Scotland’s justice secretary has said he is “frustrated” that so many people turned out for Black Lives Matter protests over the weekend, but that police could not go in “heavy-handed” to break up the demonstrations.
Thousands of people gathered across Scotland on Sunday in tribute to 46-year-old George Floyd who died in the US while in police custody.
Humza Yousaf and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had urged those looking to take to the streets to find alternative ways to protest, which would adhere to social distancing regulations.
Yousaf, along with Labour MSP Anas Sarwar, Kadi Johnson – the sister of Sheku Bayoh who died in custody in Fife in 2015 – and the lawyer for Mr Bayoh’s family Aamer Anwar, released a statement asking people to instead join an online demonstration organised by the Scottish TUC.
Despite the calls, thousands gathered to protest including at Glasgow Green and Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park.
On Monday, Yousaf told Good Morning Scotland: “I’m frustrated first and foremost.
“I haven’t seen my parents for three months, they’ve missed their grandchild’s first birthday.
“Trust me, if I could see them, I would love to be able to see them, but I can’t.”
The justice secretary said that the protests were “not within the law”, but said that the police were responsible for the enforcement of the regulations.
He added: “I understand the frustration, but what I would say to people is, what else would you expect the police to do?
“If thousands of people were gathering, the police explain, they encourage and where appropriate, they enforce the law, but they can’t go in heavy-handed into a protest.
“We saw some scenes across the world where that heavy-handedness was met with more violence.
“That would have been entirely the wrong approach.”
Two arrests were made at the protests, both in Glasgow, according to Police Scotland, and no fixed penalty notices were issued.
Assistant chief constable Kenny MacDonald said he was “somewhat disappointed” at the number of people who turned out, but thanked those who were peaceful and adhered to social distancing.
The justice secretary, who said he would have joined the protest but for the coronavirus outbreak, added that he could not “trample over people’s rights” under the European Convention on Human Rights.
On the wider point of racism in Scotland, the justice secretary said he had a “good conversation” with education secretary John Swinney about race being taught in schools, adding that there was “every opportunity” for schools to teach lessons on racism as part of Curriculum for Excellence.
In Bristol on Sunday, a statue of former slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down by protesters and thrown in the city’s harbour.
When asked about his thoughts on statues of those who made money from the slave trade, Yousaf said he was left “scratching his head” as to why they would still be up, but added that it was an issue for councils to decide on.