The caption on the photograph, when it first appeared, a few hours after the event, began, “A protester carries an injured counter-protestor to safety, near the Waterloo station during a Black Lives Matter protest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, in London, Britain, June 13, 2020.”
The most striking element of the image did not require words: that it was a black man taking a white man out of danger. “I really wasn’t going to go up there that day,” says Patrick Hutchinson, the man doing the heavy lifting. “It’s still a bit surreal.”
Hutchinson, 49, was there with his friends Jamaine Facey, 43, Pierre Noah, 47, Chris Otokito, 37, and Lee Russell, 37. This is their story.
This is an abridged version of a feature that will appear in the September issue of Men’s Health, out on 11 August
Patrick: I watched the video of George Floyd being murdered just once and I cried and thought I needed to do something. On the day of the protest, I’d promised my daughter I'd watch my grandson, but Pierre was so adamant that we needed to be there that I put everything aside and went up there with him. If it hadn't been for him literally forcing me to go, I wouldn't have gone.
Pierre: When I saw the police charging the youth on their horses [at the previous weekend’s London protests], children fighting among themselves, police getting things thrown at them, people arguing over statues – I couldn't believe it. Then I got upset by Tommy Robinson's video message asking people to come to London to defend statues. I couldn’t sleep. Eventually, I contacted a group of responsible adults, including Patrick, who didn’t really want to go but I was begging people to come. And I messaged Jamaine, who’d put a video on Facebook saying we needed to support the young people of all colours going to the march.
Jamaine: I had been there the week before, at the protests, when police horses charged down children. So, all we wanted was to be there next time, overseeing, protecting people and making sure our kids weren't going to get arrested doing anything stupid. When you're in a group, you’re braver than you would be by yourself, and then you do certain things you would regret after the fact. And we realised that the EDL terrorists – my words – were being allowed to come and terrorise a peaceful protest. And when they’re drinking, the fear factor has gone. I couldn't stand by and watch more of what I saw the week before.
Chris: The purpose of us going down there was not only to protect members of our community from terrorists, but from the police. Put yourself in our shoes: worrying about the enemy ahead while there is an enemy behind you who is supposed to protect you. We don’t have faith in the police system. If you were going there on that Saturday, whatever colour you are, and you weren't trying to promote peace and equality, you were there to do something else.
Lee: Like Pierre, my background is in security, and we all practise martial arts. My son got into martial arts, which is a great discipline for young people, and that got me into it. I want to make a better life for my children, to educate and help them, and other young people too. That’s why I went.
Patrick: I've done martial arts, Thai boxing and taekwondo, since I was a young boy. I’ve always kept fit, and eight years ago I quit my job in IT in the City to be a personal trainer. People training with me always said I should be a PT, so it was a natural progression. I don't go out much, to be honest. I just like to train and take care of my children, and my grandchildren, who are the most important things to me.
Chris: The five of us are all capable guys. When you are someone who is capable in that way, of protecting yourself and others, there's a sense of awareness you have, every time you step out of your house. On that Saturday, most of the people there were not capable, untrained. It filled me with confidence to be with these other four guys, that I was with the right guys. People with a sense of control and responsibility.
Patrick: It was quite late in the afternoon when we got to Waterloo. We'd gone up to Vauxhall earlier, but nothing was happening. So, we tried to get to Trafalgar Square, which was blocked off, cordoned off, and we had trouble getting in. When people started to leave, the police were chaperoning people over the river towards Waterloo and it started kicking off there [next to the Royal Festival Hall].
Pierre: The police were moving all the protestors in one direction. At Waterloo, they walked past some of the football hooligans who were drinking, and there was an altercation. I saw it straight away. The young protestors rushed them, and I said, ‘Listen, guys, this is not going to look good, we have to go in there and just do something to make sure those kids don't carry on beating the guy.’ Other people also went in, and a shield was formed to stop the guy [Bryn Male, 55, a former British Transport Police officer] getting beaten more. Then Patrick used his sense to decide the best thing to do was get the man out of there and take him to safety.
Patrick: The man said in a newspaper article that he was on his own. He wasn't on his own when we saw him. We saw EDL football hooligans clash with Black Lives Matter protesters. The EDL guys were outnumbered and taking a bit of a kicking. Then most of them ran off, but this guy seemed to be quite intoxicated and was left behind. There was a Rastafarian man on the stairs protecting him from an onslaught of people. A middle-aged bloke – I don't know how he was doing it with all those people. We saw this from a distance and had to get over there because it was only a matter of seconds before he wouldn't have been able to protect him anymore. That guy deserves a lot of credit. Other people were trying to protect him, too. Without other people, we wouldn't have been able to save him, to be honest.
I would say the crowd around him was split 50-50 between some trying to get at him and the others trying to stop them. We rushed over and I was the last one to get there. No one said to me to pick him up, I just decided to do that. I knew I could, and I thought I would, and that was it. I took him over to a row of police and put him down and said, ‘There you go.’ Then it was on to the next, another altercation was kicking off. Things were going on all over the place.
Pierre: The main thing we did on the day was talk to angry people. Tell them to relax, don't get involved. And they would say, 'OK, big man' and walk away. We saw a kid doing graffiti on a wall with police coming. I told him, 'Why are you doing that there? Look around you.' We had to do that kind of thing. One of the hooligans wanted to start fighting with Jamaine, so I had to talk to him, calm him down, shake his hand, give him a hug. The police saw that and one said, ‘Well done mate.’ It's sad to see grown men let their guard down and be thugs. For what?
Patrick: In the evening, we went for something to eat – a black-owned vegan place on Clapham Park Road, Eat of Eden. We were outside eating when my sister sent me a picture of me carrying a man. She said, ‘Bruv, is this you?’ 'Yeah, we saved a bloke. Where did you get that?' She said, 'It's all over the place. People have sent it to me saying, "This is your brother!"' And I start getting all these messages popping up on my phone. A message from one of my mates saying, ‘Mate, your picture's on Reuters. Do you know what that means?’ Someone else sent me a video, so I put that and the picture on my Instagram. This was about an hour after leaving the protests, and it went nuts. The likes came flooding through. I think I'm getting close to 50,000 views of things, and the most I had of anything before was about 700.
Jamaine: If we hadn't had the mindset to think what would have happened if those young people had killed or badly injured the man, it would be a different narrative. ‘Family man ex-police officer defending Churchill's statue killed by Black Lives Matter.’ That's what would have gone around the world and not the picture of Pat.
Chris: Some of the media channels who have reported our story, even ones who have spoken to us, have said this story is about one black man saving one white man. Unfortunately, the image usually portrayed in the media of black men does not show unity. There is unity among black men. We are a band of brothers, we are a unit and behind that is years of friendship, sacrifice, experience, all the things we had to go through to be there on that Saturday.
Jamaine: It's all good making Instagram videos and having Piers Morgan saying, ‘You guys are heroes.’ But it's only recently that he has changed his tune with the way he communicates to and about the black community and the issues we face every day. We need the conversations to start the change: in the prisons, in the boardrooms, in the music industry and the media. And that doesn't necessarily mean black people speaking up all the time. All the people involved need to speak up.
Chris: We each got a thank-you letter from Sadiq Khan.
Jamaine: I didn't read mine. What we need is an invitation to come and sit down and talk. You can pat me on my back, but that doesn't help anyone's children.
Chris: We know we're not going to be superstars after this, but we don't want it to blow over before we can speak to the right people, influential people who want to make the change and listen to us. We just need to be connected to the right people.
Pierre: When we had those interviews on the news, I told Tommy Robinson to contact me and he has been in contact. We're talking. I told him to talk to his community, because my community, they are actually not happy with us stepping in to stop all of this. We need to educate and re-educate everybody. The only way forward is equality, to unite. So, I told him to go to his community and talk to them and he said, 'Nah mate.' He said he didn't plan for [the response to his video] to happen, he didn't mean it like that. Well, I said, 'The best thing to do is go back to your community and talk to them, then hopefully me and you can come together. Then we can say, look, everyone's portraying you as a bad guy, look now you've turned it round.' My history, when I was younger, I was naughty, but I turned that around and now I try to be a role model.
Lee: We can do good by educating people, from a young age, starting with the importance of a healthy mind and a healthy body. That is vital, but kids have to enjoy it first, it has to be fun for them to learn.
Pierre: This is all down to education. From early on, you need to know not to step out and say you hate anyone. Blacks, whites, Asians, whatever. Kids need to know that we are all one. It needs to be said. It shouldn't be that children now are going through what their parents did 20 years ago. We need to educate our generation too. Two of my friends, who grew up with me and were naughty like me, still have their heads confused. They each called me the other day. Instead of them saying, 'You know what, I'm going to join the movement with you,’ they're telling me, ‘Why did you save that white man?’ I said, 'Are you sure you're talking to me? Are you mad? How can you say that? Do you know what effect it would have had if we hadn't?' Some people don't understand. I said, ‘Listen, I'm busy, I'll talk to you later, goodbye.’
Patrick: I can't say that the man I am now is the man I was 20 years ago. If I was 30 years old, would I be doing what I’m doing now? Being honest, probably not. I'd probably be more involved in the fighting. But as a 50-year-old man with children and grandchildren, I'm trying to be a peacemaker and making sure that people don't get hurt. These things come with age. I'm quite overwhelmed with what’s happened, to be honest. It's still a bit surreal. In my life, I've had some really good dreams and woken up and realised, ‘Shit, that wasn't real.’ This one is real, it’s still here and I've not woken up out of it. I check my phone and everything is real.
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