The Riots

28 Aug

I live in Hackney and I work in my local community. On the afternoon of Monday 8th August, I left my house and went outside. I’d heard there were loads of police around and that things were looking tense. I thought, I could either stay at home and wait for second hand news of what was happening, or I could go out and see for myself. I felt like I understood what the riots were about, and I knew I wouldn’t be at risk.

A little after 4pm I steped out into a thick atmosphere and made my way to Mare Street. I got as far as St Johns church yard garden before seeing a big group of police surrounded by a big group of people. Someone else in the park said that the police had got all the shops to shut and were stopping and searching people. Tensions grew. One person didn’t cooperate and they may have tried to arrest them. The riot police then pushed everyone out of the church yard and away from the Narrow Way. Luckily I’d bumped into a friend and we ended up being pushed out towards Clarence Road. Everyone in the park was mocking the police, shouting over exagerated comedy orders and refering to them as storm troopers. Not many people have got much time for them round here, and that’s not for no reason.

From the top of the Narrow Way we looked up Clarence Road and could see a street filled with young people in hoods and with face masks. Police pushed us away as rocked started flying in their direction. Me and a few others went to Clapton Square and cut onto Clarence Road further up. People were building barricades, the atmosphere was electric but not threatening at all. They were scaring away people with cameras but appart from that, there were loads of people just milling about, watching what was happening.

Some shops in Hackney did get looted or got their wondows smashed. A JD sport, a phone shop, an off license, several bookies, several banks. The focus, however was here on Clarence Road. The aim was a fight with the police.

Terrible things happened over those few days. People got killed, houses and small shops burned. Anger is an ugly thing.

Since the Tottenham riots a few days before, I could feel the tension in myself. The phrase ‘mindless thuggery’ kept going round and round in my head. And the backlash in the media and in the opinions of people who seemed to know little and care even less about finding out about the areas affected. I knew where the anger came from. I’ve watched as the police stop and search young people time and time again. I’ve seen the dispersal zone notifications that prevent young people from being on the streets in greater numbers than pairs, including in parks. On the way to work I go past the site of the death of  Godwin Lawson, stabbed to death in gang violence in March 2010. 1 of 19 teenagers murdered in 2010. I’ve heard young teenagers refuse to leave their neighbourhood for fear of walking down the wrong street. I’ve spoken to youth workers in Hackney fighting to save their own jobs from being cut. I’ve talked to mums about cuts in children’s services. I’ve lost work from cuts to school holiday playschemes. I’ve been on JSA and been treated like scum by job centre staff. I struggle to get and keep work despite good a-levels, a good university degree, 2 NVQs and my best efforts and I certainly struggle to pay rent.

The day after the Hackney riots I went to Clarence Road again and spoke to some people who were out and about there. Loads of people were around. Neighbours talking together. The message was pretty much universal. This wasn’t a supprise. The government had to start listening to young people who now have no future. People pointing to the scrapping of EMA, the closure of youth centres, the cutting of youth workers, the rise in uni fees and police harassment. Lots thought the police had it coming. All of them said that they understood why young people were angry, but that they couldn’t burn up their own communities.

I dug around online to try to get to grips with how the media were reporting it. I found some but few useful, meaningful things. Things from before the riots that gave an indication of what was to come:

In the aftermath of Tottenham:

In the aftermath of Crydon:

In the aftermath of Hackney:

That last video says a lot. A bit that particularly strikes me:

I’ll tell you a quick story. Two dogs dies in a car that was owned by the police. They started an enquiry there and then, it was announced that was what they were going to do. They suspended the officers that was involved. That’s what they did. This guy that got shot, for whatever reason it was, nothing got said. They didn’t even go and see the family. And that told everybody in this environment that we’re nobody. The youngsters are the ones really that are more braver than the people of my age, because they reacted. Because they’ve got nothing to lose. And you know what, that’s a sad indictment on the society that we live in at the moment.

And for every piece of media that talked to anyone involved, that asked questions and that took a minute to think, there’s been a million ignorant, racist thoughtless and useless articles, discussions and interviews. At the end of the day, it’s happening, there are reasons and whether or not someone in Surrey or Westminster thinks they are reason enough is completely irrelevent.

We had the mainstream media giving David Starkey plenty of broadcasting time to tell everyone that he thinks Enoch Powel was right and that ‘the whites are turning black’.

I’ve watched that clip and was pretty disturbed. I recomend watching these rap remixes for some light relief:

But it’s not just Starkey that’s stuck in the dark ages. We’ve had journalists asking why weren’t the police “clubbing these looters like baby seals, which is what they deserved”? which sounds bad enough but try reading the whole article…

There was also anti-Europe Tory Member of the European Union, Roger Helmer who Tweeted “Time to get tough. Bring in the army. Shoot the rioters.”

And don’t forget Mr Cameron, Prime Minister with a grand total of 23% of people in the country supporting him at the polls (that calculation is including those that did not vote) with his speechs outside number 10 and in parliamant which both mearly nod towards his plans for law changes, removal of civil liberties and further attacks on communities that have been bearing the brunt of someone elses bad choices for years
And while you’re watching Dave talk about responsibile youth, take a minute to reflect upon how responsible he was in his younger days

In the wake of the riots we’ve seen councils threaten to evict whole families off the back of 1 individuals involvement in the riots. The first council to announce their plans and serve the notice was Wandsworth. It looks like other councils are set to follow. Westminster, for example, has made the pledge but as yet not served the notices. A group of 20-30 people went along to a protest outside the house of the leader of Wandswoth Council. It was a calm but vocal protest until officers decided it was all a bit too calm for them. They intimidated the crowd and then arrested 1 person for swearing.

People have been handed down extreme sentences for minor crimes, or things that previously weren’t crimes at all. Nicholas Robinson will be in prison for 6 months for stealing water costing £3.50. Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan were given 4 years each for posting stuff on Facebook. Ursula Nevin was given 6 months in prison for just acceptng a pair of looted shorts. At appeal this got revised to 75 hours community service.

Police and courts have also refused bail to a lot of people. People that have not been found guilty of anything and many who are only charged with minor crimes may be held in prison for months before they’ve even had a trial. It seems now, after the leak of the Met Police’s ‘Prisoner Processing Strategy’ this was planned. A friend of mine happens to be one of those being held. We have no idea when he might be bailed. Some suggestions it might not be until December.

And, since the riots, there have been a spate of people dying in police custody or operations, 3 in 1 week.

So here we are. Many are cheering on the government’s moves to further kurb civil liberties and have little interest in admititng that it might not be mindless and that there are causes other than ‘lack of responsibility’ and ‘bad parenting’. As I said before, at the end of the day it doesn’t much matter how many people condem what happened. While the underlying issues are still there, there will be more riots.

To finish, while rap is one of the many things being wrongly pointed to as a cause of riots, it’s musicians continue to tell it like it is on the streets. This is Lethal Bizzle’s Babylon’s Burning the Ghetto, released in 2007. This is the way the streets have felt since before then.


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