Thousands of protestors came out in force across the UK on 7 June in support of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, following the recent killing of African American man George Floyd in Minneapolis.
While the majority of protests remained peaceful, some violence did break out in parts of the country, resulting in the injury of 50 police officers in the capital.
Frontline police officers without helmets and shields in central London were pelted with bottles and fireworks, with more than 60 people arrested for offences of assault and criminal damage over the weekend.
Anti-racism protesters in Bristol tore down a memorial statue of slave trader Edward Colston and dumped it into the harbour, while in Parliament Square, graffiti was scrawled on the statue of Sir Winston Churchill, branding him a ‘racist’.
Why was a Churchill statue defaced?
Protesters sprayed graffiti on the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Westminster, adding the words “was a racist” to the memorial.
The writing was added to the plinth of the memorial in Parliament Square as part of a raft of anti-racism demonstrations over the weekend, sparked by the death of 46-year-old Floyd, who was killed while in police custody on 25 May.
Video footage of the demonstrations showed a small crowd of protesters chanting “Churchill was a racist”, as well as “Boris [Johnson] is a racist”.
Footage also showed a smaller group of people stood around the statue in an apparent attempt to protect it.
Banners with the words “British Colonialism is to blame”, along with “What if it was your son?” had also been left at the base of the statue, while a Black Lives Matter sign was strapped to Churchill’s body.
Churchill memorials have been targeted by protestors in the past, including on the anniversary of D-Day and in January 2019, when a sculpture of the former Prime Minister in New Bond Street was splashed with white paint.
Avon and Somerset police have now launched an investigation following the incident on Sunday (7 Jun), with Home Secretary Priti Patel labelling it as “sheer vandalism”.
Commenting on the incident on social media, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote: “These demonstrations have been subverted by thuggery - and they are a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve.
“Those responsible will be held to account.”
Why was Churchill branded a racist?
While Churchill is remembered for leading the country to victory in the Second World War, his views on race and ethnicity have come under criticism.
The former UK leader has been blamed for causing the Bengal Famine of 1943, which resulted in the death of some three million people in West Bengal and Bangladesh.
Churchill’s policies are said to have been largely responsible for one of the worst famines in India’s history, with access to international imports being largely denied by his War Cabinet - although this was arguably due to a wartime shortage of shipping.
During the famine, Churchill reportedly said that relief efforts wouldn’t accomplish anything because Indians bred “like rabbits”, and his Cabinet rejected Canadian proposals to send food aid to the country.
Churchill’s overarching concern was the ongoing Second World War, and as such was willing to divert food supplies from India to Allied military campaigns, according to historian Arthur Herman.
He was also accused of making disparaging comments about Indians and Arabs, although defenders of the former leader claimed he was a “liberal imperialist”.