Boris Johnson said the anti-racism demonstrations taking place in the United Kingdom have now been “subverted by thuggery” after protesters clashed with police in London on Sunday, leaving eight officers injured.
The British prime minister’s comments come as demonstrators also spray-painted “was a racist” on a Winston Churchill monument in Parliament Square, and in Bristol, tore down the statue of a slave trader before throwing it into the harbor.
“People have a right to protest peacefully & while observing social distancing but they have no right to attack the police,” Johnson tweeted. “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.”
Johnson’s spokesperson also told Sky News that the leader “doesn’t doubt that there continues to be discrimination and racism but does not agree that this is a racist country.
“We have made very significant progress on this issue but there remains more to do and we will not be complacent in our efforts to stamp out racism and discrimination where it happens,” the spokesperson added.
Thousands of people across the U.K. took to the streets over the weekend to call for police accountability and reform following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after he was handcuffed and pinned down by a white officer in Minneapolis.
The demonstrations were reported to be mostly peaceful, with one massive rally on Sunday taking place outside the U.S. embassy in London. But elsewhere in the city, after dark, protesters tossed bottles at police in Westminster, according to the BBC.
London’s Metropolitan police said those clashes left eight officers injured and resulted in a dozen arrests – a day after another 10 officers were injured in London in similar demonstrations.
“We utterly condemn the violence that has been directed at our officers — those brave men and women who are protecting the public and at a risk to their own safety,” John Apter, the chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said in a statement. “Police officers are doing a job and should be going home to their families at night, not to [a] hospital. Unfortunately, it is the actions of these few that people will remember most about these protests, a message distorted from its original intentions.”
In Bristol, a group of demonstrators on Sunday used ropes to tear down a statue of Edward Colston, a slave trader.
Colston was born in Bristol in the 17th century and made his money through merchant trading. His wealth came largely from his Royal African Company, which transported around 100,000 slaves from Africa to the Americas.
After the statue was torn down, protesters dragged it through the city streets to the harbor, where they threw it into the water. The empty space the statue had previously occupied then became a platform for demonstrators to make speeches.
Home Secretary Priti Patel told Sky News that the scenes were “utterly disgraceful” and “speaks to the acts of public disorder that actually have now become a distraction from the cause in which people are actually protesting about and trying to empathize and sympathize with.”
Police in Bristol confirmed to the BBC that there will be an investigation into the “criminal damage” against the statue.
The city’s mayor, meanwhile, appears to have taken the side of the protesters.
“I know the removal of the Colston Statue will divide opinion, as the statue itself has done for many years,” Marvin Rees said. “However, it’s important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity.”
Fox News’ Peter Aitken contributed to this report.