A Lesson in Media

By G W F Hoplos, 25 July 2017
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A report from the demonstration(s) in Hackney last night in response to the police murder of Rashan Charles 

A lesson in media: last night was sad and extraordinary. For the last days the videos of the murder of Rashan Charles at the hands of the police have been circulating widely. Yesterday the SWP (disguised under the name of their front organisation "Stand Up to Racism") called a vigil outside Stoke Newington Police Station. They did this without speaking to Rashan's family or friends. During the course of the day a number of us argued with them on social media about this, to no avail. I didn't much want to go to the protest, but since for a while I've been involved in police monitoring, and helping people in situations of police violence on the street, I decided to go as a Legal Observer, aware that if shit kicked off (because the police attacked the crowd, as they so often do) there would likely be many young people - and mainly local young people of colour - who would be violently apprehended by the police. Despite hating the conditions under which the protest was called, supporting those people at times when police violence is at its most brutal and most unchecked, is important.

The vigil became a march and we went down Kingsland Road to the shop in Haggerston where Rashan was killed. After a short time the SWP tried to drag everyone back to the police station. Thankfully it was mainly just the SWP who left, taking the 70 odd police officers who had accompanied the protest in military style with them. What remained was a much more interesting crowd: a whole range of local people from friends of Rashan, to people who worked and lived close by, and everyone from teenagers to pensioners. I spoke with one man for a while about his life for forty years in the area. He said his partner was pregnant and he is terrified about what the police could do to his child one day, and how unbearable the thought is that someone could turn up at his house to tell him his child had been murdered just because they were black.

Once the SWP had gone the police mainly kept a distance. A couple of helicopters hovered above us, and vans were parked up a couple of hundred metres away. If this crowd had a single aim it was to keep the police away, and to find some time to express their anger, to grieve and mourn away from the spectre of police violence. At times the police tried to bait the crowd, by driving seven motorbikes up and parking them on the corner, although they quickly retreated after the anger made it clear they were unwelcome. As a gesture towards keeping this space small road blocks were set up with rubbish, old oil cans, a mattress. An ambulance was let through when it needed it. When a police car tried to drive through it was stopped, but no-one tried to attack it as a close family friend had told everyone they didn't want this. Outside the barber shop sits a memorial of flowers and candles in plastic cups.



At some point some white anarchist squatters came past. They decided it would be a good idea to wheel out a massive wheelybin into the middle of the junction and set it on fire. The rest of the crowd were furious with them for this: they said that these were random white people doing something which inevitably the black community would be blamed for. The community didn't want fires and these people had done something which signified that this protest was something quite different from what it was. A number of heated arguments ensued - about blackness and whiteness, about media recriminations. Sensibly a number of people told those who had lit the fire to leave. They explained to the white woman her privilege in the situation and about how the media was wanting to paint the local community, and how it had done this for decades. Her useless response was to just shout at people about about how she "understood her privilege" but would set fires everywhere. Eventually she left.

I think there was probably some cultural misunderstanding on the part of those anarchists: elsewhere in Europe making barricades with burning wheelybins is much more everyday, and they had clearly misread the situation. To everyone it seemed they were coffin-chasing in their hatred of the police as much as the SWP had been coffin chasing earlier in their love of bland rallies and signing up new members to their stupid organisation, all the time taking over and wrecking local resistance. I know that I too am often averse to politics of "radical community" that might need pushing away from inertias that are in fact conservative and authoritarian. But here that was not the case and the anarchists totally misread the situation. Everyone at the protest confronted them and the fire was quickly put out.




Later some members of Rashan's family drove up, because they had heard reports of violence on the BBC. We reassured them that things had been angry but not as the BBC had said. The BBC like all the other media outlets seem intent on telling a story - of justifying the police killing Rashan, if not by saying he swallowed something, then by trying to incriminate the entire community of which he was a part.

The media whitewash goes on today. Both the Evening Standard and the Telegraph led the story with pictures of that burning bin. None mentioned the subsequent confrontation or the steam as the fire was put out. Almost all of the papers and news agencies give press to the SWP/Stand Up to Racism. In the media the politics of the street last night, where people came together to express their anger and their sorrow, where real disagreements were negotiated, where resistance took place, is extinguished. At the end of the night I spoke to two women about this media situation, set up to blame Rashan for his own murder. The only way is for us to make our own media, and to tell people what is happening.