Chants of “I can’t breathe” rang out across central Manchester as anti-racist protesters took to the streets to demonstrate as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The haunting last words of George Floyd were repeated again and again and plastered across banners and placards during a huge protest in the city centre.

Mr Floyd’s death has sparked protests across the United States and the UK with thousands of people marching on cities to demand change.

Mr Floyd, 46, died in police custody in the US after a white officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck in Minneapolis on May 25.

Protesters in Piccadilly Gardens on Saturday

Thousands of people - most of whom were wearing facemasks - gathered in Piccadilly Gardens today (June 6).

The gathering began with protestors kneeling in a two minute silence to honour Mr Floyd.

Demonstrators then marched through Market Street and down Deansgate before circling back to the gardens.

Council Leader Richard Leese thanked protesters for their “exemplary behaviour” but urged caution in the wake of Covid-19 and said social distancing remains vital.

Today’s protest was one of three due to take place in Manchester over the weekend as part of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

People take a knee and hold a silence

Friday’s protest was organised by an online group set up on Instagram called World Wide Kneel, who have organised and live streamed peaceful protests in Manchester, London and Bristol.

Protesters were joined by four members of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue service as they kneeled during an eight minute silence.

Today hundreds gathered in Piccadilly Gardens - despite an appeal from health secretary Matt Hancock yesterday for people not to attend demonstrations this weekend.

Several people took to a mic to speak about racism and incidents of police brutality.

While others chanted “black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe” as they marched through the city centre.

Kathy and Seva

Speaking to the M.E.N, one couple, Kathy and Seva explained why they were at the protest: “I think it’s such an important movement,” Kathy says.

“I genuinely think the world needs a change. People have been so silent for so many years.

“People may be in denial that racism exists in the U.K. but watching all these people here is powerful to see.”

Kathy says she herself experienced racism throughout her childhood.

“It was a traumatic experience but as you grow you try to prove people wrong,” she says.

“My family are originally from the Fiji Islands so I didn’t experience it until we got here.”

She describes an incident when she and her brother were teenagers in which a white man used a racial slur while they were walking back from school.

When the siblings tried to defend themselves, Kathy’s brother was punched.

“I was traumatised by it to be honest,” she says. “He was only 14 at the time and he was knocked straight to the ground.”

Seva says he is proud to be here today.

“I feel like this is different. People are saying it’s the biggest civil rights movement to date.

“To see this young generation coming through is inspiring.”

"We don’t want to go back to the same world, we want to go forward.”

On Deansgate friends Elliott, Lumumba and Milly told the M.E.N they felt proud of Manchester and the way the protest had played out peacefully.

Lumumba says it’s essential to show support after the events of the last two weeks.

He says: “I’ve never had any doubt about Manchester and there’s always been a lot of unity in this city. But a lot more needs to happen.”

He adds: “It’s been such a weird time. Some people don’t agree to protesting because of the coronavirus but this is a necessity to show solidarity across the world.

“We need to stand against racism, against police brutality and injustice in how the police are dealt with not just here and in the US but across the world.

“George Floyd brought everyone together but it’s so important to carry it on.”

He added: “We needed a year as terrible as this one to show us the truth and make us make as many changes as possible. It’s about racial injustice and other injustices across the world. “We’re in a fortunate position in the ‘western world’ to speak out but in other countries it’s not as easy.”

Milly added: “It’s come to a head because with the lockdown people have had a moment to take a look at their daily lives. We don’t want to go back to the same world, we want to go forward.”

A socially-distanced Black Lives Matter demonstration

Another protester, Colin, from Birmingham, said: “People are seeing that this isn't just a one off, it's a lived experience that we've all tried to express.”

Deejah, a protester who works with a collective who raise awareness for black people in the LGBT community, said: “It’s been an incredibly difficult week, I’ve cried a lot and been in back to back meetings because we have to hold people accountable.”

Council Leader Richard Leese thanked protesters for their “exemplary behaviour” during calm and peaceful demonstrations.

But he urged caution in the wake of Covid-19 as the country remains in a “precarious position” and said social distancing remains vital.

“The discrimination and victimisation of anyone because of their race is an abhorrence that has no place in our world, and any trace of bigotry must be removed from our society,” he said.

Protests have and are being held around the world after George Floyd was killed whilst being restrained by police in Minneapolis

“For this reason, Manchester has always and will always support the right to peaceful protest as the foundation of a fair and just society.

"We must stand in solidarity beside those who face discrimination and victimisation, be vocal and create a platform for their voice to be heard.

“On Tuesday this week we lit Wythenshawe Hall in purple, and Central Library on Friday night, to give visibility to this solidarity.

“In the wake of Covid-19, however, it would be irresponsible not to urge caution around mass demonstrations at this time. A right to protest should always be protected, as should our people’s health. We remain in a precarious position as we continue the fight against Coronavirus, the pandemic is not over, and social distancing remains vital.

“I understand the fire that has been lit in the hearts of Manchester residents since the death of George Floyd - and with good reason. It is extremely difficult to maintain social distancing and keep a large gathering of people safe in the city centre. The R number, the reproduction rate for Covid-19, is back above one, so use your voice, but do so safely.”

A woman wearing an "I can't breathe" mask

Another protest is planned at St Peter's Square on Sunday at 1pm.

Those who plan on going have been asked to remember to adhere to social distancing rules the best they can, and to bring masks, gloves, food, and anything else they need to keep safe.

Last week hundreds of people gathered in Manchester to protest Floyd’s death and stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Flowers are also being left at the street art mural which represents Mr Floyd in the Northern Quarter.