'We had no way of knowing Northampton #BlackLivesMatter march would be that big,' says organiser after up to 1,000 people joined in
Up to 1,000 protesters gathered together in Abington Street at about 6pm last night (Wednesday) to raise their voice in the fight against racism after the death of 46-year-old African-American George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis.
It comes as a local group, Stand Up to Racism Northampton, organised their own march to coincide with other regional groups across the country but with a membership of 90 people, organiser and admin Gordon White said they never anticipated the large scale turnout.
Speaking to the Chronicle & Echo today he estimated between 800 and 1,000 were at the march.
He said: "We have about 90 members so there's no way that can be described as our membership turning up, so what it is it struck a chord.
"The word has got around and there were people from Extinction Rebellion there I'm fairly sure and a group from the Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council and it seemed to ignite.
"We had no way of knowing it was going to be that big. As pleased as I was to see the sheer number, because we didn't envisage it we wouldn't have held it where it was if we had known there was going to be 800 people.
"It was meant to be socially distanced but there was literally only about two or three of us who were seemingly involved and the other groups never contacted us."
Voices were heard at the Northampton march shouting 'I can't breathe', after footage has circulated around the world of Mr Floyd being arrested and a white police officer continuing to kneel on his neck, even after he pleaded that he could not breathe.
The Northampton protest started in Abington Street before heading down Drapery, onto Wellingborough Road before finishing at Abington Park.
Gordon added: "I've been around for a long time in Northampton and involved in demonstrations. There have been ones with a few hundred people but I don't recall for a long time anything as large as that - so it has touched a nerve.
"It was peaceful but people immediately picked up on the 'no peace, no justice, Black Lives Matter' so there was emotion and anger, and almost anger in their voices but it was very peaceful.
"The message I think is twofold, to demand justice for George Floyd in the US but also to say that injustice and racism will be fought here wherever it appears. Young people regardless of colour are increasingly leading that fight."
Northamptonshire Police issued the following statement: "We would like to thank everyone who took part in the #BlackLivesMatter protest yesterday evening in Northampton town centre. It was a peaceful and well-organised event and police officers on standby were praised by many for the approach taken.
"We know that people will want to continue making their voices on this issue heard, and rightly so, but please be mindful of social distancing as Covid-19 is still very much a danger and the mitigation of its spread remains vital.
"We are proud to police by consent and will always seek to uphold and facilitate our citizens’ democratic right to protest peacefully. Like many people across the world, we are appalled at the way in which George Floyd died, and want to reassure and support our communities."
In a joint statement, the political leaders of Northampton Borough Council - Councillor Jonathan Nunn (Con), Councillor Danielle Stone (Lab) and Councillor Sally Beardsworth (Lib Dem) gave their support to campaigners.
"We are incredibly proud of Northampton’s diverse and integrated community, and the town’s acceptance and tolerance towards the different characteristics of others. Northampton embraces and celebrates its diversity, and how its different communities and faiths live and work together in harmony.
"Northampton Borough Council is itself represented by a rich and varied mix of councillors, and works with its community forums to ensure that it listens to, and acts upon, the views and needs of diverse communities.
"We acknowledge and understand the anger currently felt by so many, especially those from our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, and we stand in solidarity with you in the absolute belief that every individual and all communities should feel cared for, respected, equal, and fairly treated," the statement said.