Tottenham Exposed

Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA

It felt like ground-hog day. Waking up on the 7th August 2011 to find that some 25 years after the Broadwater Farm Riots, Tottenham had yet again seen sections of its community devastate parts of the area, protesting at the death of a Black person at the hands of the police.

That’s probably one of the most liberal headlines you’ll hear on this far and wide – the rolling news coverage, the internet, the pundits on twitter, Facebook, LBC Radio and – oh my days…just everyone has been taking an extreme view, from “shoot the rioters on sight” to “we need diplomacy”. Yes my friends, Tottenham was again been exposed on the 6th August 2011.

I was born, schooled and raised in Tottenham. I was 16 when the Broadwater Farm Riots kicked off – I had left school 5 months before-hand and was in work and part-time college. I remember the whispers of excitement and the sirens when words spread about what was happening around the corner.

I was raised on a council estate, with very little money flowing into our household, by a single parent. I was not an idyllic child – no bad-bruk-pickney mind-you, but neither had I ever got onto the wrong side of the law – my school friends still reminisce to this day that all our group wanted to do was just find and buss the next quah-quah-larf!

However there were people in our community who weren’t so happy with their lot. I’m no socio-political commentator, however I can tell you from first hand experience, some people just did not know how to break the cycle. They re-perpetuated what they were born, raised and cultured into, from the inside out. The police were not to be trusted, society mistreated them and if you crossed their path in the wrong way you were deemed as the enemy and dealt with as such. Need I even go into the economic factors such as unemployment, drugs, crime, education etc?

The press hated Tottenham. It iconified it as the place that housed the “savages” who killed PC Blakelock. The community hated the police because they iconified decades of institutionalised racism and the killing of Cynthia Jarrett. Pressure pot on full boil.

25 years later, the people who would have been my school mates now have kids who have been out there on the front line with the same complaints, the same way of dealing with the police, and the same social-economic problems persist. Cycle on full wash. Can’t turn the machine off.

Funny though, just the other day, Tottenham was the focus of many ‘darling’ mainstream press articles – they were citing the recent flux of pop stars that have emerged from the area:  “Why Tottenham Is So Trendy” – Evening Standard Article yet in the bat of an eyelid we’re back at hearing words like ‘scum’. It’s become acceptable to call out people like that again. But it’s their fault for doing what they did, to make you call them that  – not yours for viewing other human beings in that way, right? We all should recognise the consequence off  our behaviours.

I moved away form Tottenham when I was 27. I spent a further 13 years living in adjoining areas – Walthamstow, Wood Green and Edmonton Green. At age 40 I upped sticks and moved to South London (Brixton initially and now Croydon), where I live today, so I’ve lost touch with the intricate goings on of Tottenham. My needs and desires changed; I’ve stepped out of what I felt was a close-minded community and delighted at becoming a small fish in a bigger bowl, much to my liking. I craved difference and personal challenged; I’ve evolved – same me, very different mind-set.

The local, national and international radio discussions over the past few days have made me think – it would be so easy to join in the obvious cussing. I’ve made my point in various social networking outlets – controversial as it may seem, I fundamentally believe it shouldn’t be merely about ‘condemning’ and ‘banging up’ the rioters. When you do move to the ‘hunt them and sling them up’ position you stop listening, conflict deepens, disenfranchisement re-perpetuates, and we start looking at the next generation that will come up with the same ideals. The mere fact that this mindset exists mean that we have been missing something. I don’t want to dedicate this blog post to joining in the mass condemnation and rants of how disgusted and angry I am – I’m trying not to become a ranter. Instead I want to ask that you reflect on this from a SpiritedStrength perspective. My fundamental question is: what would you do create a major shift in these communities? Since the weekend we’ve seen disenfranchised people from every part of London rise up. So many people cannot understand what on earth they have to rise up about and especially not in that way. I have to wonder though – is it me? What is it they see that I just can’t? Well I have to ask myself – I can’t just assume I know. We are quick to say, but do we ask? And when we ask, do we really listen? A lot of people like to tell. Just saying.

I believe that when all calms, we should deploy real intervention into the community – not police, not politicians, not desk-based social work/administrative workers, not  NVQ certificate-toting youth work based workers – real skilled ‘angels’ , who have proven they can get into the muscle of communities and turn them around from the inside out, seeing what they see, doing what they do, living and breathing with them, subsequently driving them and most of all advocating for them (like the ones that have cleaned up neighbourhoods in the rough parts of NYC), and you will start to weave a way out of the mess. That’s where we should start.

Do we really care about the long term strategic work? Once the fires have been put out, the remains re-built, the criminal sentences served, the enquiry is over, will Tottenham, and all of the other affected areas be the same? My thinking is: it will unless somebody does different. This is a public stand-off – brute-force & lack of dialogue galvanises conflict.

  • Politicians: this will show your real worth. What will you do? After the press conferences, the finger waving ‘condemnation’ speeches, the ‘make an example’ prison sentences? Why is it that such a strong and widely geographically dispersed of the society you represent felt this way, yet you didn’t know? The more surprised you act, the more you show yourself. You never saw this comming? Get to working with all sections of the country. Make haste.
  • Community leaders: you have to make a bridge between the community you are respected in and the wider community, who need you to show that you are educating your associates about wider-responsibilities, as well as challenging authorities on your community’s needs. Are you really skilled to do that? What will you do differently? Why on earth did they cut youth clubs anyway? Why have the government pulled the plug on youth services, bearing in mind the complex youth culture that we have today? Where are the community advocates?
  • Non-rioting public: If you really do want things to change, make some real suggestions for a strategic solution. Would you really do that will change the mindset of the people in Tottenham & the other affected areas in the long term? For those of us from and living in those communities, please let us put our minds to who we talk to, and we’re going to do better.
  • Rioters: You need to start explaining what you see that the majority doesn’t. Bring us with you. You’re under the spotlight. You have got to make us help you change the way you see yourselves in society, or you will always be on the backfoot. As will your family…and your kids.

Just promise me one thing: that you’ll do different. Please. Because the opinions I’ve heard throughout the last few days tells me that nothing is going to change at all and I fear mostly for the children being wheeled around Tottenham and the affected areas in their push chairs  – if we’re not careful, they will be the petrol bombers of tomorrow.

“The course of our lives is determined by how we react – what we decide and what we do – at the darkest of times. The nature of that response determines a person’s true worth and greatness.”  Daisaku Ikeda


  1. Tamsen 10 August 2011 at 23:00 - Reply

    A well balanced and considered blog G and a perspective I support wholeheartedly.

    • SpiritedStrength 11 August 2011 at 00:20 - Reply

      Thanks Tam – I just wish the drum-banging will stop and the real change would start to happen. It looks as though we’re [the nation] making the same mistakes though…

  2. Sandy 12 August 2011 at 14:45 - Reply

    Great piece, and as Tamsen said, very well balanced. Not too many have been.

    At the moment there is a lot of talk. A lot of ‘telling the people what they want / need to hear’ from politicians. They take advantage of the fact that on the whole, we are a society that tends to forget about things once the dust has settled. I’m hoping that in this instance, something will actually be done to implement change, with a PROPER look at root causes.

    • SpiritedStrength 12 August 2011 at 14:49 - Reply

      Thanks Sandy. Yes let’s not allow knee-jerk actions on anybody’s part deepen the problem. Right now there is a steady stream of rage-related activity leading the way, which I think is scarier than the problems/riots themselves.

  3. Chris Denton 13 August 2011 at 12:33 - Reply

    That was deep and well worth the read! Made me stop and think about my attitude towards this issue! Excellent blog! ;-)

    • SpiritedStrength 13 August 2011 at 17:30 - Reply

      Thanks Chris – I’m glad it made you think. Please share – I’m really interested in what you would do..

  4. Leonora 15 August 2011 at 18:14 - Reply

    I read your post with some feelings of deja vu. I too remember the Riots of the 70’s and 80’s. Those of us working in social and community development worked with youths daily to try to understand their concerns. The Thatcher era did little to help youths transition to meaningful adulthood with a deeper sense of community.

    I remember the outpouring of public grief after death Of Princess Diana and wondered how that could be used as a catalyst to bridge the gap between communities and the state, and quite unlike me, took the opportunity to write to Tony Blair to suggest that a nationwide volunteering programme would be a fitting memorial to someone who so publicly volunteered her time for ‘good causes’. 20 years later I see no evidence that such a project was ever considered much less implemented.

    The disenfranchisement of young people cannot continue. While we might think we are among the most democratic of countries and applaud the youth of the Middle East for their push for democracy, we ignore the issues for our youth who feel alienated from our society.

    The sooner the link is made between the uprisings in the Middle East and these incidents in the UK, the less likely we are to see them repeated elsewhere.

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