TV review: ‘The riots: in their own words’ part one

A year ago this month the Metropolitan police murdered an unarmed man in north London, believing he was about to shoot at them. Their actions sparked the biggest riots in living memory.

Over 5,000 people were arrested with 1,200 receiving jail sentences. The riots also left a further five people dead and more than 2,000 incidences of arson and criminal damage were reported.

In October last year the Guardian and London School of Economics teamed up investigate the causes of the disturbances, resulting in the Reading the Riots report.

A year later and BBC2 have begun screening a two-part dramatisation of this report, using accounts from both police and rioters themselves.

The first programme focussed on the often overlooked rioters’ viewpoint. Time after time rioters are too scared to go on the record and are reduced to telling their stories through the courts. What ‘In their own words’ give us is a no holds barred, uncensored account from the rioters themselves.

“I think that the policemen deserve a bloody good hiding … because they have no right to go and kill no one,” explained one women.

“I saw about 16 men were all in grey tracksuit, they came all the way from N16 [Stoke Newington]. They said ‘we’re here to help you’. Men came from other parts; they said that today we are putting down the postcode war, we’re here to help you. And I call them soldiers. Could’ve been their brother … And they stood united together on the frontline and was pelting the police, and that was really, really nice.”

As you would expect the motivations from the individuals who took part were many and varied including opportunism, social deprivation, unemployment and a lack of morality. But the programme tells of one reoccurring theme of discontent with the police.

“It felt like a battle. Coz it was police against us and, for the first time, we felt like we could actually take them on. Whatever I could get hold of we were throwing at them: stones, chairs, coins, shoes.

“There was one police officer that got fucked up. He got licked with a brick and it hit his face and he just dropped. And then we just ran towards them; they’re trying to grab me, we’re there just stamping on his face. That felt good. Just that anger.”

Another woman explained how she came across an older man vandalising a police car: “I said ‘What happened to you? What’s wrong with you? Why are you kicking a car?’ And he said ‘well, those fucking racist police!'”

More than 300 officers were injured over the course of the riots.

Shops were also a prime target for looting and many rioters were encouraged by the absence of police.

“I took a TV that day. I was taking it up in the van, going home, dropping shit off, going back, doing the ting again.”

Looting and rioting spread from London to all corners of England.

“What made everything stop,” one girl was asked. “The shops ran out of stuff.”

If social status in our society is based how much wealth we have then can we really be surprised when something like his happens? People are the product of their society, and when an opportunity presents itself like the strength in numbers of a riot and no police to stop you … well, what do you expect. Greed creates greed.

‘In their own words’ is journalism at its best: investigating important social events and issues and giving a voice to the unheard.

Part two of ‘The riots: In their own words’ continues next Monday 20 August on BBC2.

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