Hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters walked from Regent Circus to Wharf Green.

The demonstrators chanted the name of Minnesotan man George Floyd, who was killed last month after a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, and called out “we will not stop, by any means necessary, black lives matter”.

In an emotional speech on the steps of the new Regent Circus complex, Swindon march organiser Zak Agilah said: “I am angry and I am tired. Today I ask my white brothers and sisters to stand up and say ‘no more’. We need you more than ever.”

He added: “To the powers that be, from the government, to the police, to the 1 per cent: we are not stopping, we will not rest, we will not falter. By any means necessary we will see change.”

This Is Wiltshire:

Zak Agilah at the front of the march Picture: DAVE COX

Police put the number of protestors at around 1,000. Crosses had been chalked on the pavement outside the former Morrison’s store in an effort to encourage people to comply with social distancing rules.

The Swindon demonstration was one of a chain of events across the country on Saturday – in spite of pleas from Health Secretary Matt Hancock for people to avoid the “illegal” protests. Star boxer Anthony Joshua, 30, joined protesters in Watford. In a speech footage of which was shared online, he said: “We can no longer sit back and remain silent on this senseless, unlawful killings and sly racism on another human being – based on what? Only their skin colour.”

This Is Wiltshire:

Protesters take a knee in memory of George Floyd Picture: DAVE COX

That sentiment was echoed in Wiltshire. A protest prompted by the death of an unarmed black man 4,000 miles away in Minneapolis, was about much more than one man – but allegations of systematic, societal racism.

Speaking to the crowds, Precious Onyenekwu Tatah, 25, president of the UWE student union, said: “This is a movement that affects everybody here. It’s hard enough to come up here and speak. Being black is not a crime and I want everyone to understand that.

“My voice is my weapon and I will use it. It will never be silenced. This is a peaceful protest to let people know we are humans too. We feel pain.

“We need to make real changes and it starts with you. It starts with every single person: white, black, Asian, whoever you are it starts with you.

“Speak up when you see racism.”

This Is Wiltshire:

A protester holds up a sign at Regent Circus Picture: DAVE COX

Aysha Dhillon, 14, remembered the first time she was conscious of racism - being followed around a store by a security guard. "I felt a bit nervous and a bit upset. It's not the colour of someone's skin that defines who they are. It's their character and their personality - who they want to be."

Asked why he was at the protest, Jayden Stainer, 18, said: "I think the reason's pretty obvious. It's to support this cause. It doesn't just happen in the States. It happens here as well."

Suzanne Hamrouni, 66, is married to a black man. “The more support we give, something is going to get done, especially in America. We’re equal. We’ve all got the same heart, it’s just the colour of our skin.”

A feature of the crowd was its youth. Tino, 18, said: "I think even in our town there are still going to be issues with racism."  Lizzie, 18, said she wanted to show solidarity and bring awareness. "It's a universal thing."

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Protesters turn into Wharf Green Picture: DAVE COX

Colin, 54, who did not want to give his surname, has lived in Swindon all his life. "It's a quiet town, unassuming, it goes under the radar, gets a bad press. But the turnout today has made me proud." He praised the young people on the march and called for black history be taught more at school.

Organiser Zak Agilah praised the crowds that turned out for the protest. He told the Adver: “Honestly, I’m so proud. I expected about 40 people here especially after the referendum and Boris Johnson. We are a right wing town, so I did not expect the numbers here.

“The fact that I am seeing about a thousand people here is making me so proud. It’s making me feel human again. It’s making me realise that non-blacks and minority ethnics finally realise that it’s their problem as well.

“We can keep that going. We can keep that they realise that’s their problem as well. These racist politicians that have been repressing us for so long have no one to appeal to and we will cause change, we will not stop till it changes.”

The march from Regent Circus to Wharf Green passed without incident. A smaller group the returned back to the start point via Commercial Road – slightly to the surprise of the police.  

No arrests were made and no coronavirus fines were issued. One man, 20s, was spoken to after he flew a drone above the crowd.

Supt Gavin Williams said: “Our officers were there to ensure the safety of the crowd and help with traffic flow.

“I want to thank those who took part for making it a peaceful gathering."