Many of you will be vaguely – or vividly – aware of right wing statue defenders in the UK clashing with police and protestors in the last few days.
Some of you will have seen a video circulating online of hordes of “loyalist” statue defenders storming George square in Glasgow, rushing police lines and then ultimately descending on and attacking some bystanders who are dragged to safety by police.
Some of the clips end before I am seen being dragged out of this mob, some do not.
For the last two days I’ve been dealing not just with the pain of injuries which turned out to be worse than my adrenaline addled body would admit to initially, but with the surreal feeling of knowing that this video of me living a nightmare, worst case scenario, has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times – yet so many people have little to no idea what happened that day, or what is happening in Scotland at large with regards to the tangled webs of fascism, the Scottish police force, and the media.
I’d been researching Scotland’s response to the international calls to remove and re-frame monuments serving as testaments to our societies ongoing collective admiration for slave owners and traders as a journalist for just a few days before I decided to join the press at George Square. I had intended to drop in, dressed brightly, and remain independent and safely distanced from the crowds of men I had been told had been assembled there all night to drink and become increasingly bold. I told myself that if I acted professionally as a member of the press and stayed in sight of the police this would be no different from me keeping my head down in town on the day of a football match.
Still, as my friend and I rode the empty subway into town I admitted I felt like I would get hurt today. A native of Berlin used to organised, well attended, well policed, and sophisticated public political demonstration, she thought I was exaggerating. Meanwhile my mind replayed memories of being pushed around by football supporters for daring to cycle too far into the east end, punches thrown casually but with acerbic focus into friends faces, and the caustic racial abuse I’d witnessed meted out to my friends on nights out meters from the square. I felt uneasy but determined not to be deterred.
Moving through town from St Enoch Centre towards the square, I began to realise how different today was to be from any other demonstration I’d witnessed before. Town was eerie and empty, shops still boarded up and awaiting permission to sell us the illusion of a return to normality.
Left wing activists passed us in small groups of two and three and told us that the police had ordered them to leave the town. I asked why only one half of the demonstration was being removed from the square. They told us simply that it was “easier for them” to make us leave, than to handle the crowd of loyalists who had been to my horror allowed to overrun the square and centre of town in their hundreds, drunk and violent, all night and day.
Passing another crowd of leaving activists, we gathered the testimonies of those who had witnessed crowds of hundreds of men rushing people accidentally passing through town, unwittingly entering the territory now claimed by the seething masses of Scottish fascism. Abuse running the full and colourful gamut of brainless hatred directed towards anyone deviating from a very particular red and blue blooded strain of nationalism were carried on the roaring crowds running people from the city centre.
“N*****”, “bitch”, “cunt”, “poof”, “fucking faggots”, “chinky cunt”, “paki scum”. “I’ll knock you the fuck out of you bitch.”
“Everyone get back to George Square, it’s only two fucking n******.”
Small groups of loyalists peeled off from the square, walking past us, staring us down as we gathered to talk, hating us as much as non-verbally possible. I begin to hate myself for not actively trying to blend in more, then realised how bullshit and futile trying to hide from these assholes would be.
I resolved to stay even closer to the police than I had initially planned. We passed police horses gathered outside GOMA, moving towards the square. I found a spot at a bus stop, near the wall of the counting house, near the police line. I stood, anxious but otherwise certain I would be fine
given that I had tried to bunch together with the more professional looking – white, male – photographers. I moved up and down the street for a few minutes, five at most, attempting to make sense of the constant movement of the crowds. There were so many more than I’d expected. There was no presence of activists to counter the loyalists at all and wondered then what on earth could be driving their obvious and uncontainable fury. They took to running down the street, first down St Vincent’s place, then up George Square; charging and shouting like some tragic pishy homage to Braveheart battle scenes or WW1 over-the-top pushes. I watched as they clashed with the police line by the station and felt unable to leave.
I decide to leave just as three officers begin pushing and grabbing a man – who I now know as Lee – two meters from me. He had been filming everything on his phone. They shout “MOVE, DO YOU WANT TO GET DONE IN? DO YOU WANT TO GET DONE?”. Lee was rammed into the bus stop as he was shoved, panicked and scrambling to leave the square. The question flared up in my mind, why did the police choose us to shove and berate and threaten, standing merely observing? Then I realise the police mean done in by the crowd rather than arrested. All of a sudden, the crowd behind them turns towards us, running full pelt in our direction. I have no time to think before I realise the amorphous mass of leaderless rage is descending on myself, the police and Lee.
This was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We weren’t squared up to. We were not pushed around to be intimidated or toyed with like a bird in a cats lap. As you can see in the video, a group of twenty or more men immediately push us to the wall and begin to beat us.
I feel the first punch land on the left hand side of my face. My head rings and I can’t hear properly but I somehow remain standing, pinned against the wall but attempting to push against them to avoid being crushed and mount some kind of resistance. Refusing to panic and escalate it. Then I realise in a split second it couldn’t escalate any higher. We’re fucked and if they drag me out I am done. Hands reach over the police officer and Lee who are protecting me from the brunt of the crowd and grab my pony-tail. I am yanked with full force, my neck whiplashed, down to the ground, sunk against the wall next to the body of a policewoman to my left who went down one second before me. We cower into each other. I hear men shouting “STOP FILMING”. I try to stand seeking more police to get me out, I am hit twice again in the face, and suddenly I am aware of a man elbowing his way to me. He places his hands against the wall above me, covering me. He is one of them, dressed in blue fleece and navy mask. He shouts in vain for them to stop beating me, evidently struggling to keep some moral compass which supports sectarianism, mob rule and racism but not beating a random woman pointing to true north. Finally police pile in, grab my arms and lift me out, dragging me running to the police line. Lee is pulled out seconds after.
Hitting the police line, I am shoved into the street, bums rush. “MOVE, GO, RUN, GET OUT OF HERE NOW. NOW”, officers shout as our heads ring. We momentarily hesitate to run from the safety of the line and vans into the streets which the mob is now running. “But will we be safe this way?” I demand to know. “GO, NOW.” They say. They have no idea. We run to Sauchiehall street, checking our shoulder to make sure they haven’t broken the line. We run to GOMA and meet friends in order to more safely leave the town centre, hot footing away from the square where roaring and chanting is still rising, smaller crowds setting about to roam the streets shouting.
Sitting on the subway afraid I’d be found there, trapped, and subjected to some Warriors style subterranean ass kicking I pull chunks of hair from my head and backpack and find I was unable to film anything much other than a one second clip of me shouting “get down.”
My friend and I emerged from the subway at Kelvingrove and I felt, rather than a sense of relief to be in the sun among some semblance of peace and normality, a sense of absolute chilling angst and terror. Was everyone really so unaware that the centre of the city had been overrun by the mob and was uncontrollable? Did no one here know that coming out of the subway stop at George Square would land them in a war-zone like free for all of violence the police were barely able, and even less willing to contain, handle and disperse?
Our phones pinged as some friends asked us if it was me in the video as they recognised me. I contacted journalists I knew, painfully aware how lacking the media presence at the square was. Having contacted a member of the BBC covering the days events and stressing that this can no longer be written off as laddish football hooliganism, and having been reassured the angle would focus on police failings and the rise in attacks against the press I felt at peace.
I had denied an interview on the BBC news that night via Skype for fear I would become a target. (I was right to do so, the following day I heard reports of groups still roaming the streets seeking targets, and of Lee being phoned by people posing as journalists but actually seeking to intimidate him. He had been recognised by colleagues who had suppled his contact information.) I am filled with regret for not appearing despite this because the Scottish and national media failed to inform the public that for two night and three days now, Nazi’s and violent thug fascists have roamed the streets with impunity. I was characterised as a protestor, Lee falsely characterised as a lone Antifa member rather than a member of press/unfortunate bystanders.
Yet police vans continued to crawl Kelvingrove, arresting small groups for drinking beers and wine in the sun. Ah, the surreal uneven handedness of law and order.
No arrests were made that day. No statements were taken. No appeals were broadcast calling for witnesses. No extra power or planning was used to disperse and disempower this disgraceful rampage; the unlearned lessons of history writ large but unread on our streets.
It is NOT ENOUGH for politicians to condemn these events in a soundbite. It is not good enough that the media skimmed over what was an absolutely unprecedented public declaration of the growing strength of fascism in this country.
What has the media been discussing lately? Holidays to Spain returning after an unbearable four months without, the continued daily coverage of social distancing, the Queen not attending Ascot this year. Where is the coverage of what is seething beneath the surface tension of rising unemployment, ignorance, rage, outright racial hatred and the free pass granted them by a dismissive and suspect Westminster government?
I’ll be writing more on this and other related issues in more depth soon, but for now I have to deal with a concussion.
I will leave you with the image of my mum, looking at me with the most profound sadness I have ever seen in her following my expressing my fury, bitterness and frustration that her mother had been beaten on the street by nazi’s and come here as a refugee, only to have her granddaughter face them again; crawling out of the soft rotten woodwork of ignorance anonymity and anger all over again.
Tommy’s also on the Sunday
I have never felt less safe anywhere in the world as I did yesterday, in the very centre of the city that I love and that I call home. And then I was attacked.
I went to George Square, where several hundred men had gathered to defend statues. Had there been anyone there who was affiliated with the BLM or Antifa movements I would have gladly stood alongside them, but there wasn’t. Other than those men (and a very few women), there were the police, and there were photographers. Given the situation, I was among the latter group. I generally congregated with the press photographers, most of whom were threatened at one time or another: “You’ll get that camera up yer fuckin’ arse pal!”; “Fuck off wi yer cameras!” ;”Smash it! Get it!”
Despite the safety that might come from being in the press gang, my vest, cycling cap, and colourful trainers probably marked me out in their perception as not only separate from the other press photographers, but as a man who doesn’t put his hand over his heart upon hearing God Save The Queen: this was enough to make me a target for violence.
Had they been chanting messages such as “History!” or “Empire!” I might have been able to muster some respect for them, as they would at least have been taking a stance which could be argued. As it was, the only thing I could hear chanted was “WANKERS! WANKERS!”
For the first time in my life, I heard the N-word said with feeling.
There was a menace in the air that I’ve never, ever felt before. These men were itching for a fight, and when one of them thought they saw a representative of Antifa across the square – whether they imagined they saw a symbol on a Tshirt, or whether it was because the boy had blue hair – he shouted “OVER THERE!!” and they ran, hundreds of men running towards a single target. The police were swift in cutting them off – officers running, the screech of vans, the clop of horses – but the glee in those faces as they rushed towards another human being with the intent to hurt them
was truly chilling.
Eventually something did kick off. I made my way to that side of the square to see a man being set upon. I did what I know how to do: I took photographs. Just as the police managed to impose some order, several men and boys turned their attention to me. The reason might have been because I was taking photographs, but these were not the same insults or threats I’d heard as part of the press gang; this time it was personal. “Fuckin speccy chink!” “Chinky wi the cameras! Get him!” “Aye you ya fuckin poof!” I was able to keep myself away from them until the police intervened. An officer told me to move over to the other side of the road.
I did as I was told, glad of the chance to get my breath back and try to ride out the adrenaline rush in peace. I had thought that after the Hong Kong protests, during which police threw me to the ground for no reason other than for standing near them, that I could handle this with ease, but I was wrong. In Hong Kong, even though the police were the antagonists – those to whom you are supposed to turn for protection – I felt safer then, knowing that a thousand other people had my back, there and then in that moment. In this case, I did trust that the police would protect me, but they were few. As I stood at the corner gathering my breath, three boys surrounded me, two in front and one behind, so close that we were almost touching. Out of concern for my cameras, I did nothing.
“Just let me know when he lifts his camera,” said one of the boys in front “and I’ll get ma arse oot!” I was so scared that this didn’t even titillate me.
“Don’t you fuckin worry mate” replied the boy behind “If he lifts that camera it’ll be gettin takn clean aff im.”
I looked for a police officer; those nearby were dealing with another fracas; in any case, I calculated that any help was several seconds’ run away, so I continued to keep still and to do nothing. Then a man rushed from the side, between the boys surrounding me: he grabbed the lens of my camera. The only way I could protect it was to bring my cameras into my core and curl up around them, which I did. I felt punches to the skull – presumably an effort to get to me to protect my head and thereby stop protecting my cameras – before I was aware of the police having separated us. I shall recount the words of the conversation I had with the police officer as best I can remember, without describing the thoughts and feelings of the moment.
“Get out of here. Leave!” “I’ve done nothing wrong.” “What are you doing here?” “I’m taking photographs.” “Who do you work for?”
“I have no affiliation.”
“Well listen, they’ve taken offense to you for some reason.”
“Some reason? I’ll tell you the reason; I’ve heard the word chinky more times in the past 10 minutes than in the 10 years before that.”
“You’re making this worse. I don’t want to take action against you.”
“Take action against ME?! For what?!”
“You’re an adult. Be wise. Leave.”
“Keep me safe while I pack my things, and then I’ll go.”
“My bike’s on the other side of the square. Can I go get it?”
“Where is it?”
“Side of the Millennium Hotel.”
“Go the long way round. We won’t follow you.”
“Believe it or not, it’s not you I’m worried about.”
So I left. It’s as well my principal concern had been for the safety of my equipment, because I know that if not for that I’d have retaliated at the men and boys who struck me. I know that would have been stupid, but I know it because it’s a test of will I failed minutes later, after my cameras were packed away and as I walked towards my bike on North Frederick St: three men – old, haggard, rough men – walked past me and one said “Rule Britannia, Chinky.”
I stop and turn; they’re looking back at me.
“Whit’s yer fuckin problem?”
“What did you just say to me?”
“Rule Britannia, ya fuckin mongo.”
“That wasn’t it.”
“Ah’ll split yer fuckin head open, that’s whit it wis.” “Do it. Come on over here and do it now.”
So I do. I’m so pumped with adrenaline that I don’t care that there’s three of them. I’m not joking, it’s not a threat. I move quickly and with purpose; I know which combo of punches I’m going to throw to start, and I’m excited. As for what happens after, I don’t care.
“Ho!” a voice from behind. “What’s gon on?!”
“Oh nothin officer!” says one of the men, hands raised. “Nothin is it?” says I, “Racist abuse is nothin?” “Racist?! How can it be racist?! You’re white!”
“Right!” says the officer “You three, fuck off. Now! You, what are you doing here?” “That’s my bike. I’m going to unlock it.”
“And then where are you going?”
“Away from this shit. What do you think is the safest way?”
“Not up there. Down and round.”
I look behind me and the three men are progressing slowly up the hill. Backwards. I cycled to meet my sister, and she bought me a beer.
It might be argued that the police treated me with respect, and I actually came away from the interaction feeling like that. I left because the officer was right to say that I was making things worse, and I can’t imagine what good it would have done anyone for me to stay there. But as I recovered from the shock – when my hands stopped shaking – I replayed the events in my head, I see it like this:
A large group of men called me a chinky, tried to take my cameras from me, and punched me in the head; the sole response of police officers who witnessed this was to ask me to leave the area.