In a hard-hitting article, the Prime Minister accused thugs of “hijacking” the wave of Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd in the US. “I will not support or indulge those who break the law, or attack the police, or desecrate public monuments,” he wrote. “Those who attack public property or the police – who injure the police officers who are trying to keep us all safe – those people will face the full force of the law.”
Mr Johnson also criticised the mass protests for risking a fresh surge in coronavirus infections by “flouting” social-distancing rules.
His broadside followed a weekend of protests across the UK that saw police attacked in London, graffiti sprayed on the plinth of a statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square and a 125-year-old bronze of slave trader Edward Colston toppled and hurled into Bristol harbour.
Writing for the black community newspaper The Voice, the Prime Minister acknowledged the strong emotions stirred by the death of Mr Floyd, whose throat was crushed under a US police officer’s knee.
“We simply cannot ignore the depth of emotion that has been triggered by that spectacle, of a black man losing his life at the hands of the police,” the Prime Minister wrote.
Boris Johnson: ‘I will not support or indulge those who break the law’
The statue of Colston is pushed into the river Avon
“In this country and around the world his dying words – I can’t breathe – have awakened an anger and a widespread and incontrovertible, undeniable feeling of injustice, a feeling that people from black and minority ethnic groups do face discrimination: in education, in employment, in the application of the criminal law.
“And we who lead and who govern simply can’t ignore those feelings because in too many cases, I am afraid, they will be founded on a cold reality.”
Mr Johnson insisted he was “proud to lead the most ethnically diverse government in the history of this country” and claimed the country had made “huge strides” in combatting racism.
He said: “I remember the 1970s, and the horror of the National Front. I truly believe that we are a much, much less racist society than we were, in many ways far happier and better.
Black Lives Matter protests in London
“But we must also frankly acknowledge that there is so much more to do – in eradicating prejudice, and creating opportunity, and the government I lead is committed to that effort.
“And so I say yes, you are right, we are all right, to say Black Lives Matter; and to all those who have chosen to protest peacefully and who have insisted on social distancing – I say, yes, of course, I hear you, and I understand.
“But I must also say that we are in a time of national trial, when for months this whole country has come together to fight a deadly plague.
“After such sacrifice, we cannot now let it get out of control.”
Mr Johnson said black and ethnic minority communities had been in the “forefront” of the struggle against coronavirus as key workers and had “paid a disproportionate price.”
He wrote: “So no, I will not support those who flout the rules on social distancing, for the obvious reason that we risk a new infection at a critical time and just as we have made huge progress.
“And no, I will not support or indulge those who break the law, or attack the police, or desecrate public monuments.
“We have a democracy in this country. If you want to change the urban landscape, you can stand for election, or vote for someone who will.”
He said violent protesters were “hijacking a peaceful protest and undermining it in the eyes of many who might otherwise be sympathetic.”
He added: “As a society, we can and must do better.”
Mr Johnson repeated his remarks in a video message from Downing Street posted on Twitter.