The young people who knew Rashan need to grieve too.

By Toyin Agbetu | Tue 25 July 2017

Young people place tributes at shrine for Rashan Charles

Toyin Agbetu reflects on the unwanted Police intervention at the Justice for Rashan Charles Vigil and reveals how it leads to so many of our young people feeling abandoned by his generation of elders.

On Monday morning I was invite to speak at a vigil for Rashan, I politely declined but said I would be present. When I arrived there was a large crowd outside the police station shouting anti-racist chants with banners that read ‘Black Lives Matter’. It was a peaceful, if not charged affair. Once the mainstream media left after recording a few soundbites and speeches for their news reports many ‘activists’ went home. That’s cool, it was a long day. My wife, son and I were amongst those few that decided to stay at the shop (almost a mile away from the police station) where Rashan had been killed. Young people had lit candles and were decorating a shrine in Rashan’s name. Many were still in shock, not able to speak, others the opposite, speaking without pausing, planning and thinking about organising. As the police helicopter circled us it could not see the anguish written on so many faces – that could have been me, my blood, my cuz, my son.

What only a few of our ‘activists’ who had left after their 3 minutes of fame failed to notice was that so many of the young people needed them, they were there in pain and trying hard to contain their anger. Yes they wanted justice, but where some simply saw unruly youth, there were several people in leadership roles, female and male, they were keeping the peace with discipline and instead of deserving condemnation and media stereotyping they needed their call for non-judgemental guidance to be answered. Several of us spent the entire night there talking, listening, crying, walking and sharing food and information just to make sure violence didn’t erupt and spoil what was an emotional vigil. This took enormous effort as there were agent provocateurs everywhere, one suspected undercover officer was asked to leave, a brother arguing this ‘aint a race thing’ picked an unnecessary fight with a sister who was speaking truth. The vigil continued and other than a silly moment when police officers in vans attempted to storm the space through force, the feds kept their presence low key. This was good, for slowly as the night went on people paid their respects to the family, thanked the shop keeper and started to leave. But then later in the evening a couple of hooded Europeans without our consent set a solitary bin on fire. They were looking to spark a fight and it almost worked. Their action rapidly changed the mood into a hostile one. We had to physically intervene to stop one young man from seeking to light a piece of wood and spread the flames everywhere. Then without warning a group of young people came to the bin with bottles of water and put the fire out. The vigil continued.

Toyin Agbetu at Vigil for Rashan Charles near Stoke Newington Police Station

Streams of consciousness

Throughout the night a number of drivers upset that the road was blocked almost caused fighting to erupt by attempting to drive right through the young people. Some actually hit young people onto their bonnets, others made racist, others sexist comments at those suggesting they turn around. Some foolish motorcyclists attempted to rush the gauntlet, narrowly avoiding hitting the young people who retaliated with missiles. But despite these moments of excitement, the young people as angry as they were just wanted a space to chill, to reason and reflect in peace.

But above us many noticed a nearby CCTV camera turning and recording all our faces. In a moment of sheer innovation (and comedy) a young man created a long pole and used a carrier bag to cover it up. Within minutes a small team of officers approached in a van, no dialogue, just a macho posture. As they started to move towards us the vibe suddenly changed. Missiles were thrown. They put on their helmets and a series of siren blaring police vans drove onto the scene. As the reinforcements arrived the energy level in the area rose to a fever pitch level. More officers poured onto the streets this time adopting an aggressive stance. Hours of peace making had in an instant been destroyed and now what looked like serious conflict was about to occur. A missile went through the air, then another, and another. Thankfully, no-one was hurt. But this was the excuse the police were looking for, they had decided to suit up with helmets and shields and now lined up in a formation getting ready to attack. They were loudly deciding who they were planning to seize and arrest. But the young people were having none of this, thuggish police mentality or not. We mirrored the officers, tonight all these young people were my children and I intended for everyone of them to get home safe. The missiles continued, the streams of consciousness flowed like a weapon. We were outnumbered, we were tired, but if the police attacked us – they knew it would be war. And then suddenly Ally, the officer in charge exercised great wisdom. Quickly assessing the situation, he pulled his team back. Even when the missiles continued, the incessant taunting hitting the mark, he and his officers retreated. Within minutes they were gone. The vigil was over and we went home.

Riot police get ready to attack grieving young people at Rashan Charles vigil

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