Tag Archive: UK riots


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.

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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’.

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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.