Floyd while being arrested by police in the United States on May 25.
Protesters were encouraged to wear face masks and stand two metres apart to respect social distancing.
Scores of people chanted ‘We want change’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’ while carrying banners for the movement.
Luton North MP Sarah Owen was among those who attended the demonstration, which she described as "well organised" by young people.
She said: “It was amazing to hear so many voices united as one, saying they wanted an end to the racism that led to the death of George Floyd.
“I think it was a very powerful protest and in terms of social distancing – everyone was able to do that far more than I’ve seen in Parliament!”
More than 200 protests took place across the UK on Saturday, with most rallies praised for their peaceful and positive messaging.
But the movement has a deep significance for Luton’s diverse communities and Saturday’s demonstration was the largest in the county.
Ms Owen added: “I think it was particularly important for Luton.
"To see so many allies coming together in Luton town centre – with different voices saying they want an end to systemic racism – it was very uplifting.
"Everyone felt listened to.”
Protests across Bedfordshire were also praised as “peaceful and dignified” by the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Kathryn Holloway.
She added: “The message was not lost or distorted as a result, but heard loudly and clearly, as it should be.”
Beds Police Superintendent Mark Upex said: “We worked with the organisers of protests across the county to ensure these events passed off with very little police involvement or intervention, including managing the public health risks around Covid-19.
“We respect people’s right to protest in a peaceful and responsible way, especially on such an important topic.
“We will continue to work with protesters who are looking to raise these issues in this manner to ensure they can have their voices heard.”
Luton Borough Council leader Hazel Simmons released a statement following Saturday's demonstration.
Cllr Simmons said: “Here in Luton we share the horror and revulsion that swept the world following George Floyd’s untimely death.
"It is only right, when injustices are felt so strongly that many in Luton wished to engage in peaceful demonstrations such as those we have seen around the world.
“Like any multi-cultural town, Luton draws strength from and faces challenges to its diverse community. Through the powerful work of Luton in Harmony we constantly strive to demonstrate to the world that in our differences lie strength and hope; we will always resist to the utmost any individual, group or institution that seeks to divide, disrupt and stir hatred.
“The weekend saw people in Luton from all communities come together in the town centre to peacefully register their protest and demand fairness and justice for all, irrespective of their ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds.
“It is our hope that justice will prevail and from this dreadful tragedy, long lasting wrongs and prejudices will be firmly and permanently laid aside.
"It has been inspiring to see so many people of all ages, genders, races, religions and backgrounds quietly and bravely show that Black Lives Matter and we trust this will be a real turning point not just in America, but throughout the whole world.”