Brixton has been undergoing complex processes of gentrification since the days of SWAMP ’81. There was pretty broad consent on the ground that ‘Brixton Unite’ was another tactical innovation in the battle that’s raging down Coldharbour Lane, through the market, around the Rec and up the hill. It’s a battle over who can unite in Brixton, the forms unity is allowed to take, and what a ‘united Brixton’ will look like in the future.
The operation was managed by two plainclothes officers who looked to be from Scotland Yard and observed everything happening at the Underground Station from the entrance to Morley’s department store. Every hour or so they would take a stroll through the market and then liaise with uniformed officers outside the vegan cupcake shop at the covered market.
It’s not a coincidence that the tube was the centre of operations for most of the day. Any Londoner who pays rent and travels to work will know that this city is being carved up, one zone at a time, according to the imperatives of international capital. They just need to look at their bills and local house prices to know as much. In Peckham, improved transport links are contributing to a reconfiguration of Rye Lane according to a new and ascendant bourgeoisie. The vegan cupcake shop on the edge of Brixton market is a giveaway to how far this process has already gone in SW9. ‘Brixton Unite’ wasn’t just a mask for more antagonistic policing, it was also a statement of intent about the classes of people that local institutions intend to unite around, and against.
4. United in Anger.
What we know is (a) gentrification continues at a startling rate (b) this is only a prelude to more extensive and spiteful operations and (c) local institutions – traditionally charged with mediating conflict – are happy to endorse this sort of police work. Given we know this, we need to begin to think seriously about how to fight back. There were signs on Thursday of how this counter-power might work.
Importantly, it has to be hyper-local, focusing on particular areas, even streets or blocks. This is because any intervention that isn’t by the community is doomed to be meaningless fronting. It’s also because police vehicles are faster than text call-outs. Police don’t usually publicise when and where they intend to operate. When raids and stops happen, we can’t and shouldn’t be reliant on a disparate network of activists to get to Brixton (or anywhere else) in time to intervene. This means prioritising organisation on your estate, at work, or in your community centre. Density of experience and confidence can make a massive difference in how much you can do during an intervention. When passers-by joined in and interrupted police stops, there was a snowball effect that effectively annulled police control over the situation. With a bit of imagination and work this might become a normal occurrence. An entire street coming to the help of a resident entirely transforms the dynamics of power that the MET relies on. Priorities should therefore be: legal rights training; regular stalls distributing information and encouraging involvement; educating people most vulnerable to attack by the police, in the places they live. Were this to happen on a sustained basis our ‘unity’ against racism, social cleansing and the dispossession of the city would gain greatly in strength and these kinds of policing might prove increasingly difficult to enforce.
Five years before the Brixton Uprising, in 1976 the Select Committee on Race Relation heard from Commander Peter Marshall, head of Scotland Yard’s Community Relations department. His statement serves well both as an epilogue to this article and a prologue to what can be achieved with community self-organisation: “Recently there has been a growth in the tendency for members of London’s West Indian communities to combine against police by interfering with police officers who are effecting the arrest of a black person … in the last 12 months, 40 such incidents have been recorded. Each carries a potential for large scale disorder.”