Photo by Andy Armstrong.
I’ve woken up in a riot – inside a London phone box. A brick has just smashed into the glass. There are four of us squashed in to get out of the rain of bottles and stones. I can’t get my arm up to protect my face, we’re all trying to crouch down, I can feel glass fall on my hair. But I’ve got a thick, springy Afro and I can still shake it. My friend’s got blood on his ear lobe; we look at each other and nod, instinctively – the two of us bursting out onto the road and legging it hard and low so the wind of the riot blows over us.
I’ve woken up and I’m fifteen, invulnerable, my heart thumping with adrenalin. I’ve never seen or felt this before and didn’t know it could happen: people squeezing under cars to get out of the rain of glass, pavements strewn with rubble and injured people and blood (there’s a deafness in my ears from the roar and screams of the crowd). I can smell petrol fires and I’m running past smashed up windows of cars and shops. I turn back to look at the pumped-up lines of policemen confronting us across the street, banging their truncheons on metal dustbin lids.I turn back to look at the pumped-up lines of policemen confronting us across the street, banging their truncheons on metal dustbin lids. I’m on the frontline because I want to see what’s going on – I can see the faces of the police, ashen, white – and before the next charge of boots and uniforms and the answering volley of stones and bottles, sticks and whistles, I can see people picking up and dropping broken slabs of paving stones from under our feet to hurl them over my head at the police.