It’s not often that you find yourself in the middle of what might turn into a hostile crowd at eight in the evening. It’s not often that you watch press photographers jostling for position, surrounded by angry onlookers and see faces of people who have just been on the news. It’s not often that happens to me and it’s not often that it happens round the corner from my house.
That’s where I found myself yesterday evening after the verdict from the inquest on the death of Mark Duggan. When you live in Tottenham that verdict – for the rest of the nation something to tweet about or to discuss in the office the next morning – becomes suddenly the source of consternation.
I watched as the crowd grew larger and more agitated; some women shouted in the direction of cameras, some hung back, shaking heads. Groups of men gathered. As the police came out of Tottenham police station, a little part of me despaired. Was that a good idea? That was the moment that it felt unstable, unsafe, like one thrown bottle could domino into something more uncontrolled, a crescendo of discontent manifesting in the kind of disorder I saw in August 2011. Back then, I wrote about the aftermath of the first night of rioting on my doorstep and I said that nothing justified the burning and looting of a community, not even the death of Mark Duggan.
I am not qualified to comment on the verdict of the inquest into Mark Duggan’s death. Nothing I can say is new or original and despite my surprise at the outcome, I have seen enough of the reaction on twitter to know that the verdict is as divisive as they come. I have abhorred the racist comments and the lack of empathy and found myself agreeing with the more considered voices out there. What I think of the verdict doesn’t matter.
What does matter is what happened last night. Fortunately, within a couple of hours, the crowd outside the police station had cleared – with the exception of a few, ill-advised Socialist Workers who turned up late to the party. It took me a while to sleep because I kept ruminating on the situation. What would have happened if the man I saw being held back by his friends had successfully gone after the police walking down the road? What would have happened if more people had arrived?
I am grateful that it rained last night. I am grateful people calmed their friends. I am even more grateful, as a Tottenham resident, that Carole Duggan – Mark Duggan’s aunt – has called for friends, family and the community to seek recourse in the law, not to spill their anger onto the streets as was the case in 2011. Her words could not have come at a better time. A vigil for Mark Duggan will take place this weekend in Tottenham and as much as I would love to see this as the event its organisers intend it to be – a remembrance of someone they loved and lost – I can only anticipate it with dread.
The thought of a vigil for the deceased shouldn’t stir this strange nervousness. I should be able to see this for it might be – a peaceful gathering of sad mourners who want to pay their respects. But I can’t. Seeing the fury last night and remembering the result of that fury 2011, I am just left with a lingering anxiety. I want to be able to trust that it will go well, that police will patrol quietly and the mourners will save their feelings of anger and disappointment for a day when they can be heard by a court, if they so wish. I want to be able to trust that the people of Tottenham will let the day pass with dignity.
There is still work to be done in this community to repair the damage of the August 2011 riots. Businesses have reopened, buildings have sprung up in the gaping sockets left by fire-destroyed shops, money is coming in – the White Hart Lane regeneration, the plans at Seven Sisters for shopping and leisure facilities will change the face of this area. I can see a time when Tottenham is seen as a good place to live. Maybe that is a product of a ridiculous optimism, or just naïveté, but I can see it. And I couldn’t before. With that investment comes opportunity for local people. But the work to be done now is about showing that the people of Tottenham can look after their community and respect every one of its citizens, even when angry and hurt.
That is why this weekend, Tottenham needs to show the world another face – because the world may just be watching. It needs to take off its hoodie and smile, pay its respects and go home when the vigil is done. I saw restraint last night and long may it continue.