ottenham, the neighborhood in north London where a police shooting sparked four days of rioting across England last August, still bears the scars of the civil unrest. Since the $476.2 million disaster, the broken glass here has been swept away, but a few stores in the main shopping district remain boarded up and the scorched frame of a once gleaming, new affordable housing development looms large.
Some damaged local businesses are still waiting for help, including a black barbershop that offers neighbors haircuts and a space to dance. The ground floor of the barbershop is a salon, with four chairs spaced evenly in front of a wide mirror. The basement floor contains a dancehall and an empty storage space for DJ equipment. Looters trashed the shop-cum-basement-club, and ran off with the equipment. The 40-year-old shop owner Derek (who declined to give his last name), still cuts hair in the barbershop and wonders when the government will fulfill its promise to call.
Elsewhere along the neighborhood’s main street, ‘I heart Tottenham’ stickers and graffiti adorn shop windows, buildings, the bulletin boards of new developments, and the wall of a local high school. Despite the remaining ruins, life continues. “I love it here,” says 33-year-old Lophain Wilson. “It’s no worse than anywhere else.”
Local teenager Donovon Munro is also positive about the future, having just escaped the burgeoning ranks of Britain’s unemployed youth with a few hours work. He’s now an usher at the local premier league soccer club, Tottenham Hotspurs. One February day, he dashes into the Old Brewery youth center to share the good news about his new job. The tall, mixed-race 19-year-old grins widely as he relates his accomplishment to Berkley Gardner, a youth worker who spends his time trying to keep London’s young in check. Gardner, a stocky, black man with neatly cornrowed hair congratulates Munro. Then, almost as an afterthought, the still smiling Donovan says he was falsely arrested again yesterday. “Oh yeah, they took me in again yesterday. I stayed overnight,” he says.
A grim look of concern replaces Berkley’s smile. It’s the fourth time Munro has been falsely arrested. The police officers who stopped him last night said he matched the description of a black man reported to have committed a robbery recently in the area. The next morning when eye-witnesses exonerated Munro, he was released. Still grinning as he reports it, Munro seems unruffled by the incident, accepting it as part of being a young black male in London. He even puts a positive spin on it.
“This time it was pleasant,” Munro says. He holds out his wrists in front of him, palms open, to illustrate how his hands were cuffed. “They actually put my hands in front of me, they put them like that, but it was still tight because I have a couple of cuts round there. They [the cuts] are only little.”
“Luckily … I had two decent officers,” he adds. With a cheeky smile, he says he thinks maybe the female officer “liked me.”
Donovan is bright, articulate and has never committed a crime, yet he has been stopped and searched countless times by London police. Two of his four false arrests landed him a night in a cell. The first time police jailed him overnight, two years ago, Donovan was late for work; he called in sick rather than face trying to convince his employers of his innocence. During that arrest, he was alarmed.
“The first time it happens to you, you think, ‘What is going on? Are they actually taking me in? Why are they taking me in? These cuffs kind of hurt. But after it keeps happening to you, you realize how they look at you. And you think, ‘Here we go again.’ You know they haven’t got nothing on you. I just tell them, ‘You are wasting your time. You should let me go and go find someone that has really done something’.”
The killing that sparked the riots and the five lives they took are one tragic consequence of London’s policing policy. Donovan’s normalization of the cycle of stop-and-search and false arrest is another. Kamaljeet Gill, a policy analyst at the Runnymede Trust, a British race equality think tank, says: “Lots of people we talk to say it [stop-and-search] is just part of life. They are either extremely angry or apathetic. Both are devastating for the community.”
Why Britain Rioted
Since the August riots, black people in Britain have been discussing an issue that has been bubbling under the surface for some time – police harassment and false arrest. Eighty-five percent of the 270 rioters interviewed in a London School of Economics study, said anger towards the police was an