Over a dozen arrests and multiple injuries at Grey’s Monument counter-protests

‘I had to be escorted by a stranger who feared for my safety due to the colour of my skin’

Over a dozen arrests were made and five people were taken to hospital yesterday after a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest was confronted by counter-protesters claiming to be defending Grey’s Monument.

The statue has been a source of controversy recently, briefly appearing on a map of statues and monuments which celebrate Britain’s colonial past. However, BLM protestors subsequently stated that the monument was not a target, with many citing Earl Grey’s past as a reformer and an abolitionist.

The Newcastle Tab spoke to BLM protestors who witnessed yesterday’s events.

Photo: Megan Jepson Instagram: @megjepson

“When I arrived to meet the other organisers and stewards it was still very early. There were many counter-protestors than us when I first arrived at Monument at 11 o’clock. The police stopped me across the street and instructed me to not walk directly by the counter-protesters and instead walk all the way around the block. I was then escorted by a complete stranger who feared for my safety, as I was the only black person on the scene.

“When I got up on the microphone, I turned around and saw looks of disgust and hatred which I had never experienced before from people in this city. I didn’t feel safe there as there was only around 50 of us and around 100 of the counter-protesters.

“It was never about protecting monuments or war memorials for them. If it was genuine concern for memorials they wouldn’t have been drinking beers all day at Earl Grey, they’d have been at Armstrong or one of the countless other racists. They just wanted a day out drinking with the lads and causing trouble hurling abuse at kids. It was clear which side was more educated and less disenfranchised from reality and the evolving society.

“I was shocked at how many people came out to shout obscene things at peaceful protesters. In the face of smoke and flying glass bottles we stayed calm, focused and peaceful. The police did a very good job – they knew who the aggressors were and when things got rowdy they were quick to act.

“We have now started the Fredrick Douglass Society at Newcastle University. There’s a building named after him on campus and he was a prominent black activist. We fight against racial injustice and institutional racism, and push for legal reforms.”

Photo credit: Megan Jepson
Instagram: @megjepson

Another BLM protester recalled the events of the day:

“We engaged the counter-protesters in conversation in which we asked on the microphone what their disagreement was with our protest. An elderly veteran proceeded to shout, “Our lives are just as important as yours”. After a leader on our side got on the microphone and said that we agreed, they continued chanting “all lives matter”, and we realised we weren’t going to have the peaceful protest we had planned.

“We turned our backs to them in solidarity to show that we have no hate and, while we chant “Black Liver Matter”, we fully agree that white, and all lives matter.”

“They were drinking all morning and by the second hour, they started throwing beer bottles and smoke bombs. They attacked us a total of four times and the police kept pushing us further back from the statue to be out of range of harm, which we appreciated. The police kept everything safe and in order.

“At one point we kneeled for eight minutes and 46 seconds to honour George Floyd, during which the counter-protesters used this opportunity to attempt to ambush us. We had to stand up and stop until the police in riot gear came and created a wall between them and us.

“We were dancing, chanting and speaking encouraging words to each other to keep the atmosphere warm and joyful. Around 4pm, their drunk mob tried to rush through the police all at once and the police on horses with billy cubs came out and started controlling their crowd. At this point, loads of them got arrested because they were throwing beer bottles at the police in frustration that we didn’t rise to violence.

“The leaders of the BLM protest decided our protest should end as we’d shown who the aggressors were, peacefully stood together and tried to spread our message to those willing to listen.”

Photo credit: Megan Jepson
Instagram: @megjepson

Kim McGuinness, Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, released a statement on Facebook after yesterday’s events.

“Anti-racism campaigners from across Newcastle and the region demonstrated peacefully today. Their aim was clear, to make their voices heard against racism and structural inequality and to show the need for change. Thank you for all being respectful and peaceful.

“At the same time and location a counter protest congregated under the banner of defending a city and monuments that were never at risk. They made racist remarks, became violent, attacked peaceful protestors and out police. All violence is unacceptable, attacking police officers is disgraceful, all racism is abhorrent.

“The actions of a small number of thugs is the absolute opposite of what we are about as a region, they don’t speak for us and never will.”

Featured image: Megan Jepson (@megjepson)

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