Thousands of people marched in Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra on Saturday in support of the mass movement against racism sweeping the world in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last month.
And while authorities said they totally respect citizens’ rights to peaceful protest, there were two very significant failings in Saturday’s initiatives.
The first had everything to do with Covid-19 and the need for physical distancing.
Yes, some protestors were wearing masks – but no one was keeping the required distance to prevent the spread of infections – and the cities involved are all places where cases of the virus are in triple if not quadruple digits.
The second was the wording on some of the placards.
Say police, the messages incited hatred against them. For this reason they have trawled through camera footage and started identifying those who held aloft banners with words equivalent to “ the only good cop is a dead one”.
ASPP/PSP coordinator Paulo Rodrigues said it’s a message that has been ‘doing the rounds’ on social media and public fora and is being used to incite violence against members of every force – in Portugal, UK, the United States – wherever there have been protests.
Doctors too have spoken out against the way the protests were conducted, saying the sheer strength in numbers – particularly when it came to black people who are known to be more at risk if they contact Covid-19 – was reckless and against the law (which, in the case of Lisbon, limits groups of people coming together to just 10).
President Marcelo has sought to calm indignation by saying he doesn’t think the events will make much difference in terms of infection numbers.
But in Lagos, citizens showed how you can protest and still keep a good physical distance.
Overnight in the square opposite the Slave Market, a group came out, tied messages to the gates of what is now a museum dedicated to this grim period in Portugal’s social history, and climbed up to cover the face of the statue of ‘Father of Discoveries’ Dom Infante Henrique.
There was no daubing of the monument. No tearing it from its base or throwing it into the river. There were no angry messages inciting hatred and violence against police.
The focus was loud and clear: “Black Lives Matter” and “Portugal’s colonial history is nothing to be proud of”.