Posts Tagged ‘police racism’

Reclaim Brixton 2015

Sunday, April 25th, 2021

Brixton has been in the news again recently, with various analyses published on the 40th anniversary of the 1981 Brixton uprising (aka Brixton riots) which began on 10th April. Official reports put the 3 days of unrest which caused £7.5m of damage and left almost three hundred police (and an impossible to estimate number of the local community) injured down to poor housing, unemployment, and police harassment.

It was largely the actions of the police that led to the events. Their failure to effectively investigate the arson attack on a party in New Cross which killed 13 young black people in January 1981 scandalised much of the nation and the racist reaction of the mass media to a protest march about this raised tension, exacerbated by the police arrests of the march organisers who were charged with riot – and later acquitted. But the final straw was when police at the beginning of April began ‘Operation Swamp 81’ with large numbers of officers coming into Brixton and stopping an searching almost a thousand people – almost entirely African-Caribbean – under the ‘Sus law’, the 1824 Vagrancy Act which allowed police to stop and search anyone they believed was acting suspiciously.

Little changed after the official reports came out, and it was only 19 years later, following another scandalous police failure to properly investigate the murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993 that the Macpherson report found that the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist. Although some changes have been made, there are still plenty of signs that this continues to be deeply embedded in the ethos of the force.

The publication of ‘The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ on 31st March this year (2021) came at perhaps a particularly insensitive time for a report that is widely seen as a whitewash by a commission set up to reflect particular views. Set up in opposition to the protests by the Black Lives Matter movement over the death of George Floyd (and three weeks before the trial of his killer ended in three guilty verdicts) it evoked fury from many experts in the field as well as the millions who still experience discrimination.

More recently is has been condemned in remarkably forthright terms by the independent experts of the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council who state “In 2021, it is stunning to read a report on race and ethnicity that repackages racist tropes and stereotypes into fact, twisting data and misapplying statistics and studies into conclusory findings and ad hominem attacks on people of African descent” and call on the British government to categorically reject its findings.

Brixton has changed since 1981 and some of those changes are very much for the worse for the local population. There were further riots, and there have been deaths at the hands of police – such as those of Ricky Bishop in 2001 and Sean Rigg in 2008 – but the main threat facing the local communities is gentrification as Brixton is changing from a working class area home particularly to migrant communities to a trendy up-market suburb. Its a change which is in part inspired by the vibrant communities which it is displacing, but also driven by the excellent transport links the area enjoys.

25 April 2015 saw Reclaim Brixton, a day long protest against gentrification which saw several thousands gathering at various events in what is still so far as I’m aware the largest protest of its kind. One major blow to local people has been the decision by Network Rail, backed by Lambeth Council to redevelop the railway arches in the centre of the town, home for many years to some of Brixton’s best loved – and cheapest – businesses. The current tenants, one of which came here in 1932 – are being evicted and after renovation the rents will be triple and their places largely taken by the same chains and franchises that we see in so many other high streets.

Soon after I left Brixton – in what seemed like a quiet period and I thought things had probably ended, activists took direct action against some of the major players they hold responsible for gentrification, breaking a large window Soon after I left Brixton – in what seemed like a quiet period and I thought things had probably ended, activists took direct action against some of the major players they hold responsible for gentrification, breaking a large window at Foxton’s estate agents, going into Brixton Village with their banners and briefly occupying Lambeth Town Hall.

More at:
London Black Revs ‘Reclaim Brixton ‘march
Reclaim Brixton celebrates Brixton
Take Back Brixton against gentrification
Brixton Arches tenants protest eviction

Marching for Justice

Friday, January 22nd, 2021


21 years ago on 22 Jan 2000 I photographed a March against police racism organised by the Movement For Justice in Wood Green, and it is one of the earlier protests that I featured on my web site My London Diary.

It wasn’t of course the first protest that I had photographed, which had been around 25 years earlier, and through the 1990s I had increasingly begun to attend and photograph various political events, although the bulk of my work was still in other areas.

My London Diary didn’t exist in January 2000, but when I set up the site a year or two later I scanned some of my 8×10″ file prints from 1999 and 2000 to put some content on the site from the start.

At the time I was still working mainly in black and white and sending prints to the library that handled my work; they also worked with colour transparencies, but I had given up taking these 15 years earlier and moved to colour negative. The library then couldn’t handle digital files, and also my flatbed scanner was only black and white. At the start there was little or no colour work on My London Diary, though things soon changed as I first used a consumer digital camera as a personal notebook, then moved to working with a Nikon DSLR.

The earliest protest to be featured on My London Diary was from Brixton in February 1999, and over a similar issue, a National Civil Rights march calling for the release of Winston Silcott. So many years later things perhaps have changed very little – just the names, as the recent death of Mohamud Mohammed Hassan shows.

It wasn’t in 2000 easy to find out when and where protests other than the big national events organised by groups such as CND and the anti-war protests were taking place, but in June 1999 Indymedia had been founded around the global justice anticapitalist protest Carnival Against Capital and around this time many groups involved in protests were beginning to use the web to communicate through e-mail and web sites.

From around 2000 I began to cover many more protests, partly because I left full-time teaching and could attend more, but also because it became easier to find out about them. It was some time later that I began to put my pictures from protests on Indymedia, as a way of sharing my work with those I had photographed. I was also sending them to photo agencies in order to finance the work, as well as working as a writer on photography. I began My London Diary as a way to get my work to a wider audience, and hoped it would generate enough direct sales to at least cover the costs involved.

It has managed to do that and has also provided a great deal of feedback over the years, but hasn’t been a huge financial success.

My London Diary 2000

November 2014 (2)

Thursday, November 26th, 2020

The Wednesday of the final week of November in 2014 was an easier day for me as I was able to spend most of it at home and catching up on various things including a little shopping and visiting the library to borrow new books to occupy me on my train rides to London. I only had to leave home around 5pm to arrive in Aldgate for the Class War Xmas Ceasefire Special outside the tower with separate entrances for its wealthy and its social housing tenants.

After 19 weekly protests outside the ‘rich door’ the tower owners had finally agreed to talk with Class War and try to reach a solution to the problem, and in response Class War had agreed to call off further protests unless the talks failed. So this was more of a celebration than a protest, although the talks, when they took place didn’t really reach a satisfactory conclusion.

But there were some concessions and the protests did lead to some real improvements including new paving and lighting and better cleaning for the side alley which lead to the ‘poor door’, and perhaps more importantly they raised the whole issue of segregated entrances very much into the national agenda.

I was sorry to have to rush away from the celebrations, which I suspect continued afterwards in one of the local pubs.


A tube ride took me across town to the US Embassy, still then in Grosvenor Square, and the Candlelit Vigil for Michael Brown.

In August, police officer Darren Wilson had shot and killed Michael Brown Jr, an 18-year-old black man in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s companion said that Wilson had grabbed Brown through his car window after calling on them to stop as they walked down the street; Brown, who was unarmed, tried to grab the officer’s gun as he threatened him and two shots were fired, one hitting Brown’s hand. Brown and his friend fled and when Wilson fired again, Brown turned around, raised his hands in surrender and shouted ‘Don’t Shoot!’ and Wilson fired six more bullets into his body. Wilson’s account differed greatly and a grand jury having heard decided not to indict him.

Riots followed the shooting, continuing for over a week in Ferguson, and there were protests across America and worldwide against the shooting, using the slogan ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!’ There were further protests in 170 cities after the grand jury verdict was announced, and elsewhere across the world including this candlelit vigil in London called by London Black Revolutionaries and the NUS Black Students Campaign. Among those who spoke at the event were the Chair of London Campaign Against State & Police Violence, Malia Bouattia of NUS Black Students Campaign, Zita Holbourne of BARAC (above), Marcia Rigg, Carole Duggan, the RMT Paddington Branch Secretary, Wail Qaisim of Defend the Right to Protest and some people from London Black Revs.

Whatever actually happened in Ferguson, it is clear that US policing is racist, killing black people disproportionately, and acting – as Wilson did – out of fear due often due to racist stereotyping. Black Lives Matter – but not very much to some US Police forces and officers.

There was little or no street lighting in the area in front of the US Embassy where this protest took place, and for most of these pictures the main light present came from the candles and nightlights that were held by the protesters. A very tightly packed crowd made working in it difficult. When I got to the front of the protest there were some videographers at times using lighting which I took advantage of, but it seldom produces an attractive effect.

It was unfortunate the the Socialist Workers Party had decided to hold their own separate protest before this, probably because the organising groups had declined to let them take it over, but at least they did allow this vigil to use the public address equipment they had brought for their event. And many of those taking part are holding the placards that they provided in very large numbers.

When covering events at night I usually carry a small LED light which can illuminate people or objects a up to a few metres from the camera, usually holding it high and away from my body in my left hand while holding the camera to my eye with my right hand to give better lighting than using it in the hot shoe. If I have to, I’ll use my Nikon SB800 flash in the hot shoe, still using high ISOs to try and avoid a black background, usually with the camera on manual or shutter priority with speeds around 1/30s.


More on both events:
Candlelit Vigil for Michael Brown
Class War Xmas Ceasefire Special