By Robin Connolly, Co-Editor-in-Chief
An estimated crowd of 10,000 congregated on College Green this afternoon to show their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement despite the threat of the current pandemic and calls from government officials for people to stay at home.
Demonstrators gathered at 1pm to hear pre-organised speeches. Early onlookers described the scene as ‘peaceful’ and ‘family-oriented.’ During the afternoon, 10,000 people were estimated to have been present.
Speaking to Epigram about the event, Tiffany Lyare, one of the organisers said she was 'hoping that we’re getting awareness for what we’re actually doing. Obviously we’re trying to make it peaceful and that’s what we’re wanting to do – we want people to see that we are more than just our colour.
'We want people to see that we don’t have to have this label or stereotype – that we are more than just being black. This isn’t anything new, this has been happening for such a long time, and personally I’m not hit just because it was George Floyd’s life that was lost, I’m hit because it was another black person.'
She continued, 'he became another statistic, another hashtag - and not for the right reasons.'
Yvonne Muringi, also speaking on behalf of the organsiers, told Epigram they wanted 'people to feel empowered at this event, go out, speak to your Mayor, speak to your local MP, make sure you get your point across.'
Organisers began by discouraging violence of any kind. They reminded the crowd that any form of violent protest had the potential to damage the message they were hoping to get across.
There were nine speakers in total, including Daniel Edmund, founder of Milk for Tea, who declared that ‘we cannot have social justice without social truth.’ In a moment of reflection, there were also pre-recorded testimonies from demonstrators in Chicago, which were greeted by clapping and roars from the crowd.
Then, silence fell for those tragically memorable eight minutes and 46 seconds of grief that have become synonymous with the death of George Floyd.
The names of black people who had died in the UK in police custody were also read out - a reminder that this issue exists on our very shores.
One college student from Bristol, Grace, told Epigram she was attending the protest to show solidarity against the oppression of black people.
She went on to say, ‘I think people of colour all around the world should not live in fear. We should be comfortable living with who we are, and we shouldn’t be scared to go outside.
‘I’m hopeful [of these protests] because they’re worldwide and they obviously started in America, in Minneapolis, and they’ve grown and grown and grown and I think that’s such an inspiring thing to see in places like Bristol.’
The event took place in conjunction with others across the nation, including those in London, Oxford, Glasgow, Manchester, Norwich, Sheffield and Leeds. The same timings were followed across all of these to ensure continuity.
Vase and Rose, an anti-fascist group from Easton were present, handing out water, food and PPE.
Six volunteers in total were responsible for the handing out of 500 meals, hundreds of bottles of water and vegan cake to anyone who wanted them. There was also a welfare tent erected by the Cathedral in case of any medical issues.
The march began at 2pm. The high numbers present meant social distancing was not always possible and marching was largely spent in close proximity.
As protestors passed the statue of the 18th century slave-trader, Edward Colston, on Colston Street, it had been shrouded in black plastic. Four protestors climbed onto the statue, tying rope around its neck.
At 2:31pm, the statue of Colston was torn down.
Some of the demonstrators proceeded to strike, spray-paint and spit on the figurine, before dismantling it and rolling what remained to the harbourside, tipping it into the water.
There appeared to be no police interventions during these events.
Meanwhile, the rest of the demonstrators headed toward Castle Park where more speeches were delivered, including those made by anyone who wanted to speak could contribute.
The organisers made the decision to only stage black voices during this.
Numerous contributions were heard, including a poem written by a six-year-old girl in response to the death of George Floyd as well as a young man who spoke of his own experience with police brutality in 2013.
Many of these speeches had the audience visibly moved to tears.
There were frequent calls of ‘no justice, no peace’ as well as 'Black Lives Matter' from both speakers and onlookers.
The event was organised by five young people, none of whom had met until last week. Yet, clad in PPE and leading speakers at the beginning and end, they came together and organised an event that was undoubtedly a moment of history.
As Yvonne said at the start of the event, organisers wanted this to be a moment with long-lasting change. So, the march goes on.
To see Epigram's live coverage of the day, please head over to our Twitter.
Featured Image: Rufus Atkins
Were you at the protest? Let us know your thoughts about the day.