Monday, April 19, 2021

The Covid Memorial Wall

The National Covid Memorial Wall has been painted over the last month by volunteers along the South Bank of the Thames between Lambeth Bridge and Westminster Bridge, opposite the Houses of Parliament, and including the riverside wall in front of St Thomas' Hospital. There are around 150,000 hearts, each representing one of the UK Covid dead (so far) and many of them dedicated to named individuals. This unofficial memorial was started by people involved with Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice UK.

It is hard to do justice to the scale of this monument in photographs, stretching as it does for around 500 metres. I strongly recommend that if you get the chance you visit it yourself.

Harder too to keep a dry eye as you read the names and messages on the wall, and feel a rising sense of sadness and anger.

The impact of Covid is so often rendered as a series of statistics in which the individual lives lost and damaged are rendered invisible, the wall places these lives back at the centre - mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, lovers and friends.

'The UK has one of the highest death tolls in the world. While many have become used to seeing the statistics associated with Covid-19, it is important to remember that each one of these numbers represents a loved person, a life gone too soon and a family torn apart. Our loved ones were not just numbers, but treasured relatives who will be missed forever.

As more and more information comes to light, it has become clear that the UK hasn’t ended up with one of the highest death tolls in the world by coincidence. Gaps in the country’s pandemic preparedness, delays to locking down, inadequate supplies of PPE and the policy of discharging into care homes among other issues have all been identified as having contributed to the level of the death toll. Despite this, the government continues to refer to its ‘apparent success’ and being ‘proud’ of its record. Not only is this deeply hurtful for bereaved families who have already gone through a traumatic loss to hear, but this reluctance to engage honestly with what has gone wrong is a barrier to learning. Every day the government fails to learn lessons, more families are going through the same loss and trauma. It is heart breaking to see the same mistakes repeated over and over'

Most of the names on the memorial are of UK dead but good to see acknowledgement too of the global dimension of the pandemic including a heart for Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor who was one of the first to raise the alarm about Covid.

'When politicians and experts say that they are willing to allow tens of thousands of premature deaths for the sake of population immunity or in the hope of propping up the economy, is that not premeditated and reckless indifference to human life? If policy failures lead to recurrent and mistimed lockdowns, who is responsible for the resulting non-covid excess deaths? When politicians wilfully neglect scientific advice, international and historical experience, and their own alarming statistics and modelling because to act goes against their political strategy or ideology, is that lawful? Is inaction, action? How big an omission is not acting immediately after the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020? At the very least, covid-19 might be classified as “social murder”'
(Kamran Abbasi, Covid-19: Social murder, they wrote—elected, unaccountable, and unrepentant, British Medical Journal editorial, 4 February 2021)

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Fenton Ogbogbo- murdered by racists in the Old Kent Road, 1981

Fenton Ogbogbo was a 25 year old man who was murdered in a racist attack on the  Old Kent Road in June 1981.

 Three white youths aged 15 to 17 from the Peckham area were jailed at 'Her Majesty’s pleasure' in  a trial at the Old Bailey in the following year.  The court heard that on 21 June 1981 after an incident in a pub on the Old Kent Road, 'Other white youths were recruited and they went after him. But Mr  Ogbogbo of Nunhead Grove, Peckham,  was rescued by young whites he had been playing pool with' in the pub. A few minutes later the three murderers 'who had described the rescuers as “n* lovers”, caught Mr Ogbogbo alone in a fish shop' and stabbed him  repeatedly (Times 23 February 1982). Fenton has been watching a  boxing match on TV in the Senol Fish Bar in Old Kent Road. He died at Guys Hospital.

Fenton had come to London from Nigeria in 1969 and gone to schools in Peckham before working assembling computers, but he had lost his job and was unemployed.

Bizarrely the police suggested that he may have considered suicide earlier that day having supposedly 'pulled back from jumping from the balcony of a block of flats'. This was denied by his family, and in any event was irrelevant to his brutal racist murder later in the day (Times, 23 June 1981)

His father Isiah Ogbogbo, an electrical engineer, said: 'I have lost a child because of the racial trouble in this country. Why should somebody kill a quiet innocent boy like him? [...] It is these skinheads with their hated of black people. That is why my child died. We have a lot of English people living in Nigeria but we do not kill them'.

The report below mentions that another black man had been stabbed in a racist attack in Peckham in the previous week, and that in the same period there were clashes between the police and black youth in the area:

'The Saturday night of Fenton‘s murder hundreds of black youth, joined by some white youth, had fought for two hours with the police in Peckham Rye. “It looked like they were seeking confrontation with us“ said Superintendent Staplin in charge of the police on the scene. He couldn’t have been more right. Wooden stakes were torn up from fences and used as spears to throw at the police, police vehicles were attacked, and such money grabbers as Currys, Boots and British Home Stores were broken into. The BP petrol station narrowly escaped destruction.…

A few miles from Peckham in Lewisham shopping centre, in just two forays by the police, 20 black youths were picked up on 4 and 5 June. These youths, the youngest of which was 13, were held for hours in Ladywell police station. A pregnant teenager among them was attacked and given a black eye. All were subjected to a constant barrage of racist abuse. When one young girl asked how she was supposed to get home when she was released late at night with no money she was told “you can swing on trees“. She was left as an easy target for the kind of racists who killed Fenton Ogbogbo that the police allowed to roam the streets' (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, July/August 1918 - sourced from the Splits and Fusions archive)