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#ICantBreathe protest in solidarity with Eric Garner

#WeCantBreathe protests bring Westfield centre to standstill

Hundreds of demonstrators protesting police brutality hit the shopping streets of West London

TextZing TsjengPhotographyZing Tsjeng

Public fury over police brutality and the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner has spread all the way to West London. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered tonight at Westfield shopping mall in Shepherds Bush to stage a die-in.

The dramatic gesture of solidarity was organised following the grand jury's decision not to indict the New York police officer who fatally choked Eric Garner.   

The protesters lay down and shouted chants like "I can't breathe" and "Hands up don't shoot", slogans now made familiar by the protests in Ferguson and New York

The demonstration then moved outside Westfield, merging with another group of protesters outside the O2 Empire by Shepherds Bush Green and bringing traffic to a total standstill. 

London Black Revs organised the protest along with the NUS Black Students' campaign, London Campaign Against Police and State Violence, and Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts.

A London Black Revs spokesperson estimated that up to 700 people attended the protest, although police claim that fewer were present. Over 2,000 people had clicked 'attending' on the official Facebook event page.

Sophie Burge, a politics student at Bristol, found out about the protest on Facebook. "I think it's important that people in every country show solidarity with the American people," she told Dazed. "The problems faced by black Americans are the same problems we have here in the UK with the militarisation of the police and institutional racism."

"Just because we don't have it on the same scale – simply because the police here don't have as many guns – doesn't mean we shouldn't be aware of the same issues."

After listening to speeches made by organisers outside, protesters rushed to get back into Westfield to continue their protest, pushing past police officers attempting to cordon off entrances.

Police numbers began to swell inside the shopping centre, resulting in officers briefly kettling 100 to 150 protesters outside a Tesla Motors shop as shop assistants scrambled to shut their doors. 

Protesters began to play a cat and mouse game with police, weaving through the Westfield atrium and running up and down escalators as lines of officers struggled to keep up.

But as protests spilled out onto the streets, police managed to kettle a group of 40 protesters on the pavement off Shepherds Bush roundabout. 

An officer announced to the crowd: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are detaining you under section three of the Criminal Law Act because there have been assaults on our staff."

After keeping protesters kettled for two hours in eight-degree cold, police told the group that they were under potential arrest for violent disorder and led them away in police vans.

Metropolitan Police confirmed that arrests were being made after approximately 40 people were contained outside Westfield "after security guards were assaulted by protesters attempting to gain access to protest inside the centre". 

UPDATE: Police confirmed on Thursday morning that a total of 76 people were arrested on suspicion of public order offences and are still in custody. One man has been arrested on suspicion of assault. 

A spokesperson for Metropolitan Police said: "Shortly after 20:20hrs today on Wednesday 10 December, a group of protestors broke away from a larger group and attempted to force entry to the shopping centre assaulting security staff and causing damage to property."

Organisers London Black Revs described the police response as "absolutely heavy-handed". 

"From what I’ve seen, it’s mainly been young black women arrested on a violent disorder charge," a representative of the group said. "I have no idea how that will be kept up in court. I think that just shows the way in which police are very conscious about what is happening in this country – all of the struggles around the student movement, anti-racism and immigration."

"They want to send a message that this is what will happen if you decide to take action."