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It was about 10 PM last night when I arrived at a police barricade, just south of Tottenham police station. At that point there was a crowd of around 500, men and women of all ages. Most were there in anger, some were onlookers, and others were just trying to get home.
A couple of girls draped in Ghana flags needed to get up the high road. “Do you think if we ask the police they’ll let us through” asked one. “If we go up there”, her friend responded “they’ll beat us down”. Indeed, one thing that struck me was the way in which black youth reacted to the presence of the police. Perhaps understandably, many were far more frightened of the cops than most students whom I have marched with. A small movement forward by police lines would send people running back in fear.
For the next hour, not much was happening on our side of the police lines, but things were pretty tense. Meanwhile on the other side smoke started billowing. Soon a couple of huge fires appeared behind the police lines – a post office and a double decker bus were burning.
I was joined by some friends and we walked down some side streets towards the other side of the police lines. At the corner of Bruce Grove and Tottenham high road the rioters were absolutely in control. Police lines, now to the south of us, were being repeatedly pelted, and the air was full of smoke. As the police moved forward, some young people lined up wheelie bins and built a burning barricade, cutting them off from Bruce Grove. “Just don’t go to The Farm” one man said, referring to the Broadwater Farm estate where similar events happened in the early 1980s. Meanwhile a William Hill betting shop was smashed in.
The crowd was still a mixture, now mainly young men and young women, some who were there to fight the police, some who were there to show there support and numerous onlookers and local residents who wanted to see what was happening. A couple of blocks up, the High Road was completely split in half by a huge barricade. Attacks on police were intense, and the fires were now getting enormous.
We spoke to group of women outside their home. They felt it was out of order to be setting the small businesses on fire because those “people work very hard”, but they felt that the police were getting what they deserved, and were “proud” of the middle aged woman they had seen looting a huge chicken from Aldi. Indeed throughout the night, I heard no outright condemnation of the riots by residents or onlookers.
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