When the 2011 riots broke out, they were widely dismissed as plain criminality. A new work by film-maker Baff Akoto tells a different story – and shows how the civil unrest implicates us all
The video opens on a scene of hazy, unspecified danger. A group of people are milling about on a street corner that could be anywhere, their identities obscured by hoods, caps and the graininess of the footage. It is almost midnight, and the road appears deserted. Suddenly the anonymous figures surge towards the railings on the edge of the pavement and hurl objects at a passing police vehicle, which races away off screen. Initially, there is no sound: just the remote gaze of the CCTV camera. Then as if from the other side of the glass, voices cut through.
“Middle England people – the older generation at the time – they didn’t care,” says one. “They took it as: ‘Oh yeah, all these people from all these areas are scumbags.’” The words are occasionally drowned out by the noise of helicopters whirring above or police horses clumping below, yet the speakers persist. “When you have an elastic band, when you stretch it out to its extreme, it snaps back,” explains another. “The more you try to break a person, the more they build up resistance.”