OPINION - I stopped a racist attacker who said Britain was "full" — London is becoming nasty again

Some weeks ago I intervened in a racist assault. Passing a bus stop on Kennington Road on a Sunday morning, my wife Ann and I noticed a burly white man, in his fifties like me, bearing down on a frail, older black man, taunting him and grabbing at the orthopedic crutch he was using.

I got between them while Ann called the police. The white man, possibly drunk, bumped chests with me, waved his finger in my face and repeatedly tried to edge round me to get at his victim. He kept up a stream of garbled invective as we jostled. This “wasn’t about black and white” but Britain was “full”. Didn’t I understand that or was I “backward”?

I could see him weighing up the floral scarf I was wearing — clearly marking me as an effete ponce and no fighter — with the fact I was a head taller than him. Eventually, as Ann gave his description to the cops, I pushed him square in the chest and suggested he f*** off to the next bus stop.

He did, swearing loudly but not looking back as he went, and we waited with the shaken older man till his bus came. He told us he’d recently had a leg amputated and was on his way to church. His assailant had demanded to know if he was “really disabled” while complaining that he couldn’t get his own benefits.

A burly white man in his fifties was bearing down on a frail, older black man and grabbing at his crutch

I didn’t get the victim’s name or he mine, and we didn’t see the attacker as we walked on. It still took 20 minutes for my pulse to return to normal and we couldn’t talk about anything else all day. The event transported me right back to the childhood, fight-or-flight confrontations at my south London comprehensive in the Seventies, coincidentally the last time I remember London being filled with such naked racist antipathy.

I’ve hesitated to write anything about this in case it sounds like boasting. There were two of us against one — three if you count the victim. I was never in any real physical danger, and if anything I feel guilty about the number of times I’ve failed to intervene in concerning situations through selfishness or cowardice. But the event flashes into my mind every time I hear a Right-wing politician use immigration — legal or otherwise — as a dog-whistle for the electorate’s baser fears.

Theresa May is now being rehabilitated as the last reasonable leader of the Conservative Party but the “hostile environment” and the Windrush scandal happened on her watch as home secretary and prime minister. This weekend, a Windrush victim suggested the Government was “waiting for us to die off” to avoid paying compensation.

Since then we’ve had the “stop the boats” rhetoric, the punitive points-based entry system and the pointlessly vicious Rwanda plan; the targeting of overseas students and the dependents of care workers. Lee Anderson, that notorious conviction politician for Labour then the Tories, now repeatedly dog-whistles “I want my country back” as the only MP for the divisive Reform Party.

All of these foster a narrative that it’s “greedy” incomers, not a failure of government, that makes the wider population feel poorer, unhappier and less well served by starved public services.

The bottom line is an angry white man attacking an elderly, disabled black man at a bus stop in broad daylight. For shame.


MJ, cancelled? Hardly...

Angry bots and Michael Jackson stans have filled my timeline since I accused the creators of MJ the Musical of moral sophistry for setting their biographical jukebox celebration in 1992, when Jackson was an established weirdo but had not yet been accused of child abuse.

True, Jackson was found not guilty of charges in 2005, four years before his death. He also settled a civil charge in 1993. And the two men who accused him of abusing them as children in the 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland have been given permission to sue his estate, and are awaiting a trial date. Possibly, this will now be delayed until after the release of yet another hagiography of the King of Pop, this time a film biopic by Antoine Fuqua.

Tell me again how cancel culture is a thing?

Nick Curtis is the Evening Standard’s chief theatre critic