The protest in Hackney and Haringey had a clear message for the government – stop criminalising our kids

Give our Kids a Future banner

The response was clear and powerful. After the government and the mainstream media had been vilifying and condemning young people for a week, around 1,500 people got together to express a different view: One that doesn’t blame the riots on “sick” elements within our society, which need to be dealt with “robustly”, but instead tries to take into account the underlying causes.

The organisers of the demonstration, called “Give our Kids a Future”, said they did not want to judge the events of ealier in the week, but to make a statement against the criminalisation or our kids, and to highlight the fact that it is the job of our communities to rebuild our society. The crowd assembled on Gillet Square in Dalston around midday and marched northwards to Tottenham in the afternoon, growing in numbers as it drew supporters from the areas in between.

The general feeling among the protesters was that the media and government response to the unrest completely missed the point:

“It has been dispiriting”, said Ricky, 23, who had come from Pimlico to show his support for the communities of Hackney and Haringey. “One of the  most shocking things was the fact that people who were trying to explain what had happened were portrayed as trying to excuse the violence. Left-wing explanations were considered excuses, but not right-wing ones. Take the BBC, for example: Almost everybody they have interviewed has talked complete bullshit.”

Another young protester, Lorna, expressed a similar view:

“The media response has been unintelligent, just as the government’s. I don’t know why the government was so surprised about the riots, and I don’t know what they think they’ll achieve by telling people that it’s unacceptable or criminal – I think people know that it’s criminal. But it was also entirely predictable – it was clear that people would get very angry sooner or later because of what they been doing to public services – it’s not only this government, it goes back further than that.”

There was a strong sense that the communities themselves need to put forward their own narrative – a narrative that corrects the notion that the riots were simply an expression of greed and corrupted morals. Chants and banners expressed the view that the real violence was not carried out by rioting youngsters, but by the police and our government of millionaires. Various placards pointed to the contrast between the rather minor looting of electronic equipment and food items, and the large-scale looting carried out by bankers and tax evaders.

“After the right-wing backlash against young people, it’s important to put forward our own message. We can’t allow Cameron to use this as an excuse to further erode our liberties and our rights. It’s for the left to fight back and show support where it’s needed”, said Alex, who had come all the way from Norwich to show his support for the communities in the poorer parts of London.

Above all, there was a sense of unity. People of all ages and from different ethnic backgrounds joined the march – Turkish, Kurdish, Afro-Caribbean… Everybody understood that criminalising our youth will lead nowhere.

Peter Stauber

Peter Stäuber is a freelance journalist and translator. He writes for English and German language publications and is a member of the NUJ.