Category: riots


warning

The 2011 riots devastated a number of communities around England. News organisations and various forms of social media quickly informed the nation of the unfolding events. However, young people felt that they were all painted with the same brush. People tried to make sense of what was happening themselves, and documented the events. When the damage was done, communities came together to clear the mess away. Once the dust settled, people tried to understand what had happened in an attempt to try and prevent this from happening again.

Believe it or not, some people in the community warned that something like this would happen. Youth leaders in particular warned that cuts in youth services would have a negative impact on young people. I remember reading that the cuts could lead to an increase in crime and gang violence. People were on edge, waiting for something to happen. But I don’t think anyone could have possibly predicted the scale of the riots and how quickly they spread. Some youth leaders said that they weren’t really surprised that the riots took place.

To an extent we were warned that some sort of social unrest would unfold, but these warnings fell on deaf ears.

So the riots have come and gone. Various reports have been published, and a number of recommendations have been made. However, attention has moved away from those events. People have moved on. The euphoria of the Olympics, and now the birth Prince George, has swept all the bad memories away. Other countries are no longer advising their citizens to avoid visiting the UK. We are now looked upon favourably now as a holiday destination. The ‘feel-good’ feeling has taken over – for most people.

The reality for a number of people is that life is still tough. The problems outlined in a number of reports still exist. The recommendations from those reports have simply been set aside to collect dust.

If you listen carefully enough, you can hear that people are warning that the riots could happen again. Not necessarily on the scale that it did two years ago, but something can still kick off, and some believe that this can happen a lot sooner than we think. If social unrest erupts again, this time I really wouldn’t be surprised. We have been warned.

In a recent interview, the ‘Hackney heroine’, Pauline Pearce, said: “People are getting restless. Silent rivers run deep and in the silence you do not know what’s brewing.”

Problems are still definitely simmering under the surface, and those problems can spill over at any moment – all you need is a trigger. Even though it doesn’t feel good to talk about bad experiences, we need to learn our lessons. We can’t allow the memory of the riots to fade away.

I just want to leave you with a story that I covered in 2010. I was writing about a student sit-in at Middlesex University for a local paper and I decided to turn it into a feature for a coursework assignment.

In a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, just from what I saw and heard, I warned that the protests could turn violent. Here’s my article. But little did I really know that it would actually happen.

So what’s my message? Pay attention to the signs.

During the riots two years ago, every man and his dog had an opinion on the events that were unfolding before them.

Most of the time, the loudest arguments (though not necessarily ‘the best’ explanations) were the simplistic ones – the ones that offered only one cause. People were understandably angry, so pretty much the only explanation people heard were that the rioters were a plague of “feral rats” that escaped from the underclass and were let loose into civil society – oh, help us!

Well, after my first, second and third posts on the riots, I thought I would dedicate my fourth post to the various causes of the riots. I’ll then take a look at what has happened since. Do feel free to add anything you feel that I’ve missed out.

So, without further ado, here’s my two pence on the whole furor:

The Causes

Mark Duggan’s death

Mark Duggan

Whatever your beliefs on why people participated in the riots in the first place, you can’t deny the fact that Mark’s death, and everything that surrounded it afterwards, was the spark that lit the fuse in the first place. This is well documented in the film ‘Riot from Wrong’.

His death highlighted the fact that there is a tense relationship between the police and the community.

Police/community relations

– Deaths in custody/following police contact

When Mark was fatally shot, his loss of life represented yet another death following police contact or in police custody. According to an article, which was published on the Guardian’s website in 2012, 1,433 deaths have fallen into this category since 1990.

Mark’s family didn’t even know about his death until they saw it in the media. They wanted answers, so they decided to march peacefully to the police station to get some answers, but nobody bothered to come out to see them.

Sure, after an incident like this, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigates such complaints against police actions. But what is frustrating for many families involved is that first of all, these enquiries can take a while to be completed, but once they are, even though “a number of issues” are raised, more often than not, “no evidence of criminal offence” has been found. Or, if it has and the case is passed on to the criminal justice system, then a jury always finds the police officer ‘not guilty’. This just gives the impression that the police are above the law.

Stop and search

The police’s powers to ‘stop and search’ someone is also something which antagonises certain communities. Fortunately, I’ve only been stopped and questioned once, when I worked as a charity fundraiser. At one event I felt almost embarrassed that when asked if anyone had any problems with the police, I was pretty much the only person that didn’t put my hand up. In fact, I’m the person with an ‘I met the Met’ sticker on my wall after local officers came in to give talks at my primary school.

But imagine having to face this humiliating routine day in, day out, because of the way you look or the number of people you hang out with. Black and mixed raced boys are particularly affected by this, and you can tell from the way that they speak about the police that there is an animosity towards them. (Please do understand your rights if you do get stopped).

I do understand that there are higher rates of crime in certain areas, however the people that are consistently targeted – who have done nothing wrong – have a problem with the way they are being treated by the police.

So with all of this in mind, it’s not really surprising that there are tensions between the police and the community. When word quickly spread that a girl had been beaten up by the police in Tottenham, that’s when things really started to kick off, apparently. This was their chance to take out their aggression on the police and to attack them, showing a reversal in power.

It was also very apparent that a lot of the rioters weren’t protesting about the death of a man by police hands. Even when Mark’s family called for the violence to stop, the riots continued to spread. Quite a few of the rioters didn’t even have a grievance against the police. For a large number of the rioters, it was simply an opportunity to get something for free.

Opportunism/ Materialism

Some of the rioters were motivated by pure greed. They literally grabbed anything they could get their hands on, just because of the fact that it was ‘free’ and there were no apparent consequences for doing so.

People were having a field day walking into a store empty-handed, and walking out with all types of gadgets, clothes and products under the sun. There were stories of people, who were only passing by, but then got caught up in the frenzy and went along with everybody else, because everyone else was getting away with it.

All types of people got involved, and this included a millionaire’s daughter, an Olympic ambassador and an Oxford graduate, although he was later cleared of his role in the riots. Older people were also involved in the riots, and this even included a primary school assistant.

Gangs apparently set aside any differences and rivalries, so that they could take advantage of this golden opportunity.

Some people even had the nerve to attack other people, so that they could take their possessions.

One person took it too far. He attacked a man who confronted him over his actions. That man later died. Other innocent people lost their lives, because of the recklessness of others. All in all, five people lost their lives.

Greed really was the order of the day. But everyday we are bombarded with things that we ‘need’ and ‘must have’, but don’t really have the funds to get. The rioters saw this as their opportunity to get the latest products, and the police pretty much gave them the green light to do so.

Police tactics

I’m not sure why the police didn’t step in to stop the riots in Tottenham. They largely watched on while the rioters ran rampant around the area. But what I do know is that the police’s lack of action in Tottenham encouraged others to do the same.

And as more and more people joined in, it was obvious that the police force was stretched to its limit. There was a lack of police presence in many areas. People were angry that there was no one there to protect them.

Arguments were brought forward for the police to use rubber bullets, but then people said that this would only make the situation worse as some feared that gangs would fire back with real bullets. Others argued for water cannons to be used, but others said it was impractical to use these because of how big they were to move around and the nature of how quickly the riots moved from one place to another.

And since the police appeared powerless, rioters were free to do as they pleased. Maybe they did it because they had nothing better to do.

Cuts/ Lack of Opportunities/ Disengagement

Funding for youth services have been hit hard since the recession. According to an article on the Guardian’s website, cuts to youth services averaged 27% between 2010 and 2012. In the London Borough of Haringey, where Tottenham is based, the council decided in February 2011 to cut the youth budget by 75%. And as Tottenham MP David Lammy rightly predicted, this definitely had a “negative impact on young people”.

So, it’s the summer holidays and many young people have nothing to do. I’m pretty sure that the ‘excitement’ surrounding the riots seemed very appealing to some of them. You pretty much get a sense of this from an interview with two girls who took part in the riots for fun.

With ever-increasing university fees and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance scheme in England, for some young people, their access to education was shrinking quickly.

Even if you graduated from university, it was, and still is hard to find a job. And the longer you are unemployed, the less employable you are. You are stuck. For black people – and in particular young men – the unemployment rate is quite high.

Or, if you’re fortunate enough to have a job, then more likely than not, you’re underemployed. Imagine the frustration you must feel, to work so hard for so long and to be promised so much, but then these dreams fail to materialise.

So if someone is not working, they are not in education, they feel like politicians don’t represent them and that nobody cares about them, then I’m sure they would feel disengaged. You’ll live by your own rules and norms. You won’t really feel bad about destroying your own community, because you don’t’ respect it – you are not connected to it.

But what made matters worse is that the media and politicians vilified these youths as an “underclass” and “feral rats”. And as one journalist mentioned in the ‘Riot from Wrong’ documentary, if you dehumanise someone, then you there is no need for you to try and understand their actions. The “hug a hoodie” days were long gone.

All of these causes are linked together, and I hope I’ve demonstrated how complex the situation actually was.

But what has happened since?

Data has revealed that although the rioters were largely “poorer, younger, and less educated”, there was a real mixture of ethnicities, which took part in the riots, contrary to what was peddled by racist people in the comments section in news articles. Older people also took part in the riots. It’s also clear that a number of rioters have not yet been caught.

Cases were quickly rushed through courts, and, to act as a ‘deterrent’, hefty jail sentences were handed out to those who were caught. The BBC said that the average sentence was 16.8 months, which is four times the average term handed out for similar offences. It’s some deterrent if new gangs were being formed as a result of the large numbers of rioters being sent to prison.

And how is it that a 17-year-old girl was jailed for eight months for stealing a bottle of Lucozade, but Lord Hanningfield was jailed for nine months in 2011 (but only served nine weeks) after fiddling almost £14,000 in parliamentary expenses? This is justice at its finest.

Another knee-jerk reaction to the riots was the clever idea to evict rioters from local authority housing. Thankfully, a number of councils ignored this directive from the Government. I guess the real reason for this ‘strategy’ is because people were baying for blood.

Speaking of justice, two years on since Mark was shot dead, the IPCC found that there was “no evidence to indicate criminality at this stage”.

Just as a side note about police actions, even up until this week, although the jury found PC Simon Harwood not guilty of manslaughter last year, Scotland Yard apologised to Ian Tomlinson’s family this week for his death in 2009. His family accepted the apology and said that that was “as close as we are going to get to justice”.

On a slightly more optimistic note, Home secretary Theresa May launched a public consultation last month in a bid to try and “get stop and search right”. Only time will tell what will happen next.

Despite the strong counter arguments against using water cannons, the police asked for funding to buy water cannons, just in case the riots the riots were to happen again. I guess the police want to be seen to be taking action.

Regarding reports, it was heart-warming to see that local people cared enough about their community to come together to set up their own inquiry into the riots, which devastated their community.

But with reference to another report, it was disheartening to hear that the ‘official’ findings by the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel has been completely disregarded by the Government.

My final post in this ‘riots special’ series will take a look at what could possibly happen in the future.

After documenting how the riots affected local communities and hearing from young people about what they thought of the riots, this post will review a documentary called ‘Riot from Wrong’.

Riot from Wrong

Riot from Wrong

On the fourth day of the riots, instead of feeling powerless after witnessing the destruction that was taking place and succumbing to the negative portrayal of ‘youths’ in the media, a group of young people from a production company called Fully Focused decided to get together and delve into what was happening.

They wanted to facilitate a deeper conversation as to how and why the riots started, and explore the possible solutions to the underlying problems.

Riot from Wrong, which is a compelling documentary, is the direct result of their efforts.

The story starts with the death of Mark Duggan on 4th August 2011, who was portrayed by mainstream media as a drug dealer and a gangster. However, this documentary paints another picture.

People from all walks of life were interviewed in the film, and a number of them said they believed that his character was deliberately smeared in a tactic that has been used time and time again.

Mark isn’t described as the heavenliest of angels, but he is portrayed by his family and friends as a “good man”, a “peacemaker” and as someone who never had a criminal record.

The film examines some of the ‘evidence’, which was used to justify police actions and incriminate Mark. The film quickly dispels a lot of the myths that were branded about at the time.

What was truly shocking to hear was that Mark’s family only found out about his death on the news. On.The.News!

His family and friends, who were understandably angry and upset, wanted to know what happened, and decided to go to the police station on 6th August to get some answers. But what started out as a peaceful protest spiralled out into disorder and violence, while the police just largely watched on.

At the time, I remember hearing that it all kicked off when a girl was beaten up by the police, but I remember reading that this was just a rumour. Well, this film shows this exact footage, and it would seem to me that this was more than ‘just a rumour’.

By using eyewitness accounts and original footage, interspersed with interviews from influential people, such as Michael Mansfield QC, right down to some of the rioters themselves, this documentary is a powerful record of what happened and why, and uncovers some of the things that mainstream media either missed or ignored. The film even uses a poem at one point to describe the events that unfolded over the days.

And as the audience is taken through the different London boroughs and parts of England, which were affected by the riots, we are shown how homes and businesses were destroyed, but then we also see how the community pulled together. We are told how disconnected and disengaged some people in our society feel. We are taught how young people, as a whole, were dehumanised during the riots and referred to as a pack of ‘feral thugs’, so that that there was no need to try and understand their grievances, because they are not one of ‘us’.

Riot from Wrong

Riot from Wrong

The complex and antagonizing relationship between the police and the community is explained in the film. Other themes, such as cuts to youth services and funds, access to education, bleak unemployment figures and materialism are also explored for all to see.

You can hear and feel people’s frustration, anger and pain in this evocative documentary. Yet this film isn’t just a demotivating, depressing picture of what happened, it also offers a ray of hope. It informs us of the work that various organisations are doing in the community. It reminds us that we can be a community.

None of the explanations served as a justification for the riots. Although the rioters themselves admitted to their actions and didn’t necessarily show remorse, absolutely no one condoned the burning of people’s homes.

What is really amazing about this documentary is that this no-budget film has been screened dozens of times, for free, up and down the country. It has even been shown to politicians in Parliament.

I went to a screening at London Metropolitan University last year and was blown away, not only by the contents of the documentary, but by the discussions that developed afterwards.

You can tell that the young people who made this documentary are passionate and enthusiastic about the subject area. You can feel people’s frustration, you can sympathise with those who lost their homes, their livelihoods and their family members.

This film pulls together, summaries and publicly airs what has been on people’s lips for years. And as my younger sister said, it was refreshing to get a different perspective of the riots, especially from ‘respectable’ “middle-aged white people”.

It’s been two years since the riots and the Fully Focused team are still going strong, which is a testament to the work that they are doing. It’s admirable that they are not allowing the discourse of the film’s themes to fade away.

This is a bloomin’ good documentary and I challenge you to watch it. It is more than a film – these guys have started a movement under the banner #UnityExpressionProgress.*

*You can buy a copy of the DVD for £9.99 by clicking here.

Have-a-Voice-When-Writing

As I wrote in my last post about the 2011 riots, it was good that individuals came together under the hashtag #riotcleanup to clean up the mess that the rioters left in their community. However, what wasn’t so clear to me at the time was that because of the media’s emphasis and divisive portrayal of ‘the good volunteers’ versus ‘the bad young people’, the reasons behind the riots were perhaps unintentionally swept under the carpet by the volunteers’ brooms.

banksy_maid_passer_by

In a rush to meet deadlines and make headlines, the media didn’t properly explore the reasons, and in a haste to describe what was happening, most organisations jumped on the bandwagon of vilifying young people, creating an us/them division.

us-vs-them1    us_them

And because of the negative conceptions of young people that were being branded around, youth clubs around London locked down journalists’ access to young people, because of the fear that their views would be misconstrued. I know this, because I tried to talk to young people at youth clubs on several occasions myself, and this was the response that youth leaders gave to me. Consequently, the young people didn’t really have a voice at the time to speak out against all the negativity. Their views were largely drowned out.

Well, before I summarise the causes myself, I thought it would only be fitting if I gave some young people the opportunity to air their own opinions about the riots. So here are their views.

The first recording was made at a peaceful sit-in at Trafalgar Square in September 2011. The event, ‘Peaceful Sit In: Silent Gathering After The Riots’, was organised in response to the riots and the negative portrayal of young people by the media.

I interviewed a number of the participants for a community radio station called 91.8 Hayes FM*. They were Louis Harris-Tench (event organiser/26**), Fara Jabarkhil (20), Ben Hassán Celâl (20), Leon Fearon (19), Tavian Palmer-Plante (16) and Zoe Leadley-Watkins (event organiser/teacher/27).

*If you want to skip all the introductions in the recording, then the interviews start from 1 minute 22 seconds into the recording.

** Their ages represent how old they were at the time of the interview.

One of the participants, Leon, referred to a time when he confronted Boris Johnson about the riots at Clapham Junction. This is what he was referring to:

This second recording is of Emeka Egbuonu in September 2011. He is a youth worker at a youth club called The Crib, which is based in Hackney. We had an official interview with him at 91.8 Hayes FM about a book he wrote called ‘Consequences, Breaking the negative cycle’. It is about gangs and was largely inspired by the death of Agnes, a young girl who attended his youth club, but tragically died after being shot at a takeaway in Hoxton Street.

I took him aside to ask him some questions about his job as a youth worker, and to get his views on the riots.

So the young people have listed a number of reasons for the riots, such as police actions, cuts in education and facilities, lack of job opportunities. One said that he wasn’t even surprised that the riots broke out in the first place. Others alluded to the fact that the causes have been brewing for a while. Some offered solutions to the problems. However, none of the young people condoned the acts of violence during the riots though. Instead, they all spoke about taking peaceful and positive action.

My next post will focus on an exceptional group of young people who managed to film what was happening and explored some of the issues that the mainstream media missed during the frenzy. I’ll be reviewing their documentary, ‘Riot from Wrong’.

The wanton destruction and violence that plagued England from 6th August was something that truly made my blood boil. It was heart breaking to see images of people’s livelihoods go up in smoke, to see people jump out of windows as the flames destroyed their homes, and to even hear of the loss of lives.

I was abroad at the start of the mayhem, and although social media was portrayed as the source of all evil for the role it played for spreading the madness, ironically, it was also a tool for mobilizing individuals to come together to help rebuild their communities by taking part in massive clean up operations under the hashtag #riotcleanup. Furthermore, whilst abroad, social media alerted me to the unfolding saga in the first place.

My next couple of blog posts will focus on different aspects of the riots in its aftermath. Despite the violence, destruction and hype surrounding the riots and looting, for my first post, I felt largely inspired to document the messages people left on the boarded-up shop windows. When I first stumbled upon the messages in Clapham Junction, it really touched me and I felt compelled to take pictures of ‘The Love Wall’ using my phone. So I thought I would try and go to the other affected areas and observe people’s expressions of love for their community.

15th August, Clapham Junction

     

     

     

     

     

                          

It’s funny how the looters didn’t target Waterstone’s, which is a bookshop.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

Jamie Oliver’s shop- “Make Food Not War”

21st August, Clapham Junction

By the time I went back to Clapham Junction, most of the boarded-up windows with the messages had been removed. But I still found some new messages on the remaining ‘Love Wall’.

    

    

    

    

    

                       

    

    

21st August, Ealing Broadway

I live in the Borough of Ealing, so the impact of the riots really hit home when I woke up to hear that Ealing Broadway had been targeted. As with Clapham Junction, by the time I decided to take pictures of Ealing Broadway, most of the shops had removed their boards, so I’m not sure if any messages where left on them too.

I was actually surprised to see that some of the windows were still smashed, and that broken glass was still lying on the floor. It was evident that behind the boards with the kind and sometimes humourous messages, businesses and homes had been badly affected. It had been over a week since the riots and looting had ended, but it was obvious that the various communities’ scars were still raw.

    

    

    

                       

    

It’s unbelievable to see that charity shops were targeted as well.

    

    

I’m not sure if there were other message boards in the area before the boards were taken down, but I found it a bit strange that these messages were behind the glass windows. I felt slightly excluded because I couldn’t contribute. But it was a Sunday and the shop was closed. I’m not sure how it would’ve have worked during opening hours.

    

22nd August, Brixton

I was hoping to see other affected areas like Peckham and Tottenham. However, as demonstrated when I visited Hackney after work, there weren’t any love message boards to see, if there were any, because everything was pretty much cleared up and swept away. New windows were installed and it was business as usual, as if it never even happened. Well, apart from a boarded up opticians on Mare Street.

So after I went to Hackney, I thought I would visit Brixton again. I should actually backtrack and write that I was on a night out in Brixton on 11th August when things were starting to calm down, and what really struck me was the following sign was on various shop windows. This was before the spontaneous phenomenon of ‘The Love Walls’ started.

Brixton, 11th August

Now the following photos are from 22nd August. Again, there weren’t really any signs that any looting took place. Apart from the burnt-out Foot Locker store, and some other boarded-up shops around that building. I’m not sure if there were any love messages on any of the boards which were removed, but I noticed that the boards covering Foot Locker seemed a little bare, but were still meaningful.

    

    

22nd August, Ealing Broadway

For the last leg of my journey, I made my way back down to Ealing to the floral tributes on Spring Bridge Road where 68-year-old Richard Mannington Bowes was brutally attacked for trying to stamp out a fire by some industrial bins. He died days later in hospital. His death, and the four others that died in Croydon and Birmingham, definitely represents the ugly face of the riots.

In contrast to the other locations I went to, I couldn’t bring myself to read the messages that were left there, let alone take photos of them. It just felt too personal and private at the time. Instead, the flowers conveyed those messages rather well. I pondered over the makeshift memorial as I slowly made my way back home. I left in a somber, reflective mood with the floral words etched into my conscious: “Why”…?

    

This post was originally published on 1st September 2011.