Review: Riot or Wrong?

By - Tuesday 1st October, 2013

Liz Sheppard-Jones searches for connections at the West Croydon screening of a well-made and important film

‘Riot from Wrong’ is a film made by Fully Focussed. The showing, put on by Croydon Xpress at 4.30pm on Friday September 20th at the Croydon Voluntary Action Centre on Broad Green’s London Road was the film’s 77th screening. It’s been shown in the House of Commons, around the country and outside the UK, powerfully presenting the responses of a group of young Londoners to the events of August 2011 in our city to a wide and varied audience.

The film is extremely well made, visually striking and thoughtfully scripted. It does full justice to the complexity of the events it depicts. Especially powerful are its chilling red spider-web graphics which show the spread of rioting across London, as violence flowed outwards like blood through the veins of the living city.

As a left-spectrum Londoner I’m conscious of police racism. Ten people have been ruled at inquest as unlawfully killed in police custody yet not one police officer has ever been successfully prosecuted over these deaths, and this angers me. I was therefore already aware that the official line on Mark Duggan, whose shooting by police sparked the Tottenham riots on 4th August 2011, might well not be the whole story of his life or death.

I did not know that following the death of Mr Duggan, the Metropolitan Police made no contact with his family

‘Riot From Wrong’ confirmed this suspicion. I had never seen coverage of precisely how the riots began and knew only that events in Ferry Lane, Tottenham, on that day – 4th August 2011 – are disputed and currently being investigated by an inquest jury in Barnet. I did not know that following the death of Mr Duggan, who was a father, son, uncle, nephew and friend, the Metropolitan Police made no contact with his family.

Left to learn of his death and the events surrounding it from the media, his relatives marched with dignity to Tottenham Police Station and demonstrated peacefully outside. No-one came out to speak to them. Numbers in the street grew over a period of hours during which the group was entirely disregarded, as film shot that day depicts. Anger increased and eventually reached boiling point. Night fell, and the rest is history.

‘Riot From Wrong’ records many voices, from community leaders on the Broadwater Farm estate to David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, speaking about the events of that day and what followed. It’s honest both about life on the estate and also about the complexity of the events that followed the death. The young film makers expose the unacceptable treatment of the Duggan family but also examine the fracture which took place in London in the days between August 4th and August 8th 2011. They explore both issues bravely and directly.

The further the riots spread, the less they had to do with Mark Duggan and the response of his community

The fracture appeared in many ways and still continues. It began within hours in media coverage of the riots, presented by the left as an understandable protest sparked by racist police violence and by the right as the actions of feral thugs terrorising the streets. Both descriptions are in my view inaccurate and simplistic. August 2011 was a rare period indeed, in which both Guardian editorials and Daily Mail opinion columns were equally deficient and just as annoying.

It took four days for the riots to reach Croydon, via Enfield, Hackney, Camden and Clapham. The further they spread, the less they had to do with Mark Duggan and the response of his community. Word got out that the authorities were losing control of London, and there are groups who welcomed this. A dangerous shift was occurring, from the open-faced, dignified anger of Tottenham to the masked criminality of Croydon. To attack your own community – the place you grew up, filled with small family businesses, shops and the homes above them – is destructive madness. No-one goes onto the streets for justice and comes back with a plasma TV.

Something had been unleashed in Croydon – you could feel it in the air and it was frightening. Outrage, sorrow and protest at the death of a young man loved by many vanished in chaos and violence, and that is perhaps the gravest injustice of all.

Blaming the wrong sort of Croydonians for the problems of poorer areas, as some right-wing politicians seek to do, shows lack of respect

Nevertheless, the anger and alienation which fuelled the Croydon riots came from somewhere. Hampstead, Richmond and Chiswick did not riot. We must recognise that fire alone can’t cause an explosion – blow-ups occur when unstable substances are exposed to heat. Our questions should be: why did Croydon prove unstable, and how can we strengthen it?

‘Riot From Wrong’ provides an unwelcome answer to the first question. That answer is profound social failure – inequality, lack of opportunity, distrust of authority and real hardship for many who live in the sight of increasing wealth. Above all, Croydon’s class-segregated education system traps the children of the poor. These things cause people to dis-invest, to cease to care about their communities and to cease to strive. Blaming the wrong sort of Croydonians for the problems of poorer areas, as some right-wing politicians seek to do, shows further lack of respect. Alienation follows, and to burn the streets of your own community is as alienated an action as it’s possible to imagine.

Yet to seek to understand is not to justify. The riots began as a protest about a man’s death. A final conclusion about what happened has yet to be reached but it may well be that this death was a great wrong. Riots then led to the reckless endangering of more lives and the loss of many livelihoods. This was also wrong. ‘Riot From Wrong’ tells this complicated story and the young film-makers are to be congratulated on their work.

How we proceed is up to Croydon. Discussion followed on how Croydon might be strengthened, and will be reviewed in a second article coming next week.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Rosie E

    “No-one goes onto the streets for justice and comes back with a plasma TV”
    Great point well made!
    Will there be any more opportunities to see teh film locally?

    • Liz Sheppard-Jones

      I’ve asked and I’m being told definitely yes.

      Bit of shameless self-promotion now ;-) Follow me on Twitter@lizsheppardjourno and I’ll tweet the info as soon as I have it.

  • David White

    This is a good article about a must-see film. I found it interesting how some of the young people in the film saw how the initial protests became degraded. As one of them said “We had the attention of the whole country, and we just used it to get some new trainers”.