Right to the last minute, I was receiving calls, emails and messages from people worried about last night’s Black Lives Matter protest. They worried about the protest being troublesome. About it being infiltrated. About the crowds spreading Covid-19. I did not share their concerns and they proved to be misplaced.
I estimate 550 to 600 people turned out to the protest in Linney Riverside Park. They stood apart, alone, in family groups or in bubbles. Each three metres from the next. There were a lot of people but no crowding. All wore face masks.
The protest was civilised. Passionate. And very well organised. I take my hat off to the organisers. And to Ludlow for supporting this event so well.
Holding this event was controversial. Ludlow Town Council refused permission for it to be held on its land, which includes Linney Park. It said in a press release:
“During the coronavirus pandemic, mass gatherings cannot be supported, and the town council explained [to the organisers] it is unable to give permission for more than six socially distanced people to gather on its town centre sites or recreation areas.”
A public authority could say nothing different, even if it supports the cause, which the council does. The town council could not ban the protest in Linney Park without a High Court injunction or fencing off the park. Either move would be intolerable in a town which has a peace memorial at its heart and in its heart. These options never entered the council’s mind. It has always supported peaceful protest.
There is a balance of law in protests of this nature during a pandemic or any other crisis. The event breached emergency regulations (Regulation 7) but the right of freedom of speech and to protest are protected by the Human Rights Act. This remains in force during the current emergency. It is one of the most fundamental rights we have.
The protests last weekend in London, Bristol and elsewhere had raised concerns about trouble during the protest. When was there last a disturbance at a Ludlow protest? There were concerns about spreading Covid-19 in a town with many older and vulnerable people. Talk of people “being frightened”. I had to bin comments on my blog post on Black Lives Matter after they became dominated by commentators arguing black people were at least partly culpable for their situation. (All comments are screened before publication.) Some comments on social media came from a racist position or argued there are aren’t many black people in Ludlow so why protest.
I didn’t have concerns about the protest. With most of the town I supported it. The event had moved to Linney Park, which is a large open and safe space away from the town centre. I had also talked the organisers. I was impressed by how organised they were.
The level of planning for Ludlow Black Lives Matter last night was amazing. Stage. Gazebo. Microphones. Speeches. Social distancing marked out across Linney Park. Stewards. The organisers had liaised with the police. And it proved to be a perfectly organised event.
The police arrived to provide reassurance. They didn’t need to take any action or provide support as there was no trouble. No disruption.
The event gained was wide media coverage. Although mostly anti-protest in newspapers and on radio, TV covered the event well.
There was little or no close contact between people last night. I don’t think this event has added to the spread of coronavirus. The protest was managed for safety from the outset and went ahead safely.
That was a tribute to everyone who attended. And to the organisers. They recognised that Ludlow couldn’t wait until after the pandemic to protest. They recognised that Ludlow needed to join the millions of voices worldwide calling for an end to racial injustice. Now. I take my hat off to them.
Black Lives Matter. Ludlow said that last night loud and clear. Thank you Ludlow.