Opinion: Summer of Discontent (Part 2) - The Choice

By Toyin Agbetu | Mon 15 August 2011

Nyansapo is the weekly internet based community radio station hosted by the Ligali Organisation. We broadcast honest and progressive discussion of community issues alongside pan African news, current affairs & feature reviews of cultural media and events.


I am sorry I have not been able to publish an updated newsletter with events and news. I sit here this Sunday writing from the Royal London Hospital where my family has been for the past few days without the necessary internet access. Sadly we’ve been watching over our six year old son who has been admitted to deal with an exceptionally deep and painful sickle cell crisis.

I will tell you now and openly, I can barely cope.

On the drive here I tuned into several community radio stations and to be honest I was both inspired and saddened by the barrage of opinion that spoke from different perspectives but without any shared unifying theme. The first thing that disappoints was the number of stations that rather than suspend their music programming for a week in order to facilitate help lines, empowering healing sessions and political debates had selfish presenters who continued playing tunes and dance promoting adverts.

And then even when the ‘conscious’ talk did take place, the majority of voices which despite being well intentioned were dominated by ranting men and sadly had a marked absence of youth and female voices. Some were useful, calling for the establishment of a national political structure, the others not so useful were calling for all the children to be dumped on an island and left to drown, sadly I do not exaggerate. It is understandable that the level of rhetoric would be high and that some of the responses would be knee jerk reactions to racist media propaganda.

However although I am disappointed by the ignorant level of debate and inevitable propagation of conspiracy theories, whilst the Prime Minister says no to calls for a public inquiry that is truly independent from the influence of self serving politicians, the conspiracies and suspicions will grow.

Yet right now as I look into the eyes of my son whose strength shines through despite the level of pain that he is enduring I realise that I don’t really want to get into any of that. My daughter looks at her brother holding onto her bedtime bunny and his mother and I do our best to keep smiling through these terrible times. Yes I have many opinions on what took place, yes I realise that we need to talk in order to locate solutions, yes I am angry about the damage caused to small business owners and tenants who lost their livelihoods, but I can analyse and write on those themes later, right now this is the time for work.

Our young people, the next generation are vulnerable. And just like our own sons and daughters they deserve a better, safer future. That requires leadership. Not a group of grown adolescents agitating against the system in public whilst secretly waiting passively for parliamentarians to pass legislation to solve all our problems.

No, from parenting to mentoring, it requires tiring, thankless, focused, disciplined leadership.

You see what I want to suggest to us all is that right now we have an opportunity. For at least the next few weeks whilst our young people are still out of school we have a responsibility to quit chatting so called ‘fire’ and ‘pretty’ talk. There will be much time to reflect calmly on the issues that led up to the situation we are in, but right now we need to transfer much of our passion into direct action. I don’t mean protests and marches (not yet anyway) but instead a reclamation of that powerful African spirit and culture others would hijack to further their own agenda. There are some issues that need immediate addressing. Many of the tasks that need to be done are boring, unpaid and long but totally necessary to help empower our community. In no particular order;

- Parents, aunties, uncles listen and then talk with our children about what has occurred. Turn off the television, stop listening to the rabid talk radio shows and go to a park, sit down and just reason. Make sure they know we have their back, too many of us violated the sacred bond of trust and left them to face their rites of ascension without guidance. Praise those that kept out of trouble, discipline and then re-embrace those that did not.

- Compile and send us copies (not links) of photographs and video clips of non-Africans participating in ‘looting’.

- If anyone has spare time, please go to a local court and sit in the public gallery taking notes of what occurs. Go as a Ligali reporter if you want, you see we need details of what is happening from firsthand accounts. Quick justice almost always produces rough injustice.

- Could somebody find out if our brother Mark Duggan has been convicted or even suspected of committing any murders? If not then we need to put to bed once and for all the idea that Operation Trident has the right to terminate anybody who has access to a gun. How can an eye for an eye be justified in this case?

- Are there any Africans in touch with the Anarchist’s movement? I remember the poet Benjamin Zephaniah saying something about not opposing their ideas. If so, we need a statement with them (as non-Africans) admitting their leading role in causing the fires?

- I’m not meaning to stoke up ‘ethnic’ tensions or diminish the crime that took place but I have a copy of a reputable news report that some members of the Asian community in Birmingham were using racist epithets against African people prior and after the incident claiming the lives of three young Asian men. Does anyone have verifiable facts about the incident that took place BEFORE the car hit the three men? There seems to be a media whiteout on the full story and whenever this occurs it is likely we are all being manipulated. Kudos to the father for his words that helped prevent a ‘race riot’.

- If you saw an excessive use of force by police officers against anyone during the past seven days AND have the badge number, time and location of the incident then please inform Ligali through email and simultaneously make an official complaint with the IPCC.

- Join/form a group prepared to hand out flyers giving young people their rights about stop and search to young people at Notting Hill Carnival.

- We need our community churches and schools and ask them to host local youth centred gatherings where the chronology of the events (starting in 1981) can be explored and the young people given a space to share their views with an intergenerational community. What challenges do they face, what can we do?

- We need our community churches and schools to provide permanent spaces for weekly parent support groups. Too many of us struggle with the difficult transition our teenage children make alone. The truth is that the problems we face are similar with others just down the road from us. Parent governors in schools can set up these support groups on the school premises. Force it through and get to break bread and share space with some of the parents of the those in your child’s life.

- We need to fight back against the media. To do this Ligali needs volunteers prepared to write official complaints and articles exposing the media distortions of the Truth.

- We need to inform our community in a structured manner, to do this Ligali needs all our community radio stations (especially FM) to put aside petty ideological differences and guarantee us a minimum of a two hour a week slot for us to produce a community news programme that is broadcast at a set time across the airwaves. With a little help we can even pre-record a programme if necessary to be played out nationally.

- Community organisations, if you can spare the resources please assign three or four informed and media literate people to deal with the more antagonistic anti-African attacks on blogs, radio and social networks freeing the rest of us to engage with developmental work.

- We need our artists, storytellers and photographers to start creating a visual and oral archive that is accessible to all of our community irrespective of age.

- We need our poets, songwriters, rappers and singers to start producing cultural resources that tell this story from our perspective.

- We need our academics, historians and broadcasters to write papers and produce media that tells this story from our perspective.

- Families, please financially support our local businesses. Attend cultural events where you see evidence of organisation (and not endless finger pointing blaming) taking place.

- Under no circumstance should we cancel pre-organised community events on the ‘advice’ of people scared of African people coming together in any large numbers. We still need the space to socialise and heal.

- Finally for now, many people young and old stood up and showed their worth and courage whilst under fire, the ability to remain calm under fire whilst make progressive decisions is a skill and community asset we should not take for granted, big them up, name them and support their development for these shy ones who quietly come alive during times of crisis are some of our future leaders.

At present I am exhausted, suffering burnout from a relentless stream of community work whilst simultaneously dedicating time to looking after my family. As such I won’t be attending any more marches or meetings to vent about a situation that is not new. You see if you analyse the situation properly then you will conclude that our young people had little opportunities and were facing racist stop and search assaults from the police before the uprising. When we realise this it becomes clear that nothing will change afterwards until we stop getting distracted and get down to work leaving the media and politicians to do the incendiary talking.

You see the choice is quite simple. At the moment of crisis we learn who is for us and who is against. I am not advocating that we be ‘wrong and strong’ but I am suggesting that everyone makes mistakes and it is our love, commitment and loyalty to one and other in spite of these mistakes that makes the difference. Consider the fact that when the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg admitted to being an arsonist in his teens and deliberately setting fire to the life’s work of a professor of botany he said; “We didn't know what we were doing. We were teenagers, we'd drunk too much - frankly, we did behave appallingly, irresponsibly, criminally.”

His privileged upbringing meant that he escaped jail and a criminal record. Yet a teenager who ‘looted’ a bottle of water has received a six month jail sentence.

Likewise when speaking on his time at Oxford the Prime Minister David Cameron is often quoted as allegedly stating “Things got out of hand & we’d had a few drinks. We smashed the place up and Boris [Johnson, now Mayor of London] set fire to the toilets.” But like Clegg he did not receive a jail sentence or criminal record.

In fact I wonder when the former Prime Minister Tony Blair's 16-year-old son Euan was arrested for being drunk and incapable after being found by police officers in Leicester Square or when former Home Secretary Jack Straw's teenage son William was cautioned after being caught selling cannabis to a tabloid newspaper reporter did they end up being locked up for six months?

I think we all know the answer to these questions. Their parents understood the challenges teenagers face during their development and remained loyal to their children.

And yet there was a vocal percentage in our community agreeing and joining those condemning our children as ‘black’ feral mindless criminals despite a large proportion of the ‘looters’ were not even African.

They are seeing religious communities walking streets with swords using racist epithets, reading about grown men from the so called English Defence League organising to march and attack lone groups of Africans on the streets and buses witnessing vigilante mobs arming themselves with baseball bats and yet they side against our children?

I think we as a community need to deal with this before a greater rift is caused between us and our young people that cannot be healed.

Hackney Uprising 2011: Multi-ethnic, multi-generational

In memory of my father

A message to both the old and young in our community

Last week many all of us as parents failed our children and that includes those of us without children who still have responsibility for our community’s young. So perhaps it’s because I’m feeling quite emotional that I’m finding it very difficult to understand why certain people within our community are in uproar about the comments of the racist and now thoroughly discredited historian David Starkey. His explosive comments on BBC Newsnight that the huge swathes of europeans who led surges of violent criminality only became involved because the ‘whites have become black’ has now become national headlines. Even if he ignores the sheer barbarity of Maafa, he conveniently forgets the ‘white’ culture of the teddy boys and skinheads who murdered Africans like Kelso Cochrane (In 1960 the White Defence League merged with the National Labour Party to form the BNP), he also more shamefully as a historian forgets the opportunistic looting and thuggary of the europeans involved in the 1780 Gordon Riots leaving 285 dead and almost 200 wounded.

And yet so many people within our community who have sided against our young people have all last week been agreeing with his rabid Enoch Powell informed assertions that has been propagated throughout a national media covertly repeating we Africans have an inherent ‘violent destructive, nihilistic gangster culture’ that has stained the moral character of the English ‘kids’.

Perhaps it is because someone has shifted the blame from the young and is now placing it squarely (and erroneously) on their own selfish shoulders that they feel the need to be outraged! How dare he! Blame the yoot - fine but leave us middle class upstanding Lammyite ‘whites’ out of it. If we pushed further I’m sure those very same people from within our community would also agree that we are responsible for these poor ‘white’ children becoming infected with our ‘wholly false... Jamaican patois’.

Ask the typical white supremacist apologists Kwame Kwarteng, Tony Sewell, David Lammy, Katharine Birbalsingh, Trevor Philips, Sean Bailey or Lindsay John.

These people with an ego feeding addiction to generating anti-African headlines are cancerous. You see what they reveal is that whenever we are in trouble, whenever we come under attack, these media prostitutes will not side with the voice of calm or reason, they will not reflect with the spirit of Maat, seek council with wiser elders or learn lessons from our Ancestors before they open their ignorant mouths. No. These people are the same ones that will sell us out, call for the army, the police with plastic bullets, ask for water cannons and tasers to be used against our children. Their mantra of self hatred masked in opportunistic pseudo-intellectualism should be career ending but still we give them the oxygen of publicity to spread their ideological filth.

I abhor this behaviour but I think I understand some of it.

When people who perceive (and delude) themselves as powerful are suddenly made afraid and then catch themselves in the mirror – they can’t help but be repulsed by seeing that weakness reflected back at them. Yet instead of working on self they often seek to deny the fear that permeates within and lock away any reminder that bursts their aspirations of grandeur where in their dreams they attain the mythical status of being an honorary ‘white’.

In this instance the very presence of the young people who they perceive or are told are responsible then become legitimate targets of their ire. Like a dumb patriot missile once the target is set they can only cause mayhem and destruction when they hit their target. The only sensible alternative would be to accept that they are afraid to tackle the real problem, the real enemy, those who create and maintain the socio-political climate that ferments social injustice for Africans and other less privileged groups. But instead they lie, cajole and persecute the innocent who are pawns in this rigged game of chess where they are only taught how to play draughts. The young, who without experience and discipline succumb to a system that is designed to impregnate symbols of materialism into the minds of those without the resources to legitimately acquire them, they are then blamed when they are offered the ultimate BOGOF deal – Buy None, Get it Free Anyway.

I’m sorry for this rant, many will disagree with me, but right now I don’t care. Fcuk off. Unless our children become engaged in violent attacks upon innocent people or ransack honest hardworking community centred businesses, I will always support them without conditions, especially over racist police officers and any exploitative commercial traders.

Truth is when this dies down I believe we have some serious housekeeping to do. It’s time we remember to record the names of our most vocal opponents and also expose those folk that went out and actively supported the call for the use of force against our children. We should give all of them an opportunity to reflect and then if they come to their senses, publicly apologise, but if they do not we must cut them loose.

It’s time to done with the weeds.

I am sorry for my bad language and acerbic tone. My father taught me better. But I’m still angry. A friend sent me a copy of Donnie Hathaway’s Someday We’ll all be Free and as I listened to the lyrics it made me want to cry. I’m sure he couldn’t imagine a situation when an African parent would turn on their neighbours child and instead of taking them in off the streets and out of danger simply attack them with the enemy labelling them feral and wild.

You see the wise amongst us understand the fact that some of you got carried away in the moment, some of you relished the chance to strike back at the police, some of you fell to the temptation of freeness. But please don’t be fooled by the words of some of your olders, for when I walk around my neighbourhood during the day I observe grown men hanging outside betting shops, I see Pan African organisations unfairly being forced to prove their relevance and supplementary schools being used as booster classes instead of centres for Africentric orientation, I also see mothers raising you alone, fathers rarely at home, big people raving every weekend when they should be at home listening, teaching and guiding you. And yet some got the dyamn cheek to call for police to be armed in order to shoot you for their own lack of discipline.

Since last year African centred community organisations have been losing their funding, their premises, and their staff. By now we should have had enough donations and volunteers to keep us going but those with everything, doing nothing argue ‘I aint into no Pan African thing’, whilst those with nothing, doing something have been like ‘cool, when you’re ready’.

Well I’m sure I speak for them all when I state we’re ready now.

There are a huge number of us in this country doing good by our families, but there is also a persistent hardcore that desperately need support, not to be hidden away like a dirty sheet from the bedwetters amongst us. The last time I visited a prison I saw a lot of lost brothers.

Some had sadly become hardened criminals, but the majority were still children without purpose, lost in a penal system due to mistakes they had taken stemming from weak parenting, poor education and a dog eat dog British society that loves to exclude what it fears to include. I and many others like me don’t want any more of our children lost in that system so we fight, we’re not rich like the footballers and musicians you idolise but we will do whatever is within our power to give you the opportunities in life to make better choices than some of us did.

“A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard.” - Martin Luther King, Jr

I know that when I was young I used to steal. My father didn’t know, he was too busy working during the day and studying during the night to ensure my sister and I had food on the table, school uniforms that we couldn’t afford and plimsolls because the designer trainers that were the fashion at the time were too expensive. I was lucky that he turned me around, shaped me into the man I am today. I still make mistakes, but I still thanks to him, get up, own and rectify them. He never gave up on me, no matter how much I lied, stole and put him through hell during my teenage years.

He taught me that ‘nothing is impossible, just something’s are more difficult to achieve than others’, well I’ll be damned if I will condemn and write off a whole generation just because some of us my age are now too scared to live up to our responsibilities as Africans. For those of you that are curious I used to steal books (and on the odd occasion sweets, I have a mouth full of fillings to teach me the lesson why that was wrong). My friends laughed at me, but today those books married to the can-do philosophy and cultural guidelines my father instilled in me helps gave me the strength and vision to reach out and assist in the development of my community today.

He passed away fifteen years on 19 August 1996, I thank you father for continuing to guide and protect me, may all the Ancestors continue to do so for the rest of us.

Toyin Agbetu is a writer, film director, poet, and founder of Ligali, the pan African human rights based organisation.

Toyin Agbetu

External Links
Id drunk too much, I was irresponsible, criminal: Nick Clegg on his regrets
Full force of hypocrisy - David Cameron
Blairs son drunk and incapable
Cabinet Ministers son cautioned
Dont howl Starkey down. Gangsta culture is a poison

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Opinion: Summer of Discontent 2011

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