Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Midnight Parade

It is 3.30 in the morning and we are on a night bus heading home and feeling triumphant!

The evening started with a tube journey to Leicester Square. A man was busking at the bottom of the escalators; playing a guitar and activating a little muppet puppet with his foot, which was playing a tiny drum. He was singing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and for some strange reason I decided it was a sign that things were going to go well... And they did.

I suspect there were about 100 people milling around at Eros waiting  for us when we arrived. Everyone looked absolutely fabulous; just as I imagine those clubs like Taboo must have been.

At midnight on the dot, I stood on the steps of the fountain and delivered a rally-cry-cum-speech to everyone. I hope I spoke with emotion. People responded incredibly well.

We sang through the songs that Philip had asked us to sing and then set off, like a glorious, colourful train through the streets of Soho. We chanted "what do we want? Witnesses! When do we want them? Now!" We sang Yesterday, Donna Donna, Yesterday, Pack Up Your Troubles... We created a wonderful spectacle. Julie Clare was there, Meriel, Ellen, Gabs, Philippa, Carmen, Justin...

We stopped underneath the marquee in front of Priscilla and sang and chanted and had our photographs taken.

Later on, we split up into smaller groups and went leafleting in different parts of town where we thought Philip might have been. Nathan, Carmen and I drew the short straw and ended up in the seemingly lawless, gang-filled streets of China Town, where the atmosphere was very edgy.

Carmen was a very good pair of eyes and soon noticed that one particular gang were circling us like vultures. We made a speedy exit!

All the groups reconvened outside Madam Jojos. The atmosphere was electric. Extraordinary drag queens were chatting to druggies. A strange Spanish woman was walking about with flowers. There were paparazzi on motorbikes, drunk homeless people, camp old queens in red leather suits, women in basques with the most enormous breasts...

We headed to Piccadilly to do a little vigil. There were about 17 of us still standing by this stage. We'd heard lots of rumours, but nothing seemed concrete.

At the top end of Shaftesbury Avenue we stopped for a while and I spotted a club the other side of the road. "What do you think?" I asked Carmen. "Come on" she said "one more..." and off we went with Meriel to talk to the doormen.

It was at that moment that our evening changed and we spoke to someone who'd witnessed the attack. I can't obviously write anything more about it. The police have been told and we have a description.

We sat in a circle at the spot where Philip was found, held hands and thought for two minutes about those who were less fortunate than Philip... Victims of street violence and homophobic attacks, children in schools across the world being bullied. We wished Philip a speedy recovery, knowing that our little mission had achieved perhaps more than we could ever have hoped. And I walked away feeling prouder than I've ever felt before!

And if anyone's interested in the speech I made... here it is:

Thank you for coming today. Philip, who has been trying to plan this event from his hospital bed, would be absolutely thrilled to see you all here.

The most important thing, from his perspective, is that we all have fun. That’s why we’re calling it a Midnight Parade – a show of support for Philip in a way in which he will approve. And what a relief it is that we can stand here today and celebrate the fact that Philip survived his brutal attack.

But before any one becomes complacent and talks about what happened to Philip simply in terms of “a bit of a roughing up”, be in no doubt that this was an attempted murder. Philip suffered a fractured skull and was repeatedly kicked and punched by the cowards who attacked him. One more kick – or a kick a centimetre in another direction – and Philip could well be dead.

The police have been slow to respond to this crime. CCTV footage has not yet been examined – in fact, we were originally told that none existed. The few leads that have been established have not yet been adequately followed up and Colin Creighton of Marylebone Police tried to justify this to me on the phone by saying that the officer in charge of the investigation was busy solving lots of other crimes. Meanwhile, the clock ticks – and people’s memories of the night that Philip was attacked become increasingly hazy – whilst rumours start to take over from fact.

A mini-victory has come in the shape of the Gap - which is of course the shop outside which Philip was discovered - FINALLY agreeing to display a poster appealing for witnesses to the attack to come forward. It’s amazing what a threatening little phone call to a press office of a multinational company will achieve!

So what is the purpose of today’s parade? Firstly, to send out a message that street violence of any kind is wholly unacceptable. With that message, we stand side by side with the relatives and friends of Agnes Seena Inne-koju who was murdered in a pizza restaurant in Hackney, Negus McClean, stabbed to death in Edmonton, and all the other victims of gun and knife crime on the streets this country. We also send out the message that homophobia, of ANY kind should not be tolerated – whether it surfaces as a foul-mouthed landlord throwing two men out of a pub for kissing, or by a school who refuses to display positive images of gay and trans-gender lifestyles and stands by whilst its pupils are bullied. Homophobia is unacceptable yet homophobic attacks in Westminster are officially on the rise.

Our second task is to find out, gather and share information. Despite Philip having been attacked in front of one of London’s most iconic backdrops, there are NO witnesses to the attack. Sadly Philip can’t remember what happened to him, so we need to piece it together. We have fliers to hand out – and we can talk to people – and once we’ve paraded through Soho, we are going to split into 9 groups, and talk to people. Please please be careful with rumours. Many people will tell you this attack was carried out by a group of 4 Somali lads, but we need proof. We need to know where Philip was between the hours of 1 am two weeks ago and just after 3am, when he was attacked. It is not enough to be told a story; we’re looking for evidence. Get people’s names and contact details if they tell you anything important, if they’re happy to talk to the police, bring them over. Surely SOMEONE saw Philip lying on the ground outside Gap. But was he attacked there? Or did he stagger there from somewhere else? People actually filmed Ian Baynham’s attack on their mobile phones – but it was only when an appeal of this nature took place that people realised the seriousness of what had happened and the importance of the evidence that they were carrying around in their pockets.

The third thing we need to do – right at the end of the evening – is to gather back together, and head for the place where Philip was found. If you’re still awake, come and sit outside the Gap, and have a moment of private contemplation; wish Philip a speedy recovery, hope that his memory returns, but also spare a few thoughts for some of the people who have been affected by street crime; Agnes and Negus – Negus’ brother Elijah, who survived his attack, Ian Baynham, Michael Causer and James Parkes in Liverpool, the many trans-people who live every day of their lives in fear, and the countless people who don’t even bother to report crimes to the police because they’re either too frightened, or because they think there’s very little point because nothing ever gets done. Well something IS getting done today – and you are responsible.

The most important thing, is that we celebrate being alive and that we realise that, god willing, if we’re the next ones to be attacked, that people will show their support and help to find out what happened. I want to thank you all for not burying your heads in the sand, for not assuming that someone else would come here instead of you and above all, for daring to care!

Before I stop talking, I was to thank Alice, Tamera, Michael, Nathan, Anett, Daniel and The Guardian Angels for going out of their way to help the cause... A big cheer for them, please.

All that now remains is for me to teach you the three songs that Philip has requested that we sing. Don’t worry if you think you can’t sing – have a go, just clap your hands, smile a lot and make a proper racket out there.

350 years ago, Pepys took a barge to Deptford to view the Catherine; a pleasure boat that was being built for King Charles. Pepys was impressed, "it will be a most pretty thing." They spent the afternoon doing Navy work and then returned by boat to London, where Pepys was asked to sing. Or perhaps he just offered. That night he went to his father's house, and spent the night with Elizabeth.

1 comment:

  1. Huge thank-you to everyone that attended, from just three people walking the streets the previous week, we had around 100.

    What we did was in my view quite unprecedented - how often when someone has become the victim of crime/attempted murder have a group of individuals come together to walk the streets - in effect we were a group of private detectives.

    What we achieved I am sure far exceeded any expectations.

    It has re-affirmed my faith in the LGBT Community & any 'str8' supporters that turned up, you al demonstrated that a significant minority do have a social conscience and from a wide range of backgrounds from the Shoreditch 'Shabba Dabba Da' scene - sex workers - transgender - close friends and many that had never spoken to Philip.

    Many friendships have now been made that would otherwise not have happened - ALL THANKS TO PHILIP.


    Michael Peacock ( fbook )