Today, September 11, I thought I’d check out Grosvenor Square, home to the U.S. embassy and the 9/11 memorial to the 67 British citizens who died on American soil. I had not been invited to join the mourners or the luminaries to include the prime minister David Cameron, deputy Nick Clegg and Prince Charles among others, but I wanted to watch on the fringe.
I got off the bus at Selfridges and paused to listen to the Salvation Army band playing at the corner of Oxford and Duke. After the rousing music (brass bands do rousing music best) the band leader said a few words in memory of the Britons who perished. With the exception of one instrumentalist who was picking his nose, all band members were suitably reverent. Fingertips to the bridge of their noses, they shielded their eyes from the passer-byes.
The band marched on and at the intersection perhaps twenty police officers stood shoulder to shoulder. The officers faced the street and the shoppers passing by. However, the perceived trouble makers stood behind the officers and up against the wall. It was an interesting police tactic. The youths were effectively cordoned off, and yet because the officers had their backs to them, there was no face-to-face or eye contact that might lead to a confrontation.
Further on down Duke Street, I passed the London Guitar Studio, “acoustic guitar, whether classical or flamenco,” the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile, and The Barley Mow, “fine wines and cask ales.” I also passed four, manned police vans, “working together for a safer London.” Obviously the police would not allow me to enter Grosvenor Square, but they did let me continue walking down Duke St.
Each intersection was thick with police. I have noticed that in times of trouble, British officers form concentric circles. Should the hoodlums break through one circle, another circle awaits.
The last building on the right just short of the square is the Marriott Hotel. At this point the noise of the demonstrators was a loud, reverberating pulse. I could not see them, but I assumed that the chanting came from those demonstrating in front of the American embassy. Their chant sounded like a magnified lion’s roar. It came in waves and slammed up against my body. A number of men clustered in front of the Marriott situated on Duke at the corner of the square.. The men were silent, but their masked faces were a concern – a concern to me, apparently not to the police. To my mind, asking to see a person’s face is not an infringement on his civil rights.
Reaching the barricade to the park, I asked the police for details. They were non-committal. They were polite, but they knew nothing. (I had my doubts: they were wired for sound.) I talked to numerous officers. None of them were talking. I was told that the Memorial Garden at Grosvenor Square would be open to the public at 5:00 p.m. “Highly unlikely,” I thought.
Walking back to Oxford Street, I met numerous skin-heads milling around looking for trouble. Not skin-heads exactly – more like close-shaven punks looking to get in on the action if the police lost control of the demonstration. It was an August-like riot just waiting to happen. At one point, they were pounding against the sides of the police vans, hurling insults and singing, “Jolly Jolly England.” Two policemen watched them. Their faces were impassive, but they heartily chewed their gum with nervous intensity.
Once home, looking for details of the demonstration, I turned on the computer. Quoting from the BBC homepage updated at 4:24 p.m.: “About 60 protesters including members from the Muslims Against Crusades group set fire to a U.S. flag during the moment of silence. A similarly sized group of English Defence League protesters” challenged the Muslims. Another group had placards reading “Muslims Against Extremism.”
I found it curious that the protesters (based on the volume of the chants, numbering more than the BBC estimate of 150) did not make the news.
Why was that?
Like a lot of first-person accounts, I could see only what I experienced. Something to think about as we and the Networks increasingly rely on citizen, I-phone reports from the scene of the action.
- Write a fictional account of meeting a masked figure. Or…
- Write about a masquerade party and how wearing a mask affects a person’s personality. Or…
- Write about taking part in a demonstration. Or…
- Write an opinion piece on the right to be masked in public.