The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why Black Lives Matter has gained momentum in a country where police shootings are rare

See the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in London the weekend after the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. (Video: Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

Amid anger and anxiety over two fatal police shootings in the United States, Black Lives Matter protests have erupted in Britain, where police patrol unarmed and have fatally shot very few people over the years.

In the days after the police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota — and deadly sniper fire in Texas, where five officers were killed and others were wounded — hundreds have protested in solidarity.

In London, many have showed support — marching on Westminster, congregating in Windrush Square in Brixton and clogging Oxford Street — holding up signs saying "Stop Killing Us" and "How Many More," and chanting "hands up, don't shoot" and "black lives matter." Others have been tweeting with the hashtag #stopkillingthemandem, Jamaican slang for a group of men that has been adopted by Britain's youths.

The founder of the Black Lives Matter movement in London, Marayam Ali, told the Voice newspaper that she hopes the protests show that the U.K. supports "our American brothers and sisters."

"By these people coming here to stand and unite, they are showing that they are against police brutality and that’s the most important thing," she told the newspaper, adding: "I think people forget that racism is a worldwide thing. It’s still very prevalent. This is ultimately a cry for help."

They are making their voices heard in a country where few police officers carry guns — and even fewer have fatally shot anyone with them.

Do Britain’s gunless bobbies provide answers for America’s police?

A 2015 analysis by The Washington Post showed that over the past decade there has been an average of only five incidents a year in which Britain's police have opened fire and that the most killed in a single year was also five.

From 2012 to 2015, "Police in Britain have fatally shot two people," wrote The Post's Griff Witte. "That’s less than the average number of people shot and killed by police every day in the United States over the first five months of 2015."

It's unclear how many fatal police shootings there have been in the U.K. this year. One death has been noted: Earlier this year, an armed man in South Shields, a coastal town in England, was shot in the chest by police and later died at a hospital.

By comparison, police fatally shot 990 people in the United States last year alone. This year, that number has reached at least 512.

On Tuesday morning, Alton Sterling became one of them when he was killed by a white police officer in Baton Rouge — a slaying captured on video by a bystander. The next night, Philando Castile was killed in Falcon Heights, Minn., as his girlfriend broadcast his final moments in real time on Facebook.

Dallas's top cop said Sunday morning that the police-involved killings may have sparked the "delusions" of a man who opened fire on police officers during a protest Thursday night in the city's downtown.

Police Chief David Brown told CNN that it appears the shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, was trying to make police "pay for what he sees as law enforcement’s efforts to punish people of color."

Dallas police chief: Shooter seemed delusional, scrawled cryptic messages in blood

When there are fatal police shootings in the U.K., they don't go unnoticed and are highly controversial — inciting city-wide riots and sparking years-long legal battles.

One of the most well-known cases was in 2005, when Jean Charles de Menezes was thought to be a suicide bomber and shot nine times in the head by police in London, which was reeling from a recent terror attack. Prosecutors chose not to bring charges in his death, a decision that his family fought and ultimately lost in March of this year.

Then in 2011, police in London fatally shot a 29-year-old black man named Mark Duggan — and the city was overcome with outrage.

Human rights advocates say such incidents may not be as prevalent in the U.K. but present the same questions as they do across the pond.

“They may well be fewer here, but they raise similar issues,” Deborah Coles, director of the advocacy group Inquest, told The Post last year.

Starting Friday, protesters marched down some of London's busiest streets to draw attention to perceived racism and police brutality and call for change.

Some signs read: "Yes, all lives matter but we're focused on the black ones right now, OK? Because it is very apparent that our judicial system doesn't know that. Plus, if you can't see why we're exclaiming #blacklivesmatter you are part of the problem."

The same day, Stormzy, an English rapper and MC, posted a picture on Instagram showing a small black girl holding a cardboard sign that read, "Is my daddy next?" along with a letter, explaining why people in the U.K. need to stand with Americans.

Ali, with the Black Lives Matter group in London, said it's more than a moment — it's a worldwide movement.

"Sometimes people just focus on the now. It creates a buzz now, but in time you’ll forget it," she told the Voice. "We’re going to keep showing our support."

Read more: 

Do Britain’s gunless bobbies provide answers for America’s police?

Black Lives Matter leader DeRay McKesson arrested in Baton Rouge on a night of tension and protests