Riot from Wrong is a documentary film made by the youth steering group of the not-for-profit media organisation Fully Focused Community. It seeks to document the August 2011 riots from within the communities in which they occurred, and, crucially, from the perspective of young people.
The idea for the film, produced by 19 young Londoners, was born four days into the riots, when a group of youngsters and two youth workers, frustrated with the police and media lies about the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, picked up their cameras and started filming. The end product was on show at the British Film Institute on the South Bank to coincide with the anniversary of the riots.
The documentary is set in three parts. First, the viewer is taken back to Ferry Lane in Tottenham on 4 August last year, where an eyewitness gives an account of the last seconds of the life of Mark Duggan, shot dead by Trident police officers. Interviews with the Duggan family follow, and the basic nature of their unanswered questions demonstrates that their struggle for justice is far from over.
Why was the family not notified about Duggan’s death? Why did the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission peddle the lie that Duggan had shot at police first? Why is there no evidence to suggest that the gun found on the scene belonged to the father-of-four?
Next we see exclusive footage – some of it filmed on mobile phones – of Tottenham High Road, where, two days after Duggan’s death, his family and friends arrived at the police station demanding answers. After hours of waiting, a young girl gets roughed up by police and the fuse is lit – a riot ensues.
While clearly aiming to provide a counterpoint to the condemnation and outright dehumanisation of the rioters in mainstream media coverage, Riot from Wrong is carefully balanced, particularly with regards to the arson of local shops and homes. The film in no way seeks to justify the burning and looting, and allows for the perspective of local residents who have lost everything. The riots’ immediate aftermath is painful – the damage to communities, the demonisation of youth in the media and the disproportionate sentencing of a group of people who are overwhelmingly young, a quarter of them first-time offenders.
The second part of the film seeks to understand the rioters’ anger at the police, frustration with society and alienation from their communities. Through interviews it shows how many working class youngsters are victims of stereotyping in the media, racial profiling and police harassment. We learn about stop and search, deaths in police custody (a disproportionate number of those who have died are black men) and questions are raised about the independence of the Independent Police Complaints Commission – a source of grievance for many who have lost loved ones at the hands of the police.
It is not just young people who are interviewed. We hear from Tottenham community activist Stafford Scott, the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, Hackney-based youth worker Janette Collins and Michael Mansfield QC. The dots are carefully joined between unemployment, cuts to youth services, the raising of university fees, the scrapping of EMA, the MPs’ expenses scandal, consumerism, the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the bailout of the banks. Michael Mansfield looks back as far as Thatcherism and bemoans the ‘lack of psychological space in which people are fully recognised’ in today’s society.
The third part of the film explores some answers. Polly Toynbee points to the need for a more equal society. Youth workers speak of jobs, proper funding for education, youth services and housing. Finally, the film emphasises the importance of art and expression in fostering a new generation of healthy young people, featuring performances from youth groups including SE1 United, the X7eaven Academy and Centrepoint Parliament.
The brooms in Clapham were no solution, and the halo of the Olympic flame will fade. But in many ways, Riot from Wrong is an answer in itself. The quality of this film’s journalism and production rivals the mainstream media. As a historical assessment of contemporary Britain it is better than anything I have seen on TV this year. And while it is damning in its verdict of British society, it is positive in its outlook for the future. Riot from Wrong is a celebration of young talent and an example of what journalism could look like – rooted in the community and sceptical of the state.