UK's Johnson calls anti-racism commission; critics want more

Jun 15, 2020

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will establish a commission to look at racial equality in the U.K.,

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will establish a commission to look at racial equality in the U.K., a move that comes after two weeks of protests spurred by the death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Opponents accused the Conservative government of opting for talk rather than action.

Writing in Monday's Daily Telegraph newspaper, Johnson said the body would look at “all aspects of inequality — in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life.”

“What I really want to do as prime minister is change the narrative, so we stop the sense of victimization and discrimination,” he wrote. “We stamp out racism and we start to have a real sense of expectation of success. That’s where I want to get to but it won’t be easy.”

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in hundreds of demonstrations across the U.K. since Floyd was killed on May 25, demanding that Britain confront its own history of imperialism and racial inequality.

Johnson said the new body would investigate “discrimination in the education system, in health, in the criminal justice system,“ but gave few other details.

Opposition Labour Party lawmaker David Lammy, author of a 2017 report on Britain’s ethnic minorities and criminal justice, accused the government of stalling.

“It feels like yet again in the U.K. we want figures, data, but we don’t want action,” he said. "The time for review is over and the time for action is now.”

While the government says it sympathizes with the aims of Black Lives Matter protesters, Johnson has criticized calls to remove statues of figures associated with the British Empire and slavery.

Last week demonstrators toppled a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston in the English city of Bristol and dumped it into the harbor. That reinvigorated demands for the removal of other monuments, including a statue of Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University. The city of Bristol has since fished the statue out of the water, but it is not being reinstated.

After a statue of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill outside Parliament in London was daubed with the words “was a racist,” local officials boarded it and other monuments up to protect them from vandalism.

Soccer hooligans and far-right activists gathered near the Churchill statue on Saturday under the guise of guarding historic monuments. Anti-racism protesters called off a planned march to avoid conflicts with the right-wing activists, leaving hundreds of largely white, male demonstrators to hurl objects and fight with police.

More than 100 people were arrested, including a man photographed apparently urinating next to a memorial to Keith Palmer, a police officer stabbed to death by a man who attacked Parliament in 2017. Andrew Banks, 28, appeared in court Monday pleaded guilty to a charge of outraging public decency and was sentenced to two weeks in prison.

Johnson condemned the self-styled statue defenders as “a load of far-right thugs” and hooligans and said “there is nothing that can excuse their behavior.”

But he also said it was wrong to attack the Churchill statue.

Britain’s wartime prime minister is revered by many in the U.K. as the man who led the country to victory against Nazi Germany. But he was also a staunch defender of the British Empire.

Johnson, who has written a biography of Churchill, said it was the “height of lunacy” to accuse him of racism.

“I will resist with every breath in my body any attempt to remove that statue from Parliament Square,” he wrote in the Telegraph.

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Follow all AP coverage of protests against racial injustice and police brutality at https://apnews.com/GeorgeFloyd.