Two documentaries, the first from 1979 and the second from 1981 produced by the Cultural Media Collective (CMC) Amsterdam, Netherlands
Th first is a celebration of the 10th anniversary (1969 – 1979) of Bogle-L’Ouverture Bookshop and Publishing House, in London, featuring dance, music — including blues singer Jimmy James — and two poems by reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, inter-cut with a discussion about the role of the black community in Britain . Linton’s ‘Dread Beat and Blood’ was published by Bogle-L’Ouverture in 1975. The first book they published, in 1972, was “The Groundings with my Brothers” by the Guyanese scholar Walter Rodney, former professor in African History at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, who returned to Guyana from Tanzania in 1974, and was murdered in Georgetown on 13 June 1980 .
Creation for Liberation Part Two. (1981) “Reflections in Red” is the second part of CFL, and deals with the April 1981 riots in Brixton, a borough in south London, with 30 percent sub-standard housing– mainly inhabited by black council tenants — few social amenities and a high unemployment rate. Added to this social deprivation was the attitude of the Metropolitan Police, and the heavy-handed use of the SUS laws to stop and search young blacks. An area known as the Frontline became the battleground. n 1978 the Special Patrol Group (SPG) sealed off the Frontline and searched everybody entering or leaving the area, one of several operations by the police intended to intimidate the Frontline community. Tension between the local community and the police increased in the week leading up to the riots. At 23h00 on Friday, 3 April the Frontline area around Lesson and Dexter Roads was sealed off by the police and 20 arrests were made. Throughout the following week “Operation Swamp 81” continued with 1,000 people, mainly black youths, stopped and searched. On Friday 10 April, around 5pm, a young black with a knife wound was arrested by the police. However, a group of local people managed to free the youth and he was taken to a nearby hospital. The following day the police occupied the Frontline, sitting in vans every 50 meters waiting for something to happen, and “Reflection in Red” with music by Jamaican reggae singer Oku Onuora, illustrates what happened next, with footage of police, crounched behind perspex shields being forced to retreat under a hail of stones and petrol bombs. This wasn’t a race riot, as one black youth interviewed on Dexter Road explains, it was a riot against the police and the system. And his remarks and the complaints from other residents about the attitude of the police are remarkably similar to those expressed by visitors to the Bogle -L’Ouverture bookshop two years earlier. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, David McNee blamed the riots on “outside agitators” who brought petrol bombs into the area — a rather patronising remark, suggesting that the local black people couldn’t even organise a riot. “Reflection in Red” also contains footage of a demonstration outside County Hall in London where the inquest into the deaths of 13 black teenagers in a house fire during a party in New Cross was being held. The demonstation was to highlight the racist element in the New Cross fire, something the Metropolitan Police either played down, or deliberately ignored when investigating attacks on the black community. In November 1981 a retired judge, Lord Scarman, produced a report into the Brixton riots which reached an obvious conclusion, namely that “racial disadvantage is a fact of current British life” and he warned that “urgent action is needed if it is not to become an endemic, ineradicable disease, threatening the very survival of our society.” Twelve years later another retired judge, Lord Macpearson, produced a report into the 1993 murder of black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, stabbed to death at bus-stop in London by a group of white racist thugs, and concluded that “institutional racism” had influenced the initial investigation by the Metropolitan Police into the still-unsolved crime.
The second issue of Telford zine Guttersnipe speaks to local black youths about their lives. This is from 1978 and the zine ran from that year until 1982. The zine, and the collective behind it were the subject of this BBC TV documentary.
‘Can the aspirations of young hearts, meaning those of us who still believe in a peaceful world, in sharing of wealth, in love, tolerance, liberty, imagination, a scaling down of brutality, unbridled art and sex…can we and our ideals somehow get plugged into Government?’
So the NME, 22 May, 1982, asks.
This poem by anarchist poet Lola Ridge is from Emma Goldman’s magazine Mother Earth, vol 4, issue 2.
The Martyrs of Hell
By Lola Ridge.
Not your martyrs anointed of heaven
The ages are red where they trod;
But the hunted—the world’s bitter leaven,
Who smote at your imbecile God:
A being to pander and fawn to;
To propitiate, flatter, and dread
As a thing that your souls are in pawn to,
A dealer that barters the dead;
Who gloats with a vengeance unsated,
And sells the lost souls in His snares
Who were trapped in the lusts He created—
For incense and masses and prayers.
They are crushed in the coils of your halters:
‘Twere well, by the creeds ye have nursed,
To send up a cry from your altars,
A mass for the martyrs accursed.
Just a passionate prayer for reprieval.
For the Brotherhood not understood—
For the heroes who died for the evil.
Believing the evil was good.
Here’s a toast that has never been given;
Listen, thralls of the Book and the Bell:
To the souls of the martyrs unshriven,
The bondmen who dared to rebel —
To the Breakers, the Bold, the Despoilers,
Who dreamed of a world overthrown;
They who died for the millions of toilers,
Few — fronting the nations alone;
To the Outlawed of men and the Branded,
Whether hated or hating they fell,
I pledge the devoted, red-handed,
Unfaltering heroes of hell!