The murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in May 2020 sparked a global backlash against systemic racism and police brutality and in the UK thousands took to the streets demanding change. The marches on our shores were overwhelmingly peaceful, yet some right-wing commentators seemed obsessed with the tiny pockets of violence between protestors and police. This divisive commentary gained a lot of mainstream traction and tensions across the political divide began to ferment.
On June 7, 2020, the bronze statue of trans-Atlantic slave trader, Edward Colston was toppled and pushed into Bristol Harbour by Black Lives Matter protestors. On the same day, Winston Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square was defaced with the words "was a racist" scrawled under his name. A heated debate surrounding British statues ensued and far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson, took to social media and demanded ‘patriotic’ British men descend on central London to protect the Churchill statue from further damage. Organisers of a forthcoming Black Lives Matter protest - realising the potential for trouble, immediately cancelled their event, but the touch paper had already been lit. On the weekend of June 12, 2020, thousands of angry right-wing yobs invaded the capital with drunken brawls breaking out between them and police officers. Appalling images of grown men doing Nazi salutes and hurling racist abuse were broadcast to the world and one boozed-up ‘patriot’ was even caught urinating on a dead policeman’s memorial. The final act of this pathetic weekend - and most embarrassingly of all from their point of view, was the moment one of the men got beaten up then had to be carried to safety by Patrick Hutchinson, a black man attending the event in order to stop young black boys getting caught up in the madness. The incredible photograph of this heroic act immediately began circulating on social media.
The next morning WOTW decided to hack the Winston Churchill £5 note and replace the various elements with a sort of snapshot of those horrible few days. Swapping Britain’s ‘war hero’ with the image of Patrick felt like a clear way of sticking two fingers up at the idiotic right-wing racists. Andrew Banks - the man caught pissing on PC Keith Palmer’s memorial was included, as was the original graffiti calling Churchill a racist. WOTW printed fake paper banknotes as well as vinyl stickers which could be stuck over the image of Churchill on real £5 notes and then covertly circulated as legal tender. The artwork was also blown up and pasted it on a billboard in Peckham, South London. The printed items were sold with 50% of profits being donated to the Stephen Lawrence Foundation.
The response to the piece was overwhelmingly positive and the banknotes sold out within days. WOTW was even contacted by Patrick himself who was desperate to get his hands on the notes, and a few were sent out to him. Over the coming months, Patrick became a sort of national hero, appearing on daytime TV shows and magazine covers, he published a book and even had a piece of classical music composed in his honour. But as the famous photograph became more and more ubiquitous the narrative surrounding the event itself seemed to shift. The media focus was less and less about right-wing extremism and black oppression, and more about how his behaviour should be a sort of lesson in black humility. A crude bastardization of Martin Luther King’s ‘turn the other cheek’ policy. The idea of any other forms of protest, whether violent or otherwise seemed completely out of the question. A dialogue about our nation’s voyeuristic obsession with the image began to unfold on social media and WOTW's artwork was called out by some as an example of the problem. The symbolism attached to the photo had dramatically altered, and when discussing the piece, no one made the connection with Churchill, the debate surrounding statues, or the racist thugs from that hideous weekend all those months ago. WOTW immediately decided to pull the artwork from circulation and donate 100% of the sales profits to the Stephen Lawrence Foundation. "In hindsight, perhaps commodifying such a painful event at all was the wrong decision but I fully stand by the integrity of the original artwork and the story it tells about Britain in June 2020."