'Accidental Black Lives Matter Hero' Speaks Out about Life-changing Incident at Protest
Joe Gallop, Journalism & English Language Graduate, University of Roehampton
On an unforgettable Sunday afternoon, ‘accidental Black Lives Matter Hero’ Patrick Hutchinson sat down with BBC’s Razia Iqbal to discuss his new book, race and that photo from the London protest. Award-winning poet Sophia Thakur helped Hutchinson write Everyone Versus Racism: A Letter to my Children [HarperCollins], and she rounded off the event with a moving performance on issues surrounding police and young black people.
Hutchinson, a local personal trainer from Wimbledon, shot to prominence when he was photographed carrying an injured counter-protester over his shoulder back in June. His life has not been quite the same since. Overlooking the glimmering Common pond, Hutchinson, wearing his trademark black baseball cap, sat in front of an admiring audience that included his friends, family and members of his athletics club. The friendly and welcoming environment was a world away from the atmosphere at the demonstration, and despite it being his first time at a live event, the 49-year-old exuded a calm aura in the Baillie Gifford Marquee. It was not long before the crowd understood how someone was capable of not only thinking about such an act, but actually doing it.
While his level of compassion is no doubt essential to effectively save another human being’s life, a sense of fear in such a heated situation would prevent many others from doing the same, as Iqbal suggested. This, however, did not apply to Hutchinson: “There was no fear for me to be honest, the adrenaline just kicked in. It was just presence of mind and it felt like right thing to do," he said. “We underestimate the power of numbers and what we can do if we come together.”
The image has been seen by millions of people and quickly went viral all over the world. But what we did not see is immediately afterwards when Hutchinson, surrounded by armed police and protestors, continued to carry the man to safety amid chaos, which he described as “quite a long walk”. “Carrying my daughter after she pretends to be asleep was the perfect training for that,” he joked, while pointing out his family in the audience.
Hutchinson claimed multiple publishers contacted him about the upcoming book, which is published on 12 November. It is written in the form of a letter to his children as the title suggests but has a much wider aim. “It’s more to society as a whole, but with a personal feel,” he said. The book’s tagline of ‘It’s not black versus white, it’s everyone versus the racists’, was originally posted on his Instagram page following the protest, and later became a statement that reverberated across social media. Hutchinson echoed this sentiment to the BookFest audience. “Sometimes we talk so much about black and white. There’s only one race and that’s the human race,” he said.
The book also touches on various incidents from around the world which “highlight how difficult it is to be of black skin". Hutchinson, who was born in Coventry but spent his early years in South London, credited much of his mental strength to his martial arts background and encouraged young people to also learn how to defend themselves. He and four other friends travelled to London South Bank on that day with one thing in mind. “It was our job to go and protect those who weren’t able to protect themselves." he said. “If you are just there filming [at the protest] you are almost party to it. If you can stop something from happening, then why not? If we hadn’t done what we did then he might not be here today.”
The man in question happens to be a retired British Transport Police Officer, who has not been in contact with Hutchinson since the incident. For him though, it was not just a matter of saving the intoxicated man’s life, which he has since faced some criticism for. “It was about saving someone’s life but also stopping someone from going to prison," he said. “There is a negative stereotype attached with black people in the media and if he had died then there would have been a lot of media coverage about him being killed by ‘black thugs’ and I didn’t want that narrative.”
Since the incident when Black Lives Matter protests were at their most prevalent, there have been further demonstrations across the world. Hutchinson was asked whether he believes much has changed since. “I think we are on the right road. Opportunities have opened up for me and there will be a lot more opportunities for people of colour.” Organisations now have to look at themselves and see who holds the top jobs,” said Hutchinson, who worked in the IT industry for almost 25 years before becoming a personal trainer.
Following his newfound prominence, the father of four has been contacted by politicians and invited to the Houses of Parliament by Lord Dr Michael Hastings. He also helped launch a new initiative named 'United To Change and Inspire' (UTCAI), which sets out to give a platform to marginalised groups: “We want to align ourselves with individuals doing great things and give them a platform and hopefully get their names out there,” he said.
Thakur concluded the event with a powerful poetry performance, well deserving of a standing ovation following their discussion on Everyone Versus Racism. Though not so surprising in an age of social distancing and Zoom calls, it is remarkable that Thakur had never met her co-writer until they sat down together for the event. “This is the first time I have met Patrick in person, but I feel I know him more than 45,000 words well,” she said.