Saturday 31 October 2009

Day of the Dead

[written on the tube home from the Trafalgar Square vigil. Photos from BLTPicons are here - let me know if you'd like me to link to your photos of the event!]

Tonight was the second vigil I have attended in six months for a man murdered on the streets of London. The first, Ian Tomlinson, was a victim of police brutality at the G20 protests - an innocent bystander and family man who did nothing to provoke the violence he met at the hands and batons of those who were meant to protect and serve him. The second, Ian Baynham, 62, died in hospital on October the 13th after homophobes attacked him in Trafalgar square. Ordinary citizens, out walking in the heart of their own city, minding their own business; blameless men brutalised by a thuggish state and a society simmering with repressed rage and unthinking prejudice against anyone a little different.

Tonight, thousands of us have gathered in Trafalgar square, the site of the attack, for a candlelit vigil against hate crime. When I arrive, the square is packed, humming, glowing with little lights; St Martin in the Field Church has donated hundreds of candles, and organisers with great hair and horrible hi-vis tshirts are handing them out. The atmosphere is somewhere between a riot and a state funeral, an undercurrent of anger punctuating the speakers' every sentence with low howls of protest. This should not still be happening.

"We're here to stop violent hate-crime," says one teenager, his arm around his girlfriend. "I've been bullied in the street, and so have my friends," cuts in a lady with an orange crew-cut and fiery eyes. "It seems to be getting worse". She is right: in the past few years, homophobic hate-crime in the UK has risen by almost 20%.

Suddenly, a hush gathers in the flickering half-light. A list of names is read out: all the victims of homophobic hate crime in the past ten years, predominantly in London. On the steps a choir begins to sing, something soaring low and beautiful with a deep beat that might be drums, or clapping hands, or centuries of frustration and forgiveness. Looking around me I see people with their eyes closed, soaking in the music and the sense of sacredness, people embracing; a man with his arm around his wife, the light from their candles deepening the lines in their faces. Two middle-aged women are kissing softly; a boy of about twenty holds hands with another boy, quiet, listening. A teenage couple dangle their feet in the fountain, holding each other.

The year is turning. Today is Samhain; Hallowe'en parties are going on across the capital. For countless centuries, people in Britain have gathered at this time of year to burn offerings for dead friends and relatives. Tonight we're lighting candles of protest for those who were taken from us because of ignorance, violence and prejudice. Tonight we are here to make a reckoning; to celebrate our solidarity and diversity and stand together in the face of fear.

Outside the square, police cars drone away across London, but the choir's song rises above the idiot howling of the sirens. Noone can quite make out the words, but it's something about love.

Nelson's column burns like a pagan pyre with three thousand little lights of protest. London mourns its dead.


  1. Hi nice piece if you'd like to use any of these pics please do. Keep up the good work.

  2. Makes a powerful point but overwrought to the point of being unbearably mawkish.

    #Ordinary citizens, out walking in the heart of their own city, minding their own business; blameless men brutalised by a thuggish state and a society simmering with repressed rage and unthinking prejudice against anyone a little different.#

    What percentage of society d'you reckon simmers at any particular time and how would you characterise them?..I'm guessing you'd go for BNP thugs, Mail readers...but that's only about say 5% so far. Who are the others? All white men? All muslims-not exactly known for their feminism and gay friendly attitudes? All Tories?

    Who are these seethers? Maybe just outline a few prominent types because I just don't recognise your description of a society raging away. I recognise small numbers of xenophobic/ misogynistic/ racist/ homophobic idiots but that's very different. Like it or not...this is a relatively tolerant society and you're not gonna get rid of the intolerant with overblown hyperbole.

    Also...#Today is Samhain#

    No it isn't. It's Halloween...or are you a pagan? Fuck knows why people see fit to try and revive ancient cultures. Cultures evolve which 'sadly' means some get left by the wayside. Trying to preserve or revive them is idiotic.

    I'm supposing the justification is to reclaim the festival from the patriarchal influence of Christianity...but you're handing it back to the Celts who (despite a wealth of dodgy feminist revisionism)were far more misogynistic than anything the fuckin church came up with. That you might believe otherwise is the result of a blatant campaign of misguided earth-mothery.

    Tell you the Ulster Cycle..take a good look at Cuchulain..see what that renaissance geezer got up on Samhain.

  3. The people attacked were homosexual though weren't they? It's not like innocent citizens are being picked on like in happy slapping and stuff.

  4. how in fucking hell is a homosexual not an 'innocent citizen'?

  5. See...all your emoting, all your little vignettes of sombre progressive folk united in empathy and solace...all your "idiot howling of the sirens"..(no doubt in your idealised society, someone will come up with a profound and discerning siren tone)...all this and for what?

    While the Dish Mops of this world continue to exercise their dumb-as-fuck take on things, you'll get nowhere. (Actually, I kinda think Dish Mop is here to get a reaction with a deliberately inflammatory statement.) Whether Dish Mop is truly monumentally dumb or a wind-up merchant, you've gotta admit, this kinda piece isn't gonna have an effect either way.

    The stupid bastards will never understand it and the sly, disingenuous piss-taking bastards will just take the they do. Different tone required altogether...try totally fuckin furious...there's a time and a place for quiet reflection and remembrance and another one for actually getting shit done.

  6. @Monkeyfish: Holidays change. So does their content.
    And you do know how groups work, right? In all probability it was just one person in the group that was against homosexuality. Read up on your psychology a bit, why don't you?

    @Dish Mop: Congratulations, you're a homophobe.

  7. #Holidays change. So does their content. #

    Indeed they do, culture moves on. And, sometimes..for ideological reasons rather than any prevailing cultural trend, they are revived; not because there was any real demand for their reinstatement but in order to satisfy some political agenda. This leaves these reinstated cultural events looking ersatz and frankly lame...all a bit "winterval" for my taste.

    #And you do know how groups work, right? In all probability it was just one person in the group that was against homosexuality.#

    Oh've made this assessment with the benefit of your extensive experience in psychological profiling have you? And these homophobes have such power over otherwise tolerant people that they can cajole them into extreme violence..even murder? does that work?'re the psychologist.

    While we're on the come only one of them was a homophobe? Don't tell me: that would be the one who reads the Mail yeah? Gradually poisoned by the insidious effects of reading Jan Moir and other columnists?

    Seems to me, having seen the reports that all three people involved were drunk and pathologically bigotted. In fact, I'm fuckin sure they were. What I don't think is that you can extrapolate from this and cast them at the extreme end of a spectrum of homophobia which infects all of society.

    #Read up on your psychology a bit, why don't you?#

    Do you have any idea how lame and pretentious this reads? Read up on self-awareness a bit, why don't you?

  8. I just have a question, having done some quick research on the incident.
    What made the girls target Mr. Baynham? Is there video footage of their abuse or witness reports of the exchange?

    A similar unprovoked incident occurred in Cape Town a few years ago, where the victim was left paralysed. The four (rich) teenagers were acquitted in a farce of a court case. Their expensive lawyer simply outwitted the incompetent SAPS.
    While the SAPS are not removed from blame, the lawyer remains in my mind the representative of much that is wrong in the world. Last year I met him, socially, by chance. The urge to express my rage was unlike anything I've ever felt, but I didn't and I regret it.

  9. Dish Mop is clearly a TROLL. And a wearisomely boring one at that. Ignore the fucker.

  10. Yeah or more to the point don't approve such comments.

  11. You people don't understand my point. I'm NOT homophobic. I don't care what people are as long as they're discreet about it. Look. If an attractive woman walked down a dark street wearing next to nothing she'd probably end up sexually assaulted because she unwisely flaunted her sexuality at the wrong place and time; same thing if a homosexual swans up the same street flaunting his gayness insolently and provocatively. If people kept their inclinations private they'd be less likely to come to harm. If you swim naked in the same sea as sharks don't be surprised if you get attacked by them!

    All homosexuals have to do is to be careful to keep up a front of normality in their daily lives. Then they'd be left alone by queer-bashers and their kin.

  12. Dish Mop clearly believes in blaming the victim. It is clearly best, in his view, for everyone to wear loose, grey clothing at all times. Otherwise, you're just asking for it.

  13. PS The time I was assaulted, I was wearing my glasses, my "bad alice" T-shirt, a skirt (cannot be sure which, but it was summer) and possibly Crocs. I may have had my hair in plaits, to go with the "bad alice" picture.

  14. Vanilla Rose is misinterpreting me. I would never blame any victim of attack but I would urge sense and reason in respect to appearence and behaviour because we live in a cold and uncaring world where bad things often happen to the best and the nicest people.

    Every day gay people are attacked for being gay: black people for being black: foreigners for being foreign: Jews for being Jews: Muslims for being Muslim: women for being women. You name it. There's somebody out there willing to do you harm for some twisted reason or for no reason at all. Everybody is a potential victim if they find themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time and cross the path of the wrong person or group of people.

    Our modern society is riddled with violence and ignorance. That's the way it is and will remain for the foreseeable future. Caution should be the watchword as far as public behaviour goes. In every town, city and even village there exist certain areas and certain people that are best avoided. It's also wise to try to keep a low profile normally and not exhibit behaviours and traits that can attract the attention of predators in your vicinity. When you swim with sharks its best to leave no trace of blood in the water in your wake.

    Everybody should lead their lives with caution in order to cut down the risks we all face on a daily basis.

  15. @Dish Mop

    Why must we live like criminals, afraid to step out of the shadows?

    Only a small few people are violently ignorant. The majority just want to live and let live. If we live in fear that makes these kind of people even more brazen. Decent citizens need to hold their heads up and walk around their own cities any way they damn well please.

    I hear exactly what you're saying, but the awareness that you can be picked on for no reason whatsoever should motivate you NOT to change your behaviour. Avoiding certain areas is fine, but the even described above occurred on a main street in a major city, where nobody should be afraid.

    Nobody has a right to prevent law abiding citizens from doing exactly what they want, and if we stop doing exactly what we want, we're just helping the evil people.

  16. @ Dish Mop, I am sorry if I misunderstood you. I always do my best to take on board what people are actually saying, and sometimes mistakes are made.

    However, I agree with Viking's comment above.

  17. monkeyfish wrote:

    "'Today is Samhain.'

    "No it isn't. It's Halloween...or are you a pagan? Fuck knows why people see fit to try and revive ancient cultures."

    By that logic, should I go round telling those of my friends who are Christians that they have to find a new religion because of the crusades?

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