Views from the Streets : Part Two

A version of these notes has been posted as a Comment under Nisha says, ‘it’s been building up’, but it feels useful to put this fuller account from Tania on the main page.

The riots seem to have sprung from nowhere, but paradoxically they have been a long time coming. Policing is a massively emotive issue for young people where I work in Hackney. Many of the young people I work with are angry about the policing of their area, even at the best of times. Young people have been telling us for years that they are stop-and-searched several times a week despite never having done anything against the law; that they are fed up with exclusion zones in their areas; that most of the police treat them as criminals. Two years ago one of the groups I worked with made a film about policing and young people, sharing their views, the majority saying that police treatment of them is discriminatory, racist and abusive. They showed their film to friends, family and police at the local cinema but the police representative justified his force’s position, and the group felt that nothing changed. Then, they are angry about their EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) being taken away, with their careers offices and youth projects being shut down or cut down, with the lack of jobs, with not being listened to.

I was out in Hackney yesterday evening, not working, just with friends. I couldn’t make a lot of sense of what was going on; everything was moving fast where we were around Mare St, riot police had shut the road even to pedestrians, even to people trying to get home, and there were van loads of police driving up and down the road in blocks of three, and three lorry loads of police horses. The atmosphere was fairly friendly, most people didn’t have anything in their arms (weren’t looting), we overheard young people talking about anger at recent police raids and stop and search. Most of the damage seemed to be to large chain stores, not independent shops or homes. Regarding the stories of people being mugged or people’s homes being damaged, obviously that is wrong, but it isn’t the main thing that’s going on, although the media would suggest otherwise. I was at a community meeting today where people had been on Clarence Road and some said the atmosphere was positive, like a party, and there was very little violence. Some people saw young people trying to set a fire, went with others to put out the fire and tell the young people involved to stop, and the young people stopped.

Young people at the meeting said (from my rapidly scribbled notes so no guarantee of accuracy):

‘We’re angry… the policing, the cuts, no jobs, EMA going, Connexions gone, oyster cards going up – we’re at a dead end and we’ve got nothing to lose, and when people have nothing to lose they don’t care any more’.

‘We don’t get asked what we feel’.

‘I saw the police battering a 16 year old girl at the demonstration in Tottenham, that’s what got people really angry’.

‘They say we’re animalistic, but animals don’t get angry for no reason – they get angry if they’re provoked’.

‘The meeting the politicians are at today is called Cobra, that’s a snake isn’t it? To young people the word ‘snake’ means someone you can’t trust’.

‘We’ve got nothing from the Olympics’.

‘The riots are an excuse to lock up bare of us in time for the Olympics’.

‘We are genuinely scared. If Operation Trident is meant to stop young black people shooting each other and now it shoots one of us, it’s like they’re saying “you’re not killing each other fast enough, we’re going to help.”’

‘We respect our elders, we know you had it even harder than us, but we’re not looking for a part two, we want things to change’.

‘The media don’t show pictures of the peaceful demonstration just the looting’.

‘Some of us knew Mark Duggan but we all know other Mark Duggans’.

‘We’ve had enough. This is the only way we can get our voices heard’.

A mother said, ‘If the police are battering our children in front of the cameras, how are they treating them in the cells?‘ Most people felt it was important to be out with the young people, despite media and police condemnation of ‘spectators’ – community members need to be out, listening to young people, keeping an eye on the policing, and talking to anyone who thinks of attacking people’s homes or hurting people. The general consensus was that young people are understandably angry, that some or most of the time there was a positive atmosphere on the streets last night, that there were very few attacks, and that young people and Hackney in general were being demonised by the media coverage.

I met a group of young people I know on my way home tonight. They said the police had it coming, that the riots were overdue, that people have been angry for a long time and now the police have killed someone it’s no surprise there are riots. They said young people from rival postcodes were united last night against the police. They said they are angry that they are not listened to, there are no jobs and the police treat them badly. One of them said, ‘they call us violent but the prime minister has a button to set off a whole load of nuclear weapons that would kill everyone, that’s violence’.

My colleague and I had to postpone a trip we’d planned for tomorrow because we might have problems travelling across Hackney, in some ways it seems ridiculous to cancel things but the public transport keeps getting shut down at a moment’s notice, and when it kicks off the taxis stop running and it could be really difficult to get everyone home safely. We plan to go out on detached instead, to listen, to ask young people what they think and how they are feeling, and ask them what they think should be done. I have heard that most youth clubs, playschemes, sports centres as well as shops and other facilities have been shut in Hackney for safety reasons (I don’t know for sure).

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Meanwhile Nathan Akehurst, the standing Member of Youth Parliament, Kensington and Chelsea has blogged on his reading of the situation in

Beyond Riots: Rationalising a broken Britain

He begins:

It is mid-afternoon, and Britain is reeling in shock. Outbreaks of rioting have hit, to name but a small selection, Enfield, Ealing, Brixton, Sutton, Croydon, Kensington, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, and Hackney. The windows have cracked under the strain of upholding a shattered society, and we have all – except perhaps for the government- reaped the whirlwind.
I do not condemn the riots. I do not condone the riots. To do so would be as pointless and Learesque as praising or admonishing an earthquake. For that Is what the weekend has been and may continue to be, a violent rift that has sprung up as a result of a chain of events, a nigh-on inevitable end to a sequence of causality.


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