Socialist Worker

Alex Wheatle: ‘It was like living in a police state’

Issue No. 2246

‘Brixton was a place of boarded up properties and squats in 1981. There were no opportunities. A lot of people lost hope—and we had a racist police force of course.

They beat me up several times in cells and vans. There was always the threat of the Special Patrol Group (SPG) on Brixton High Street—whenever you walked you were aware of that threat.

There was tension in the air during Operation Swamp ’81, but it built up long before that. It was like living in a police state.

At one party the SPG came and battered down the door. They pulled everyone out and threw them into vans. They put their feet on our heads. Some of the Rastas had their dreads pulled out of their scalps.

Of course, people were resentful and wanted revenge—and we had that on the Friday and Saturday.

I hoped things had changed a little since 1981. I even tried to help with that change. Sometimes I’m consulted about police procedures like stop and search.

But after the death of Smiley Culture last month [see back page], I despair. I despair over the fact that young black men are still stopped so many times more than their white or Asian counterparts.

I was at the packed Lambeth town hall meeting for Smiley Culture. Everyone believed that the police are not telling the truth—again.

This is how the riots kicked off. 30 years later we’re suspecting the same thing.’

Alex Wheatle is an author. His most recent novel is The Dirty South (Serpent’s Tail), £7.99

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