Tag Archive: police

‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello! Admittedly, this was a while ago, but here’s the story about my second (and final?) run-in with the Mexican police. My experience this time was very different to what happened the last time. This vlog includes some video footage of what happened at the time. And yes, it did end up with us being escorted somewhere.

Enjoy! 🙂


The whole story started off gloomily. My housemate had just been let go unceremoniously from the school earlier than she had expected. She had another job to go to but the problem was that this wasn’t due to start until a month’s time. She thought she would give the school a month’s notice, but Mexico doesn’t appear to work on those standards. She was understandably worried about finances and the fact that she would no longer be able to afford the vocho, an old blue mini, that my housemates had been ogling a few days ago.

Martin went out of the house for a while and then came back. He invited us outside, and to Sara’s surprise, the vocho was parked on the driveway. Everyone was really excited, including Piña the cat; Sara was really thankful and the sight of the car on the driveway of our new house made everything feel complete.

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Sara wanted to test drive the car, especially since she would need the car to drive to her new school as it was a bit far away. She really needed to practice; she hadn’t driven in a while, and when she drove a car a couple of weeks before, it was a little bumpy to say the least. But disregarding this fact, we all decided to take the car for a spin to the centre of town, during rush hour, so that she could practice driving – schoolboy error.

Martin drove to the centre and then stopped in a car park so that Sara could drive back home. After a jerky start, we were off and things were ok, considering. This was until all of a sudden I heard someone shouting and saw someone angrily flash their torch at us as we were driving past. It was a traffic cop and we had just driven past her when I’m guessing we were supposed to stop. In fairness, it was pretty dark and she wasn’t wearing a hi-visibility vest.

We had to stop at a red traffic light around 50 metres away. I decided to provide some light-hearted commentary.

“Oh my gosh, she’s coming,’ I said half amused.

You could feel the tension in the car; my housemates didn’t say a word. I think we were all just waiting for the red light to change so that we could just drive off. It didn’t.

I turned to the rear window again to check where she was. “She’s getting closer. Wow she’s really powering through.”

Silence, but the silence was deafening.

“She’s right behind us.”

“Thanks Monique,” somebody dryly said.

The police woman tapped on the window and told Sara to pull up. She did, but the extra stress prevented her from parking properly, so in the end someone else had to do it. She was scared, Martin was pissed off, and I was just kind of taking it all in and provided a running commentary to my friend on Whatsapp.

Sara didn’t bring her driving license, she was apparently speeding (the speedometer wasn’t working), she didn’t stop when she was told to, the car didn’t have license plates and we were travelling without registration documents. We were there for a while, while the policewoman constantly asked us (Sara) questions in a menacing way. She looked into the car to see who else was in there. She thought I was a man, great. She was threatening us with fines and said the car may be taken away. Sara pleaded for her not to and said that we were all just foreign students. It didn’t seem like she cared. Some more things were said that I couldn’t understand.

In the end, Sara got back into the car with Martin at the steering wheel and told him to go quickly. I thought at first that she was trying to escape from the policewoman; that really wouldn’t have been a smart idea. I had images in my head of a ‘high-speed’ police chase in our old banger with the Mexican police and their big-arse machine guns behind us taking fire. I definitely would have died. But apparently the woman just said that we could go. We went quickly before she had the chance to change her mind. We all just laughed in disbelief and relief. I clearly found it more amusing than they did, but vowed I wouldn’t write about it until their emotions had settled down. I’m pretty sure that time has passed by now. So what did we learn? Many things, you might expect. Not as much as you would think, actually, and this became apparent in our second encounter with the Mexican police, which was a little more… eventful…

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.