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I might have joined anti-racism protests ‘in normal times’, says Sturgeon

Scotland’s First Minister said the risk of spreading coronavirus means people should make their voices heard from home.

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Black Lives Matter campaigners in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

Black Lives Matter campaigners in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

Black Lives Matter campaigners in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

Nicola Sturgeon has said she may have attended anti-racism demonstrations in Scotland in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the US if not for the risk of spreading coronavirus.

The First Minister reiterated calls she made earlier this week for people to find alternative ways to protest against racism this weekend.

Mr Floyd, 46, died after a white police officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck in Minneapolis on May 25, sparking protests in the US and international Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said: “I want to urge you to make your voices heard (in support of Black Lives Matter), we all feel very strongly about this, but I want to ask you do so safely.

“In normal times I may well have been planning to join a gathering of support this weekend but coming together in mass gatherings right now is simply not safe.

“It poses a real risk to health and pose a real risk to life.”

She said people should pay attention to the joint statement issued by Kadijartu Johnson – whose brother Sheku Bayoh died in police custody in Scotland – lawyer and campaigner Aamer Anwar, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf and Labour MSP Anas Sarwar.

It asks people to protest in different ways, such as online or via donations.

Mr Bayoh died aged 32 in 2015 after being restrained by officers responding to a call in Kirkcaldy, Fife.

His sister – who is a nurse – said her family would have attended planned demonstrations in Scotland this weekend but the danger of spreading coronavirus is “still too great”.

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Kadijatu Johnson and Aamer Anwar are signatories to the joint statement (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Kadijatu Johnson and Aamer Anwar are signatories to the joint statement (Andrew Milligan/PA)

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Kadijatu Johnson and Aamer Anwar are signatories to the joint statement (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Police Scotland chief constable Iain Livingstone told the briefing officers are in touch with the organisers of some of the planned events this weekend, which include demonstrations in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

He urged people not to attend mass gatherings, adding: “Racism in all of its forms is utterly disgraceful and unacceptable.

“As with the First Minister, I also fully understand the desire of people in Scotland to make their voices heard this weekend over racial injustice.”

Police Scotland have a duty to ensure that people’s voices can be heard safely, the chief constable said, adding: “Please do this in a way that does not risk spreading coronavirus, policing in Scotland will help in this regard.”

Speaking about some behaviour from US police, he said: “I find a number of those scenes absolutely abhorrent.

“I don’t recognise some of the scenes we’ve seen from the United States as reflecting how the police service of Scotland conducts its business.

“I would also make a fundamental point that any police organisation anywhere in the world is representative of, and reflects, the society that they are drawn from.”

He added: “As the First Minister has made clear – and I fully endorse and understand – this country of Scotland is not without racism. This country of Scotland is not without racial injustice.

“But it doesn’t reflect the history of slavery and the history of racial prejudice that does exist in the United States so I don’t expect police officers in Scotland to act in any way in some of the more extreme and very distressing scenes that we’ve seen from various parts of the United States.”

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Black Lives Matter campaigners in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

Black Lives Matter campaigners in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

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Black Lives Matter campaigners in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

Earlier, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said anti-racism demonstrations in Scotland should be policed with “common sense” and proportionately.

Although urging people not to attend the protests planned across Scotland this weekend due to the coronavirus pandemic, Humza Yousaf said police will allow the rallies to go ahead.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, he said if people take to the streets in large gatherings “then police will take a proportionate response and appropriately facilitate that protest but ask people to disperse and, if necessary, they can enforce that request”.

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