Posts Tagged ‘racist policies’

Fukushima, No to Racism & No to Assad

Wednesday, March 16th, 2022

Fukushima, No to Racism & No to Assad. Three years ago on Saturday 16th March 2019 people marched in London 8 years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, still spreading radioactivity, took part in a large demonstration on UN Anti-Racist Day chanting ‘No to Fascism’ and ‘Refugees are welcome’ here while Syrians calling for a peaceful, democratic Syria marched to a rally in Whitehall on the 8th anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolution.


Remember Fukushima 8 years On

Anti-nuclear campaigners met outside the Japanese Embassy on the eight anniversary of the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at Fukushima. Little progress has been made on cleaning up the site and large amounts of radioactive material are still being released.

50,000 people are still refugees and many are being given no alternative but to move back into areas still heavily contaminated. The clean-up is proving much more difficult than anticipated.

From the Japanese Embassy they marched down Piccadilly, where I left them to go to another protest, returning later to photograph them at a rally opposite Parliamen.

Remember Fukushima 8 years On


No to Racism, No to Fascism

Park Lane was packed at the start of the march on UN Anti-Racism Day to show solidarity with the victims of racist attacks and oppose Islamophobic hate crimes and racist policies in the UK and elsewhere.

The march was joined by a wide range of groups, all agreed that ‘Refugees Are Welcome Here’ and opposed to fascism and racism. Many held large posters denouncing racist leaders from around the world, including Presidents Trump and Bolsonaro as well as fascist party leaders.

The march to a rally in Whitehall had an added significance after the previous day’s Christchurch mosque attack by a white supremacist terrorist who killed 51 people and injured 40.

No to Racism, No to Fascism


8th Anniversary of the Syrian Revolution

I left the anti-racist march on Piccadilly and walked and ran back up to Marble Arch, close to which I met Syrians opposed to the Assad regime who were marching through London from Paddington Green to a rally in Whitehall on the 8th anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolution.

Unfortunately their revolution was sold out by Western leaders who failed to stand up to the Russian support for President Assad and his authoritarian regime, ending any real hope of Assad being defeated and a peaceful democratic Syria.

Although the fight continues in Syria, and there remain some autonomous areas such as Rojava, the revolution as a whole seems doomed to failure at least for the foreseeable future.

8th Anniversary of the Syrian Revolution


More on My London Diary about the three events:

8th Anniversary of the Syrian Revolution
No to Racism, No to Fascism
Remember Fukushima 8 years On


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Shut Down Racist Yarl’s Wood

Saturday, March 12th, 2022

Shut Down Racist Yarl’s Wood. On Saturday 12th March 2016, six years ago today, I made another visit to the immigration detention centre at Yarl’s Wood where the Movement for Justice (MfJ) had organised another large protest.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Women at the windows – one holds a bible through the narrow window opening

The Home Office no longer uses Yarl’s Wood to house large numbers of women asylum seekers, but unfortunately this does not mean their cruel and racist policies have changed. Women were at first moved out because of Covid, but Priti Patel has set up a new immigration prison, Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre, to hold 80 detainees to replace it, with around 88 women being moved and locked up there for Christmas 2021.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
People march down the road to a footpath leading to Yarl’s Wood

The new centre at Hassockfield is on the site of the notorious Medomsley Detention Centre, where over 1,800 young male detainees were abused in the 1960s to 1980s, and is at at Medomsley Edge, 13 miles NW of Durham, 1.7 miles North of Consett. It has been renamed again as Derwentside, to give it a more friendly image, though the river is around a mile away as the crow flies. Almost certainly the Home Office was fed up with the protests organised by MfJ and others at the already rather remote site at Yarl’s Wood, around 5 miles outside Bedford, and thought it a good idea to move it rather further away from London, where there are many former detainees and activists who came to demonstrations.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Marching along the footpath

But of course people came from all over the country – including from Scotland – to Yarl’s Wood, and protests will continue, with an active ‘No to Hassockfield‘ local group at their centre, although it’s too far away for me to photograph them.

Women have little to protest with and the windows only open an inch or so. They hold messages to the glass and throw out toilet paper

Hassockfield is so remote that the Home Office was unable to find law firms which would give satisfactory tenders to give legal advice there and abandoned the search – with detainees now only able to get advice by phone. Women for Refugee Women are calling for donations to mount a legal challenge over this lack of support. There is a great deal more information about the cruel and racist treatment of asylum seekers with many telling their own stories on their web site.

Yarl’s Wood like almost all of the immigration prisons is privately run for the Home Office, with companies cutting costs for profit

Back on 12th March 2016, my own journey to Yarl’s Wood didn’t go too well, with a train cancellation. But I still got to Bedford Station in a little over two hours and in time for the coach organised by MfJ to the meeting point at Twinwoods Business Park, around a mile walk from the prison. Unfortunately the coach driver didn’t know the way and police had put up large signs stating the road up from the A6 was closed (though in fact they were letting traffic to the protest to go through.) The result was a rather lengthy tour of the Bedfordshire countryside – with another wrong turning, meaning we arrived the best part of an hour late.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Protesters climb up to show placards and balloons to the women

Fortunately the event had started with a rally on the road waiting for people from around the country to arrive, and the mile or so walk to the prison was waiting for us and only just about to begin.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Battering the fence makes a lot of noise

Fortunately it was a fine day for the walk, but there had been heavy rain in previous days and some of the footpath and the field beside the prison where the protest took place was full of mud and some puddles, making it hard to move about and keep my balance. As you can see in some pictures close to the fence it was a sticky mess.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Many of those protesting were former detainees, some of whom spoke at the event

The field has a fairly steep slope up from the 20ft prison fence, which does enable protesters to see over the lower 10ft of thick metal sheeting and to glimpse the women waving, shouting and holding posters at the upper floor windows inside.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Women had written messages on towels and clothing to hang out through the narrow openings.

It is tricky taking pictures through the 10 ft upper section of the fence with its thick wire grid and I don’t have the kind of long and fast lenses for this. I actually declined the invitation from the organisers to photograph the first large MfJ protest here as I knew I didn’t really have the right gear, suggesting they invite a colleague. But for later protests I decided that there were many other pictures I could take and I could at least get some kind of pictures through that fence.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Many reports have confirmed the abuses taking place inside Yarl’s Wood

Many of those at the protest were people who had been locked up inside Yarl’s Wood or other detention centres, and almost all of those who spoke had stories to tell about how their mistreatment – having been physically and sexually assaulted, locked in rooms, denied medical assistance, unable to get proper legal advice and more. Most had come to this country fleeing from violence, often from rape and in dire need of care and understanding and instead were locked up, their stories disbelieved and further subjected to hostile and inhuman treatment.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Detainees are allowed phones and some were able to speak from inside the immigration prison

At the end of the protest people let off a number of coloured flares before the long walk back to the coaches. I was rather caught in the mud and unable to get close to where this was happening. On the path and road back to the coach I tried to scrape the worst of the mud from my boots and trousers on the grass and on the kerb of the road, and found some sticks to help, but Bedfordshire mud proved extremely persistent.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Most of the speakers were former detainees and friends inside could hear them

We needed to remove our boots before getting on the coach, and fortunately I had a plastic bag to put them in for the journey, getting back into them where we were dropped off at the station. The journey home was slow but uneventful and I was exhausted and needed a good meal and a bath when I arrived – but at least unlike those detainees I was free.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood

More at Shut Down Yarl’s Wood on My London Diary, where you can also find accounts of other protests at Yarl’s Wood as well as other immigration prisons at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook using the site search.


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Flowers to Yarls Wood – 2017

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

Four years ago on Saturday 18th November saw Movement for Justice’s 12th protest outside the immigration detention prison up a hill around 6 miles north of Bedford, calling for this and the other immigration detention centres to be shut down. On this occasion many took flowers to pin to the upper section of the fence where they could be seen by the women inside.

The whole system of immigration detention seems to have been designed as a deterrent to asylum seekers coming to the UK, though unsuccesful in doing so. People who had fled their countries because they were in fear of their lives and had often been subject to violent attacks and rapes were thrown into jail while there cases were being considered. Often their imprisonment made it very much harder for them to provide the evidence demanded by the Home Office of the danger they had been in and their suffering, and official reports and journalistic investigations, some by reporters who had taken jobs at the centres, both revealed the callous and often illegal treatment they received from the staff in these privately run centres, including sexual assaults and violence.

Mabel Gawanas who was held inside for a day under 3 years speaks to her friends still inside

The accomodation provided is poor and the food is of poor quality and often fails to meet the relgious ordietary needs of the detainees, and there have been numerous reported cases where necessary medical treatment has been either refused or excessively delayed. But the major problem is that immigration detention is of indeterminate length, with some detainees serving perhaps a few weeks and others up to three years. Unlike in a normal jail there is no known length to the time people serve and no way that they know when they may be released or deported. And there is no process for them to appeal their detention. The government like to pretend it isn’t a prison, and there are some differences in the routines, but those held inside cannot leave and are often restricted in their movements inside the buildings.

The windows only open a few inches

There are currently in 2021 seven ‘Immigration Removal Centres’ in the UK as well as a number of short-term holding facililites. All but one of the seven are run by private companies, Serco, Mitie, G4S, a Capita subsidiary and Geo, and they are run to make profits. The less they spend on food, staffing and facilities the more the companies make – and the more those detained suffer. In 2015 the Chief Inspector of Prisons labelled it ‘a place of national concern’.

Yarl’s Wood is in an isolated location, hidden away from roads on a former wartime airfield. As I found cycling from Bedford Station it is on the top of a hill and rather windswept. From where the protesters coaches and cars can park it takes aroud a mile walking along public footpaths to get to the field next to the prison where the protests take place. The prison is surrounded by a 20 ft high metal fence, the lower half with metal panels and the upper half with a thick wire grid material that allows the upper storeys of the building to be seen from the top of a rise in the field.

It’s difficult to take pictures through this screen, but not impossible. I’d taken with me a Nikon 70-300mm lens and was working with the D810 in DX mode which converts that into a 105-450mm equivalent and still provides a 16Mp file. Focussing was tricky as the autofocus was very good at focussing on the wire, leaving the building behind well out of focus, and although it would sometimes focus on a window frame, it was far easier to use manual focus.

I also took some pictures on a 28-200mm (equivalent to 42-300mm) which was better when I wanted to include any foreground detail, but the windows became rather small. Even at 450mm any one of the pair of windows only filled around a sixth of the frame, and some of the images have been cropped.

For photographing the protesters as well as that highly versatile 28-200mm used both as a X lens on the D810 body and a full-frame lens on the D750, I also had a 28-35mm lens for use on the D750.

Many of the exposures I made where not quite sharp. It was November and the light dropped off fairly dramatically towards the end of the protest and by 3pm I was having to work at 1/250s at the full aperture of F5.6, not really fast enough a shutter speed for a 450mm lens. So camera shake added to my focus problems. At 3.30pm the protest seemed to be nearing its end, I was getting too cold and decided it was time to get on my bike and return to Bedford Station. Fortunately except for a short steep slope it was more or less downhill all the way.

In August 2020 the Home Office announced it was ‘re-purposing’ Yarl’s Wood, which became a short-term holding facility for men arriving in the UK by boat. But by November 2020 it had also been brought back into its previous use with around ten women then being indefinitely detained there.

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 12


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Strangers Into Citizens 2007

Friday, May 7th, 2021

One of the great failures of British politicians in my lifetime has been over immigration. Since Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in Birmingham in April 1968, both major parties have engaged in a desperate contest to show they are tougher on immigration than the other.

Immigration as we moved from Empire to Commonwealth wasn’t just a moral issue of living up to the promises the country had long made to its overseas subjects – but had failed to live up to. It was also a matter of economic and social need, for workers, nurses, bus conductors, doctors and more to keep the United Kingdom running. By the 1960s, a third of junior doctors were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and in 1963 Enoch Powell, then minister of health launched a campaign which recruited a further 18,000 doctors from India and Pakistan.

Immigration controls had of course begun earlier, but the 1962 Conservative Commonwealth Immigrants Act began a new series of anti-immigration measures. Labour followed this with their 1968 Act, a panic measure to restrict the arrival here of Kenyan Asians. The 1971 Immigration Act and further legislation restricted even restricted the numbers of foreign nurses – who the NHS was and is still very reliant on.

On and on the politicians have gone, increasing the restrictions and playing the numbers game promoted by racists rather than adopting a positive approach and stressing the great advantages that immigrants have brought to this country. While in the Tory party attitudes have largely been driven by straight-forward racism and the residues of imperialism, Labour’s policies seem more cynical and solely based on middle-class electoral assumptions about working-class racism.

Of course there are working-class racists. But there is also working class solidarity that crosses any lines of race, and which could have been fostered by the Labour Party and the trade unions. Instead they have left the field largely open to the likes of the EDL and the lies of the right-wing press. In this and other ways Labour has not lost the working class, but abandoned it.

The vicious and racist policies imposed in recent years by Theresa May against migrants, particularly those here without official permission but also those with every right to be here but without a huge archive of paperwork by which to prove this – the Windrush generation have met with opposition from some mainly on the left in Labour, but they built on the policies of the New Labour government before here.

Labour have abstained rather than voted against so much discriminatory legislation, and their opposition to Priti Patel’s draconian bill which aims to criminalise Roma, Gypsy and Traveller lifestyles and increase the surveillance powers of immigration officers as well as introducing new ‘diversionary cautions’ against migrants to allow police to force them to leave the country has at best been half-hearted.

Of course there are exceptions. Honourable men and women in both parties who have argued against racist policies, and MPs who have voted with their consciences rather than follow the party line – and sometimes lost the party whip. And of course those in some of the smaller parties and outside parliament, particularly various religious leaders, some of whom took a leading role in the Strangers into Citizens March and Rally on May 7th 2007 which called for all those who have worked (and paid their taxes) here for more than four years to be given a two year work permit, after which if they get suitable work and character references they would be given indefinite leave to remain.

Although this still would not change our terrible mistreatment of those who arrive seeking asylum, it did seem a pragmatic solution to a major problem which governments have found intractable. But as the organisers of the event and many of the speakers insisted, it needed to be part of a wider package of fair treatment for those applying for asylum or immigration. But the political parties were not listening and seem only able to think of more and more restrictive, racist and authoritarian policies which drive us further into becoming a police state.

http://mylondondiary.co.uk/2007/05/may.htm


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Yarl’s Wood 2016

Friday, March 12th, 2021

Since it opened in 2001, Yarl’s Wood, then the largest immigration detention centre in Europe has been an active demonstration of the racist nature of the UK and its attitudes to those seeking asylum here. Yarl’s Wood was used to house refugee women and a few families and soon gained a reputation for hostile mismanagement, which led to a number of incidents including a serious fire which burnt down the building in 2002.

Things were not improved by handing the contract for running the centre to Serco in 2007 and there were a number of hunger strikes by groups of detainees over the following years, complaining about lack of medical treatment and other mistreatment including well corroborated allegations of sexual assaults by staff, many of whom were male on the women in the centre, many of whom had left their countries to seek asylum because of violence and often rape.

The first damning official report into allegations of racism, abuse and violence at the centre came in 2003, and over the years there was a steady procession of them, and in 2015 the chief inspector of prisons described Yarl’s Wood as a “place of national concern” , calling for decisive action to ensure women were only detained there as “a last resort”. In fact detention was both routine and open ended. Four out of five women held there were eventually released, and allowed to remain in the UK, and in 2018 only one in 7 of those released was deported. But the average time they were held in what is essentially a prison was over three months, and in one case a woman was only released after detention for a couple of days less than three years.

Covid brought about a huge drop in the number of women being detained, their release demonstrating that detention was always unnecessary. While at the start of 2020 there had been over 120 women detained, by August there were fewer than 20. The Home Office had been using detention both as a punishment for people coming to seek asylum and as a way to dissuade those considering coming to the UK.

The Home Office announced that Yarl’s Wood was not to close but would instead be used as a short-term holding facility for men arriving in the UK by boat. It is also now again in use – though without any official announcement – for the indefinite imprisonment of around ten women asylum seekers.

The latest development came on the heels of public scandal over the use of former military barracks in poor conditions to house men seeking asylum. The Home Office announced that they were to house around 200 of them in temporary prison-style accommodation to be erected at Yarl’s Wood, using emergency powers to construct this without planning permission. After considerably outcry from campaigners including MPs and religious leaders and legal challenges the Home Office dropped the plans, saying they had sufficient capacity elsewhere.

The protest outside the immigration prison on Saturday 12 March 2018 was organised by Movement for Justice which has been one of the leading campaigns against immigration detention, mobilising many of those who have previously been held in Yarl’s Wood and the other detention centres. Getting over a thousand protesters to the remote location around 5 miles north of Bedford involved hiring coaches from cities across the country as well as a shuttle service from Bedford Station which I made use of – and whose local driver got lost on the way there. Reaching the field next to the centre then involved walking over a mile along the road and a public footpath that runs past it.

Surrounding Yarls Wood is a 20ft high fence – this is a serious prison. The first 10ft is solid metal but above that is another 10ft of wire mesh, though which, from a small hillock we could see the upper floors of one of the prison blocks. Detainees have limited freedom of movement within the centre, and some were able to come to the windows facing the field we were in and shout and wave and display hand-written messages, including some phone numbers through which a few could talk, their words relayed by a public address system MfJ had carried to the protest. A number of former asylum seekers also spoke at the protest, along with some of the organisers.

Those who have been held in this and other centres speak of feeling they are locked away and forgotten and protests such as these give them hope. MfJ and other groups also try to keep in contact with those inside and offer advice, and there are others who go into the centre weekly as visitors, ‘befrienders’ who offer emotional and practical support to a detainee.

Detaining people cuts them off from friends and communities and makes it much harder for them to make their cases for asylum – and also considerably slows the official processes involved in examining their claims. There are a very few cases where detention could possibly be justified on grounds of national security, but these apart no need to lock up the vast majority who have been held in these immigration prisons.

More on My London Diary: Shut Down Yarl’s Wood


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Nov 9th 2019

Monday, November 9th, 2020

There is good news and bad news over the issues behind the two protests I photographed a year ago on a wet Saturday 9th November.

First the bad news: the UK has maintained its racist immigration policies which lead desperate refugees to endanger their lives to enter this country illegally. Although recent deaths among those crossing the channel have not been on the scale of the terrible deaths of the 39 Vietnamese who died in a container in Essex shortly before last year’s protest took place, the rhetoric against refugees has certainly been stepped up, with Home Secretary Priti Patel considering the use of the navy and even wave machines to sink the boats.

The death in late October of Kurdish-Iranians Rasoul Iran-Nejad, 35 years old, Shiva Mohammad Panahi, 35, Anita, nine, and Armin, six when a boat carrying around 20 people sank close to the French coast was a reminder of the dangers than many face. The government’s response was to blame the criminal activities of people smugglers, but these are only in business because legitimate routes are unavailable. Our government has failed to set up proper systems for allowing asylum seekers and refugees with family connections in the UK to come here despite being urged to do so.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper called for “effective support for refugees who’ve fled persecution to stop them getting sucked into the arms of criminal gangs or making such desperate journeys”. The UK and its allies bear a great deal of the responsibility for the wars and exploitation that cause desperate people to uproot themselves from their homes and seek the safety they see at the end of their dangerous journeys.

The second event I attended was a march and protest by Chileans against state violence in Chile. On My London Diary I wrote:

Police attacks on peaceful protesters have over 20 and injured thousands since protests began in mid-October. Many have been blinded and protesters wore with a gauze pads on one eye. They call for President Piñera to go. The protests have met with human rights violations including torture, sexual abuse and rape and thousands have been arbitrarily detained.

The march halted at Parliament Square where a group of women dressed in black performed in protest against the sexual abuses, smearing fake blood on pairs of white pants which they then removed and held above their heads.

Chile’s constitution had been written under the fascist Pinochet regime; Pinochet had come to power in a military coup on 11 September 1973, and in 1980 a new constitution was produced and approved by a rigged referendum. Another referendum in 1988 voted for his removal and led in 1990 an electionwhich removed him from office, though he remained as Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army until he retired in 1998.

The brutal repression by police of protests in Chile in October 2019 recalled the terrible human rights abuses of the Pinochet regime, when around 3,000 of his political opponents were killed, and many thousands held in jail and tortured under a US-supported campaign of political repression and state terror. Sickening methods of torture were used, with a huge amount of sexual violence against women. There were notorious cases with over a hundred people being thrown out of helicopters or aircraft. Around 2% of the population were forced into exile, gaining asylum in other countries. Before he left office Pinochet passed a law giving immunity from prosecution for these human rights abuses.

Sparked off by a metro fares increase, police violence soon made last October’s protests into a call for a new constitution and led to a referendum that, delayed by Covid-19, finally took place in October 2020, with a resounding 78% vote in favour, with many Chileans turning out to vote for the first time.

More on the November 9th 2019 protests on My London Diary:
Funeral March for Chile Protesters
Remember migrants who have died.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Brixton march against government racism

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Brixton in south London has a special place in the history of our country, as it was in this area that the first wave of post-war Black migrants found homes and jobs, with those who had arrived on the Empire Windrush being given temporary accomodation a short distance away in an underground bunker on Clapham Common.

Brixton had the nearest government Labour Exchange where they went in search of jobs, and many found them in local businesses and found cheap lodgings in the area, and in time brought their families to the area. Soon this working class area of London was developing the more vibrant and colourful culture that now, together with its location close to central London and good transport links makes it a prime target for gentrification.

Brixton has also been a flashpoint for social unrest, with riots (or uprisings) in 1981, 1985 and 1991 after heavy-handed and racist policing as well as in the London riots of 2011. The 1981 riots came at a time of high unemployment, particularly among the local African-Caribbean community who felt under attack by excessive policing and also by lurid press stereotyping of them, their culture and the area.

I began going to Brixton regularly in 1991, when a photography collective I had links with moved from near Clapham Junction in Battersea to the heart of the area on the edge of Brixton market and reconstituted itself as Photofusion. For years I went to most of their exhibition openings as well as visiting to take prints in to their picture library, which was then an important source for images of British social life. Photofusion is now in new premises but just a short distance away, though I think all the people I knew there are gone and it’s a year or two since I last visited the gallery.

But I have continued going to Brixton, mainly to photograph protests and events, particularly at Windrush Square, outside Lambeth Town Hall and at Brixton Police Station. And on September 14th I found myself again in Brixton, beginning at Windrush Square. This is a rather bleak and windswept area in front of the Ritzy Cinema, the Tate Library and the Black Cultural Archives, with a busy road along its west edge, ‘landscaped‘ a few years back by Lambeth Council apparently with the aim of making it a less attractive place for people to gather.

Here’s what I wrote about the protest on My London Diary:

Movement for Justice and Lambeth Unison Black Workers’ Group protest in Brixton against the continuing persecution of Windrush family members and other migrants, calling for freedom of movement, the closure of immigration detention prisons, and an end to Brexit which is being used to whip up immigrant-bashing and nationalism to establish a Trump-style regime in Britain under Boris Johnson.

After speeches in Windrush Square they moved to Brixton Market where wide support was shown by the public for speeches. Before they left Green MEP for London Scott Ainslie spoke about his LDNlovesEU campaign. They then marched up to Atlantic Road and back along the main street, Brixton Road for a final short rally in Windrush Square.

More pictures at Brixton anti-racist march.


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