The riots - one year on: Birmingham's fight to escape a summer of violence

When three young men were mown down during the riots last summer, there were fears of a racist backlash. It never came. Owen Jones visits the communities that united to rebuild a city

Tom Carroll, a 27-year-old who works in PR, will never forget when the riots came to Birmingham. Around 50 rioters had stormed a leisure complex in the trendy heart of the city where he and his girlfriend were renting a flat. The concierge was trying to fight them back with a hammer and a fire extinguisher, but they stormed through the back doors and began rampaging through the corridors.

Mr Carroll remembers them yelling: "'Let's get the rich people!' Which was petrifying. We're not rich, obviously, we just rent the place there. It was just madness, nobody seemed to know what was going on or how to end it or anything." His girlfriend was terrified, and he worried that the invaders would start a fire, forcing them to flee into the riot-hit city centre. But it was the tone of the rioters' yells that Mr Carroll found particularly chilling. "It was dark, it was angry, it was just horrible."

On the night of 8 August, the unrest that had started in Tottenham two days earlier could no longer be described as "the London riots". There was an eerie, tense atmosphere before the disturbances spread to Birmingham. "There was a real undercurrent in the city when you knew something was going on," says Mr Carroll.

With the media struggling to keep on top of what was going on, he was among those who turned to Twitter for updates on the crisis. Like many others, he regarded the rioters as beings from an alien world.

"They were working-class kids, or kids who were ignored most of the time. The kids who would cause trouble anywhere, they joined together," he says. And, in the long summer holiday, "it was something to do. Why not?"

Birmingham proved to be a turning point in Britain's summer of 2011. On Tuesday 9 August, three men – Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir – were killed after being hit by cars outside a petrol station in Winson Green, not far from the city centre. It was originally claimed that they had been run down in a so-called "chariot charge" but, last week, eight men were found not guilty of their murder.

At the time, there were fears that the disorder could escalate into violence between Birmingham's black and Asian communities until one of the victim's fathers, Tariq Jahan, made an emotional appeal for calm. "I lost my sons. Black, Asians, whites – we all live in the same community," he said, defying calls for vengeance. "Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home – please."

Sajid Patel, 35, was a friend of the three men: he describes them as "my close brothers. We grew up together from childhood." When the disorder began – just over a week into Ramadan – he was out in the mosque praying. "We found out there was a riot down there. There was looting going on, and people were standing there," he recalls. Mr Patel left the scene, and 10 minutes later, his friends were dead. But, even at the time, he felt grief rather than fury. "These three brothers, their lives just gone for no reason, when these riots started," he says. "I wasn't angry, just hurt."

Despite being a victim of the disorder, Mr Patel in no mood to condemn. "They weren't riots here, just kids having fun," he says. "These were poor kids with no jobs. There's no jobs out here, no social money coming, they're stopping their benefits, and they thought, 'Let's get something for free'."

Tracksuits and trainers were particularly in demand because they are expensive but desired by poor young people, he argues.

"Kids are hungry around here. Everywhere they're hungry… Even people in universities, they've got degrees, they've got no jobs. There's no future in this country."

Matthew Higgins, a 34-year-old local chef, is desperate to refute rumours of tensions between fellow black people and Asians as he puts a hand on Mr Patel's shoulder and calls him "brother". There was "still anger from the black community" about the murder of Isaiah Young-Sam, a 23-year-old black man, during race riots in the Lozells district seven years ago.

"There are stubborn people, but there are good people too," he says. "The father of the young men who died is a reasonable man. He reasons with everyone. He calmed things down. If it wasn't for him – and certain black people too, speaking out, and being real, not front, it would have kicked off." If there was conflict, he argued, the Government was to blame: "They try to make black people and Asian people fight against each other."

George Gordon, a retired civil servant and black community activist, is similarly angered by reports of communal tensions.

"The way it [the deaths] was portrayed made it appear as though it was a black versus Asian thing," he says. "It wasn't. It was bullsh**."

But the fact that Birmingham is a city with a long history of disorder was driven home when I ask Mr Gordon to reflect on the riots. "Are we talking about a specific riot with a specific date? Because we've had several riots in Birmingham."

Rather than talking about race, he is keen to lay the blame on "one of the most extreme right-wing governments we've ever had, and that's impacting on the quality of people's lives".

Desmond Jadoo, 46, the son of two Jamaicans, is also keen to refute the idea of racial tensions. He saw the disorder as part of a far wider political malaise. A long-standing community worker, he was involved in the unsuccessful campaign for a Birmingham mayor and had intended to stand as an independent.

"I heard about the deaths when they happened. Any death whatsoever is one death too many. But, unfortunately, sometimes it does take someone's passing for people to wake up to what is happening in society," he says.

A general sense of disconnection from authority and the democratic process fuelled the unrest, Mr Jadoo believes. "People feel they haven't got voices. People who are totally disengaged from society... And what we have to do is bring those people back into the mainstream of society."

When I ask if he agreed with Martin Luther King's diagnosis of a riot as "the language of the unheard", he responds swiftly: "This is how it came across in Birmingham."

Even some local shopkeepers are philosophical about the disorder. Imran Khan, 28, has owned Carpet Mart – near the petrol station where the three men died – for three years. "I just left it to the law. It had nothing against anybody, it wasn't an attack against me for any personal reasons," he says. Because he had insurance, he felt relaxed about any intrusion into his store on the night. For him, it was mostly just opportunism: "take what you can, and go".

But, even so, he would not condemn such behaviour. "If you had opportunities now, if there was a banknote on the floor, would you pick it up? If a van shed a load of notes, I'd pick them up. Wouldn't you?"

But for most of the community there is a determination to move on. Abdul Razaq, a 34-year-old teacher who lives near Winson Green, feared for the safety of his child at the time, but was upbeat about how people came together in the aftermath. "You're on a street where those gentlemen lost their lives, and the scars here will be very much evident," he says. "But they need to be so we can learn, and make sure it doesn't happen again."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
News
i100
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015