Statues boarded up in London as more protests expected

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Scaffolders erect boarding around the statue of Sir Winston Churchill at Parliament Square, in London, Thursday, June 11, 2020, following Black Lives Matter protests that took place across the U.K. over the weekend. The protests were ignited by the death of George Floyd, who died after he was restrained by Minneapolis police while in custody on May 25. (Kirsty O'Connor/PA via AP)

LONDON – Authorities in London boarded up monuments including a war memorial and a statue of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill in anticipation of rival demonstrations by anti-racism and far-right protesters, as the city’s mayor urged protesters Friday to stay home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Monuments have become major focuses of contention in demonstrations against racism and police violence after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck.

A statue of slave trader Edward Colston was hauled from its plinth by protesters in the English port city of Bristol on Sunday and dumped in the harbor.

Several other statues have been defaced during mass protests around the country, including Churchill’s, which was daubed with the words “was a racist.” Police now fear far-right groups plan to seek confrontation with anti-racism protesters under the guise of protecting statues.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who cites Churchill as a personal hero, said it was “absurd and shameful” that his statue was “at risk of attack by violent protesters.”

Churchill, who was Britain’s prime minister during World War II and again during 1951-55, 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 and expressed racist views.

In a series of tweets, Johnson said that Churchill “sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial.”

He said tearing down statues would be to “censor our past” and “lie about our history.”