Thursday, April 15, 2010

Black Film: "Babylon"

I recently attended a screening of "Babylon" at the NFT.

As you probably know, "Babylon" depicts life for young Black men in South London in1980, the year before the Brixton riots.

The film shows Black youth being hunted by their white neighbours and the police, who were eager to brutally beat them.

In "Operation Swamp", the police stopped a thousand Black men in Brixton in three days. Boys were stopped going to school as well as in school, beaten up and taken to jail.

In his novel East of Acre Lane, author Alex Wheatle described his experiences of living in Brixton before and during the riots, being pressured by the police and being thrown into a prison cell. To read more, visit: Alex Wheatle, Brixton Bard

At the same screening, the NFT showed a short film made by a group of Black and white young people called "Some Other Way Forward", about the "stop-and-search" procedure by the police.

Sir Paul Condon, former head of the Metropolitan Police, in 1999 justified the targeting of young Black men with stop-and-search, stating that these are the people most likely to commit street crime.

One thing he failed to mention is that young white men are those most likely to be involved in public order offences.

This fascinating film was made by the young people. It depicted them being stopped, sometimes four or five times a day, by police officers demanding their ID.

What this reminded me of the most were scenes from "Schindler's List" in which the Nazis patrolled the Jewish ghettoes, stopping the inhabitants four or five times a day and demanding their ID. People would be on their way to work or to the shops when they were stopped. They were often then made to perform menial tasis such as shovelling snow.

What most interested me was that, a few weeks earlier, I had attended a discussion about President Obama's success. We were shown film clips about what happened in Philadelphia in the 1970s and '80s, when the police targeted the MOVE organisation. In 1978, the police bombed the home of the MOVE members, killing 11 people including five children, and destroying an African American neighbourhood.

The fire department allowed the fire to burn for hours. The bodies which were recovered afterwards were really just ash. People said they looked like bodies from Beirut. They were also found to have bullets lodged inside of them.

During the discussion, I asked the question, "Is stop and search any different, in practice, from the old 'Sus' laws?"

These laws were used in the 1970s and early '80s to stop - you guessed it - young Black men on suspicion of committing pcrimes and throw them into prison cells. Often, there was no evidence of any crime having been committed.

People in the audience assured me that things are differeent now because you can take down the ID of the officers involved, and report them if necessary. But on the basis of this film, I would have to say, things are not that different now.

One of the very positive things about the NFT screening was the discussion that followed. I will blog more about this soon.

See also: What Are the Police Up To?

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