A Saturday morning vigil

11:47 am - April 12th 2009

by Laurie Penny    

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Yesterday, I walked from Bethnal Green to Bank in the rain, and laid flowers at the spot where Ian Tomlinson was attacked. So did hundreds of others. It was a solemn and subdued march, apart from the obnoxious ratty-haired man with a pink radio sellotaped to his head blasting out swing band music (there’s always one). I found myself profoundly moved and had to go and have a smoke and a small pathetic sniffle round the side of the bank, out of sight of all the news cameras in the world.

And then something extremely depressing happened.

After the two minutes’ silence broken only by the sound of snapping fucking clicking sodding cameras, two brave, calm women from the family of Sean Rigg , who died in police custody and mysterious circumstances seven months ago, stepped forward to make an emotional speech about the importance of proper inquests and how hard it is to get to the truth, expressing her sympathy with the family of the Met’s latest victim. Unfortunately, some guys at the back started shouting and swearing about police killers, drowning out Rigg’s sister whilst she was making her appeal for justice, and she faltered, and her relative had to take over.

‘Bollocks!’ yelled one young white guy. ‘The police murdered him, and you know it!’

Who the fuck does that? To the sister of a dead man?

I’m starting to understand what my female comrades from ethnic minorities mean when they talk about being silenced.

The protest leaders, who were dignified throughout as befitted the occasion, tried to rally the mood, but something had broken. That one shouty white guy at the back who had to make his anger more important than everyone else’s, he had broken it. I was there. I was in the street. I saw it happen. And it filled my stomach with ice. I am ashamed, thoroughly ashamed, that a small, dickish corner of the British left can still act like this.

It was a strange, tarted up and dampened-down saturday morning’s vigil-march. I was there, in the street, whilst they laid the flowers and lit the candles. When the tealights blew out in what seemed to be the icy gust of a hundred closing shutters, I lit them again. And people started taking pictures of the cute girl in black lighting candles, because of course the image, not anything we actually think, is the important thing. But I’m glad I was there, and I’m glad I stayed to the end.

For a few seconds, at the end of the rally, the sister of Sean Rigg got up the courage to speak again, and asked for the megaphone back. ‘Who are the murderers?’ she asked.

‘The police!’ we yelled.

‘Who are the murderers?’

‘The police!’

And there was the emotion again. There was the rage, the bewilderment, the sense of shock at the cruelties of the infrastructure. And not just from us crusties. Because as we set out on the long walk home, having laid our flowers and taken our time for quiet reflection, at the back of the rally one police officer, in a quiet, snuffly sort of way, was weeping.

ETA: Image credit to The Times, hand credits to L.Penny. Yes, that is my hand.

D-Notice: Ian Tomlinson Memorial March (photos & video)

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About the author
Laurie Penny is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a journalist, blogger and feminist activist. She is Features Assistant at the Morning Star, and blogs at Penny Red and for Red Pepper magazine.
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Reader comments

Excellent post, Laurie.

There’s something, umm, subversive of protest in the hoards of photographers attending recent events.

Oh, um, like if it was something that really mattered the photographers would be protesting too, or that protest that exists to produce images to be consumed is no longer protest against that consuming system.

Oh. I don’t know.

I came across yesterday’s flower laying by accident: I was on a bus that was stopped in Cornhill, right by the ceremony.

I got off the bus to stand with protesters.

The quiet was surprising and moving.

I am glad I left before the quiet was broken; but sad not to stay longer.

It is quite sick how many people are shot dead or beaten by the police or die in custody and yet the political elite does or says nothing. Yet when a Tory front bencher is held for 9 hours in a police station the political class run about screaming “police state , police state.”

The number of Americans dying from being tazered is rising, and so we give the British police another weapon to beat us with. As usual we are told that it will only be used in exceptional circumstances. But the Police know that is bollocks because they have learned from experience that they can shoot first or batten first and ask question later. (usually after they have done a good job smearing the victim for a few day in the media.)

Is it any wonder the police never improve when they can do almost anything ( as long as it is done on duty) and no court in the land will ever prosecute them.) No politicians from ether side have the guts to take them on. And so they get more powerful and more out of control by the year. But the policticains are to blame for this.

I think liberals need to push for some sort of independent investigative and prosecuting authority to deal with cases like these. The CPS and the IPC are just too embedded within a criminal justice system that ignores or diminishes crimes committed by the police.

I don’t quite understand from your article:
were you there?

yes, I was. That’s my hand in the picture.

I agree Laurie, I don’t understand why that guy had to shout out when Sean Rigg’s sister spoke. It was crass, stupid and it certainly has the ability to silence people, make people feel powerless as it takes a lot of courage to initially speak out yet that guy ruined it.

I took pix http://harpymarx.wordpress.com/2009/04/11/g20-death-demo-today-to-bank-of-england/

Btw: this may sound a weird question, Laurie, but I am sure I was standing next to you yesterday being crushed by the scrum of photographers, is that right?

You thought I was someone else, you spoke to me. I was wearing black rainmac, glasses, boots etc.
I know, this may sound a bit surreal and daft. But if it was you…Hello from HarpyMarx!! Hope to see you again….

Oh gosh! Yes, hello, that was me…see you at the next one!x

Thanks for the write up, good piece.

Maybe slightly off-topic but…


Maybe another thread is needed?


While the guy shouting out appears to have been very insensitive – and I’d left this march by then to cover the Tamils so didn’t witness it, what he said when Marci or Sam was speaking was something that they do indeed know and have said on numerous occasions. Like yesterday when Marcia was at the front of a march to New Scotland Yard shouting into a megaphone “Who murdered Sean Rigg” and getting the expected answer from the crowd “Police murdered Sean Rigg” – or when I heard her read a statement outside Brixton Police station about the murder of her brother by the police.

And I guess you need to ask the families what they think about the “hordes of photographers”. I’ve photographed both Samantha and Marcia at Trafalgar Square, in protests at Brixton, at this event at Bethnal Green and yesterday again in central London and talked to both of them and published stuff in various places about Sean’s death. Obviously it isn’t easy to deal with the death of a brother – as I know only to well myself – and even harder when you know that he has been unlawfully killed by the police.

But that’s the point. Not that a demonstrator has been insensitive, but that the police have killed a guy. Or rather that they have killed so many people, including Ian Tomlinson and Sean Rigg and so many others, including some that I was close to.

That’s what your post should be about, not some ignorant git who shouts out the truth at the wrong time, or about photographers who, whatever their faults are trying to give such things some publicity (though it would make my job easier if there were fewer of them) Frankly too I think it at least as insensitive that you write about this and apparently don’t even know which of Sean’s sisters was speaking.

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    New post: A Saturday morning vigil. http://tinyurl.com/dzp2ay

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