For much of today the eyes of the world will be on the Games in the Olympic Park. But as the global roadshow unfolds just 10 miles away in Stratford, most of us will find it hard to forget the shocking and violent scenes that consumed our streets a year previously.
One year ago, hours after a packed, peaceful Brixton Splash festival, young people took to the streets. Currys on Effra Road became a focus for looters, who also turned their attention to shops and restaurants in Brixton Road. Diners in McDonald’s and KFC were terrified as windows were smashed and tills ripped from the counter. The Footlocker store was set ablaze, and burned for most of the night.
In the intervening 12 months Lambeth police have arrested 254 people, and charged 210 for disorder-related offences. They are searching for 250 more. The former Footlocker store remains boarded up, a stark reminder of that summer evening. But what have we learned about the disorder? Has anything really changed? We asked politicians and community leaders to give us their views…
»Chuka Umunna MP for Streatham
“Brixton is usually one of the best places in the world to be – vibrant, happy, always with something going on. For those few days last summer it was quiet, and it was fearful. I don’t think there was anybody in our community who didn’t feel affected. Everybody, rich or poor – from whatever background – felt the same sense of fear and insecurity that had pervaded our streets.
“The ultimate responsibility for that lies unquestionably with those involved in the disorder, who thought it their right to plunge our streets into chaos, and fill our community with fear. There was no sense in Brixton that this was comparable – in cause or context – with the riots we witnessed in the 1980s. We have been making steady progress since then. Yet it seems clear that there were longer-term issues at play, that some people felt that they didn’t have enough of a stake in our community to respect it, and that there are an increasing number of people in our society who define themselves by what they have, not by who they are.
“If we are to move forward, and ensure that events like those of last summer do not happen again, we need to make sure that all of us, no matter our own situations, work together to make sure that we have the kind of society that we want to live in, and that everyone feels they have a stake in. Of course, there are things the government can do, the fact there are now more than 30 people chasing every job in our area is a scandal – and in the context of last year’s riots 20% cuts to Police funding are simply irresponsible – but over and above this I hope we can move forward as a society, to address together the social issues that did contribute to the disorder. As a community, we rise and fall together, and we must work together so that the terrible events of last summer are never repeated.”
»Donna Sinclair Director, Options 4 Change
“The high streets and the general market look even more attractive as we see national and international businesses branding on the Brixton brand.
“At grassroots level working with young people we are evidencing a combination of hope and despair. Many young people show their resilience by channelling their outlook into meaningful skills and employment development where possible since then. Unfortunately too many youths that we work with are still saying that they feel that the riots with hindsight might have been prevented. They are telling us that messages arising from causes and effect have not been listened to as was the case before the riots. They do not feel that much has been improved when people who do not know what is like to go hungry for days and have to fight the urge to mug someone to secure a meal; tell them they must do better.”
»Cllr Steve Reed Leader, Lambeth council
“One positive thing that came out of last year’s disturbances is the way our community came together to show that the rioters and their criminal mentality do not represent us. We had ‘riot wombles’ sweeping up in Brixton and Streatham the day before the famous image from Clapham Junction.
“Ms Cupcake was handing out cupcakes in Brixton town centre the morning after to show the world ‘the true generous face of Brixton’. Over 100 business and community leaders assembled in the town hall less than 24 hours after the looting to offer real and moral support to those who had been affected. This is the abiding decency of our community.
“There are, of course, many and varied reasons why some young (and not so young) people got involved in the mayhem. It’s right the authorities have taken a tough line against lawlessness. But the situation challenged us, too, to make sure there is enough positive support and healthy activities for young people, and also that young people themselves are encouraged to take responsibility for their own actions. That’s why we’ve pushed forward our plans for a community-led youth services trust, the Young Lambeth Cooperative.”