A month today, Woolwich erupted into violence, resulting in destruction which I’ve heard put at £2 million. The following nights saw more unfortunate events in Eltham, as men stood outside pubs to “protect their town” – followed by a racist group swooping into town trying to stir things up.
In the month, neither Greenwich Council and Greenwich borough police have held any public meetings to explain and discuss what had happened; why Woolwich had gone undefended, why Eltham became a honeypot for some very nasty individuals, and what they plan to reassure locals in these two very different places.
No such qualms in Lewisham, though – so on Monday night, the Lewisham Central ward assembly discussed the damage in its neighbourhood and how the police dealt with it. I was actually out in Lewisham on the second night after the riots, when rumours flew of a confrontation being planned there, watching police march a big group up and down Lewisham High Street. Ultimately, little happened, but it was worrying enough.
We’re not allowed these events in Greenwich, but if I’d known our borough was being discussed, I’d have wandered along. For one attendee reported…
But what does this mean? Does this mean that groups of nasties were being contained within individual boroughs? (“They shall not pass the Old Tigers Head…”) Or does this mean that Greenwich borough – and let’s be frank here, this is very much an Eltham issue – has a problem with attracting groups of racists who want to stir things up? If the latter is true, then that’s too close for comfort and I want to know what the council and police are doing about it.
Of course, it’d be good if Greenwich Council and Greenwich borough police were as open and accessible to the public as their counterparts in Lewisham – then we might get some answers. But until then, the best we’ll get is overheard snippets like that, worrying comments from outside – and a sense that nobody’s actually in charge of making sure the events of a month ago don’t happen again.
Yes, some uncomfortable truths will need to be confronted – but myths can also be challenged too. But with the council and police still not talking to the people who pay for them, more dangerous rumours and assumptions can only develop. Is anyone going to take a lead instead of running away?
Update, 10:35pm: The Guardian’s website features a piece from a Goldsmiths academic who’s been studying the riots in Lewisham and talking to those involved.
There’s a telling line there…
Over a couple of nights the young people had control of the streets. They talked about deploying their numbers tactically – “Lewisham was a distraction, Catford and Woolwich, that’s where the real action was.”
…which makes it all the more concerning that Greenwich Council, and Greenwich borough police, aren’t talking about what happened in Woolwich that night.