BY REV. OSAGYEFO UHURU SEKOU
On December 6th, Vibe Magazine will publish my feature length article, titled, “Catch a Fire” The article, which is 6300 words in its original form, is based on my one on one interviews and exclusive access to the Duggan family, friends, community activists, Hip Hop artists and a Member of Parliament. The feature article reveals that the police engaged in a number of inappropriate if not illegal actions which contributed to the climate that produced the riots. Equally, having traveled to London, twice, to conduct extensive community interviews, I attest to a number of inaccurate media accounts about Mark Duggan’s shooting, the riots, his funeral, and family background.
On August 6, 2011, Mark Duggan was fatally wounded by police sparking riots in Tottenham which quickly spread to 46 other municipalities and cities throughout the Britain. Mark Duggan was born and bred on The Farm—Broadwater Farm Estate, a storiedpublic housing community in Tottenham, North London with a large West Indian population. Four days after London began to burn, I was dispatched by Vibe Magazine to get the real story. I went to Broadwater Farm in search of answers. After some reluctance, the community accepted me. I was given exclusive access to Mark Duggan’s family, community leaders, and noted Hip Hop artists who have been working on police brutality. I was privileged to be guided through Brixton and Broadwater Farm by legendary poet David J the Vocal Pugilist, who introduced me to progressive Hip Hop artists throughout London.
(Performance by legendary poet and MC, David J the Vocal Pugilist )
As Tottenham burned, rapper Rowdy T released an eerie underground hit, “Riot Muzik”. Born on Broadwater Farm, Rowdy T knew Mark Duggan and wrote the song to share his pain and rage. Echoing Martin Luther King’s Jr. claim that “riots are the language of the unheard,” Rowdy called for self-defence in what he called a “war between the police and the streets.” He ripped the track: “Loot something… We aren’t scared / bust your gun because they don’t hear our tears.”
(Broadwater Farm’s born and bred rapper, Rowdy-T’s Riot Muzik)
British media, initially, reported that there was a shoot out between the police and Duggan which was proven to be false. The Broadwater Farm community is reported to be crack invested gangland, which are simply not true. As the only journalist allowed in Mark Duggan’s funeral services, I am fully aware of the misrepresentation of the nature and character of the September 9th funeral services. One newspaper characterized a Pentecostal gesture of blessing as a gang salute during the funeral processional. As well as Mark and his mates are considered a gang by British media when in fact they close knit community of young men, who at times have been unjustly targeted by Scotland Yard.
These portraits of young Black men in London and questionable deaths in police custody are not new. In the past twenty years, over 1,400 people have died in police custody and police officer has never been charged. Ricky Bishop, Smiley Culture, and host of others are among those who died under suspicious circumstances in police custody. There is a general sense in the Black British population that their lives are not valued by the police. Moreover, many Black youth feel alienated from British society.
(Broadwater Farm poet and rapper, Wan-Cee)
Hip Hop music has been a vehicle for youth self expression. Both Mark Duggan and his best friend Smegz—who was stabbed to death a few months before Mark’s shooting—were aspiring Hip Hop artists. A month before Mark was shot, a noted Hip Hop artist, MC Logic chaired a community forum entitled, “Who Polices the Police?” The forum took up the question of police brutality and youth activism.
(Bar’s for Change, “Mr. Officer”, featuring MC Logic)
To this end, I am currently working on book and documentary. In Riot Music: Hip Hop, Broadwater Farm, and the London Riots 2011 examines the context and cause of the riots. This unique book relies heavily on firsthand accounts and community knowledge. The origins of British Hip Hop, police community relations, and the politics of race offer insights into the conditions that precipitated the riots. Riots Music will offer the perspectives of a wide range of voices—young men from the Farm to Members of Parliament. By placing the Duggan shooting a broader context, the roots of social unrest are unearthed. This text has international implications. Riots initiated by people of color in Western societies are typified by three factors: young alienated ethnic community, a history of police brutality, and poverty. This powder keg is sparked by perceived unjust police violence against a member of the ethnic community From Rodney King to Mark Duggan, the challenging relationship between police and ethnic communities has erupted in social protest and civil unrest. Riot Music assesses these challenges and puts forth potential solutions —presenting Western societies the opportunity to make all citizens feel at home.
REV. OSAGYEFO UHURU SEKOU
Osagyefo (oh-sah-GEE-fo) Uhuru (ooh-WHO-roo) Sekou (SAY-koo)
Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou is an author, documentary filmmaker, public intellectual, organizer, pastor and theologian.Considered one of the foremost religious leaders of his generation, Rev. Sekou is the former Senior Minister of Lemuel Haynes Congregational Church (UCC) in New York City. He has forthcoming collection of writings, “Gods, Gays, and Guns:Essays on Race, Religion, and the Future of Democracy”.