Riot From Wrong left me desperately seeking insight

By - Thursday 10th October, 2013

Liz Sheppard-Jones listened to a disappointing debate following the West Croydon screening of ‘Riot From Wrong’

Not all politicians are the same – evidence of efforts to make life better for the people of West Croydon. Photo by Kake Pugh, used under Creative Commons License

As they left Croydon Voluntary Action centre, I hope some of them looked across London Road. On the other side, perhaps 50m away, is Broad Green Sure Start. Sure Start is an initiative launched in 1998 by then Chancellor of the Exchequer Brown to give children the best possible start in life through improvement of childcare, early education, health provision and family support. It’s evidence that within their young lifetimes, the Blair/Brown administrations did great and powerful things to combat child poverty, widen opportunity and rebuild the neglected welfare structures that were the legacy of Thatcher and Major.

‘Politicians are all the same’ sloganising is simple, of course – finding someone to blame usually is. But I want to expect more of Croydon’s young people. Two or three clicks are all it takes to learn the proud history of campaign, progress and change – women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights – and to realise that not all politicians are the same. Confusingly for a person of my left wing political persuasion, even the present administration is advancing human rights with legal gay marriage and has just introduced free school meals for the under 7s.

Nothing is really simple, and that’s something the young film makers of Riot From Wrong have understood. Sadly, it seems complexity is something this young audience has yet to learn about. There is failure in the classrooms of our borough if people pass through them, as some clearly do, with so little wish to engage and to know. Rather than blame, I would argue Croydon’s class-segregated schools send a message to those who attend them, telling some that they matter, others that they really don’t.. How much you matter and how much you listen are closely connected. As one leader from Camden observes of his community in the film: ‘They’re very awake, but they don’t know how to fight properly.’

When a successful black businessman from Croydon tells his audience ‘I would never vote’, I can’t help but feel angry that a role model would give such a lesson in powerlessness

Role models are important too, and when a successful black businessman from Croydon states in their presence, as happens here, that ‘I would never vote’, I can’t help but feel angry that a role model gave his audience such a lesson in powerlessness. My respect goes to the local community leader who challenged this and argued for the power of the vote (a human right for which women died in the twentieth century) and also to the Save Lewisham Hospital campaigner who described to the gathering the positive effect of protest on decision-making there.

The London rioters famously used social media to find out where to go if you wanted to torch a small shop. It’s no condemnation of social media that they did this – it’s only a tool and can be used for many purposes. But given the smartphone-shaped bulges in everybody’s jeans, it depressed me that not one young participant in a rambling sequence of exchanges about alienation and lack of opportunity mentioned its awesome positive power. Right there, on your phone, is an amazing new tool for communication and consciousness-raising.

This youthful disconnect from a sense of personal power at a time when communication technology has empowered ordinary citizens to speak and be heard as never before is troubling. I said earlier that my indignant response to injustice was second-hand. Following the riots, however, that’s no longer true. I live in West Croydon and witnessed the violence of August 8th 2011 directly, spending that evening and night out in my street with my neighbours as flames rose close to us and smoke and sparks drifted over our rooftops. A friend on his way home from Central London walked straight into the rioters and rang me, his voice shaking and filled with disbelief, as was mine.

The police apologised afterwards, of course. But the apology isn’t what you remember. Abandonment is

Throughout all this, as we all well knew, there were no police. This was the fourth day of the London riots. Homes and small businesses were alight and lives were in danger, but that night the authorities protected the glossy shops in Croydon Town Centre, not its people, from violence. They apologised afterwards, of course. But the apology isn’t what you remember. Abandonment is. The place where my children live is less important to Croydon’s leaders than a department store. So, I learned something about a life where you matter to no-one, and where a young man from your community can be shot in the street by the police and no-one informs his mother. August 8th 2011 helped me understand a little better where hopelessness comes from.

I don’t want to end on a note of despair. Riot From Wrong is a powerful, moving, educational film and I encourage as many people as possible to see it. I hope it will be screened again in Croydon and that politicians, leaders and decision-makers will come, as the newly selected Labour candidate for Central Croydon, Sarah Jones, did, and make a response. But in smart, wealthy Clapham, the mess was cleared up long ago and the damaged buildings reconstructed. On London Road West Croydon, murals we have long grown tired of still encircle derelict ground. Campaigners for riot compensation are losing patience. ‘Riot From Wrong’ is a call to action, and I want the action to happen.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

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

More Posts - LinkedIn

  • Christian Wilcox

    20 years in the brewing. Hence why teens AND 20-somethings went bad.

    And this entire area does not trust either The Cops or The Council. Because of repeated neglects. Neglects which lead to their kids going bad.