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Last Updated: Monday, 10 April 2006, 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK
Brixton ablaze: 25 years on
Brixton riots 1981
"More than a riot, it was uprising"
For many young people in the south London neighbourhood of Brixton, the early 1980s were characterised by unemployment, crime and constant tension between them and the police.

On the 11 of April 1981, after days of pressure, Brixton erupted into three days of riots.

The night sky was bright orange with the flames from burning buildings.

Fire fighters struggled to reach the blazes, hundreds of police officers were injured and there were more than 20 arrests.

  • Breakfast has been back to Brixton, 25 years after the riots to see how the area has changed

  • On Tuesday 11 April: The policeman's story

    The events of 1981 are credited with changing the face of British policing. After disturbances in Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol that year, a new style of community policing became the norm. But what was it like for ordinary coppers caught up in the riots?

    Peter Power was a Sergeant with the Special Patrol Group, which became a focus for complaints about police tactics.

    Now a civilian crisis management consultant, we sent him back to Brixton, to reflect on what went wrong in the relationship between the police and the black community in South East London.

    And, we discussed how policing has changed, with retired policeman Peter Bleksley and Alex Wheatle, who made yesterday's film.

    "The police and the Afro-Caribbean community were largely at war with one another, " said Peter, who was a serving police officer in South East London at the time.

    "There was no understand of each other's culture. The police were largely white and lower middle class and saw themselves as the guardians of law and order.

    "There was a phrase at the time, black and white? Stop on sight"

    Monday 10 April - Brixton ablaze: The rioter's story

    Brixton riots 1981
    "I was throwing bricks, anything I could lay my hands on"

    Alex Wheatle was a young man of 18 when the riots happened.

    Events came to a head after a police operation in the area to reduce street crime.

    Friction between police and local youths worsened because of the so-called 'sus' law which meant anybody could be stopped by the police and searched if suspected of planning a crime.

    Now an author and poet, Alex said there was heat, the sky was orange:

    "I was throwing bricks, anything I could lay my hands on, before we knew it a police van was being turned over."

    The riots marked a turning point the area, "We felt like we were making a political statement, it was more than riot, it was uprising... it had been building up for years".

    Brixton today is full of sushi bars, "There was nothing like that in my time" said Alex. The area is much more of a melting pot.

    The bad housing still remains, "But the riots did lead to a general acceptance of young black people".



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