[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.