August 6th 2011 started just like any other day. Shopkeepers got up as usual that morning, and left their homes to look after their shops. They couldn’t possibly have known that August 6th was not just like any other day. Many of them probably didn’t know what was going on even as rocks started flying through their windows and young locals stormed into their shops and began looting their stock. For a year now these people have been trying to rebuild their businesses, some literally
from the ground up. Without so much as an apology from those responsible for the riots, business owners have been struggling to regain what was taken from them.
“I know for some people, saying ‘sorry’ might not be enough… but it’s a start, ” says Kuria Amoyaw, part of a team apologising for the role young people played in the riots last year. The team is a group of youth from a North London church. While these particular youngsters were not involved in the 2011 riots, they are apologising for the role their generation played in the destruction of Tottenham’s High Street. Since Monday 30 July, they have been wearing T-shirts printed with the word ‘Sorry!’ and going into shops to apologise to local shopkeepers. “They have been crying and appreciating what we are doing,” states Hannah Adu, the organizer of the group.
Hannah also leads a week-long event each year called n:serve. Every year at the beginning of August the youth are given a chance to give back to the community. “Last year we spent the whole week cleaning and serving the community — and the next day, the riots started,” she said.
The 2011 disturbances started as a peaceful protest against the untimely death of a Tottenham local. Mark Duggan died in July last year after a police officer shot him in the chest. His family brought members of the community together to protest outside the local police station. Things rapidly got out of hand, and a riot erupted. The youth of Tottenham played a major role in the riots, throwing bricks, burning down buildings, and looting shops. In a single night much of the high street was destroyed, but even more, the community was left hurt and broken. Even now, a year later, people are still struggling to rebuild the community.
“Even though it was a year ago, it’s so raw in people’s minds and lives,” says Hannah. Kuria adds, “Too many times we’ve played the blame game.” After a year, no one has stepped up to aplogise — until now. “It’s about taking responsibility and saying sorry,” Kuria states.
Many people have been touched by what these young people are doing. One police officer was so amazed she spent some time talking to the group and taking photographs with them. “People are thanking us for saying sorry,” says Hannah when asked how people are responding to their initiative.
Many people blame young people for starting the riots in Tottenham, and they certainly played their part. However, a year on young people are also the ones leading the way towards a new start. Saying sorry won’t help people forget the hurt they experienced because of the riots, but it’s the first step towards healing that pain. Josh, who has lived in Tottenham for the last 6 years, says “We are a community, even though the riots happened — and this is the start of the community coming back together.”