“Who Killed Colin Roach?” a film by Isaac Julien

Colin Roach was a 21 year old black man who was killed by a gunshot in the lobby of Stoke Newington Police Station on the evening of January 12th, 1983.

Amazingly nobody in the station seems to have witnessed the incident. The coroner declared it death by suicide, despite the police surgeon putting forward a number of serious anomalies that contradicted this view.

The Roach Family Support Committee organised its own enquiry, the outcomes of which were published as a book in 1988. They also organised a number of protests outside Stoke Newington Police station. The police response was typical of the times – Colin’s own father was arrested at one of the protests as were a number of other participants.

Isaac Julien is probably best known for directing the superb “Young Soul Rebels” (1991) a film about London youth culture in 1977. It includes a pirate radio station in Dalston (as well as a bunch of footage from Hackney if I remember correctly). The film is also notable for tackling the issue of homosexuality in the black community. It’s great, check it out.

Julien’s first film was “Who Killed Colin Roach?” (1983). It was made while he was still a student at Saint Martin’s School of Art:

“I stumbled into the story of ‘Who Killed Colin Roach?’: I was coming out of an East End jumble sale one Saturday when a march passed by protesting a death in police custody. It turned out that Colin Roach, the young black man in question, had lived quite near my home. Which meant, of course, that Mrs. Roach could have been my mother, that his family could easily have been my own.

This took me back to the radical workshops of my teens and the whole idea of the camera as a street weapon. So I wanted to make work that would embody dual perspectives. One of these would be inside the black families’ reactions to this death. The other would show responses to black community organizers. I insisted that my camera be engaged in the politics, so it was positioned very deliberately opposite traditional media.

This was at a time when video was still finding its language, when video art was still somewhat undefined. Yet I was determined to appropriate those early video-art techniques to make my campaign tape. I wanted to utilize this camera taken out of an art school context and repurpose its technology for the street.

I wanted to redirect the gaze of the ruling media. My real aim was to turn that gaze on the police, because in Colin Roach, they are the people rioting. That piece, in one way, was very much a local response, but it was also meant to contest some things I was being taught. Specifically, it was in reply to a tutor who had told me, ‘Isaac, no-working-class person will understand these films.’ Of course my works back then were just experimental films, scratches on film, really – and they were indeed quite arty. So part of me had been forced to think, Well…maybe she is right.

Colin Roach, however, was my demonstration against her view. It was made to say, ‘I can do the same work as you and I can tell a tale. But I can also make quite experimental things.’”

(Isaac Julien, Riot, MOMA, 2013, pp27-29)

The London Community Video Archive has published a fascinating interview with Julien where he talks about the film as well as his East End childhood (including problems with the National Front in Hoxton – and meeting members of the libertarian socialist group Big Flame):

Further reading:

Portraits from ‘A Hackney Autobiography’ exhibition

portraits from a hackney autobiography invite

Regular readers of this blog will remember my enthusiastic support for the A Hackney Autobiography project which documented the Centerprise radical bookshop, cafe, meeting place, community hub.

Well as you can see from the image above, the project continues with an exhibition of photographs “of people who worked at or frequented Centerprise and archive material related to their work”.

 

November 1990: Hackney leads poll tax non-payment league

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After the riots, Hackney was the number one borough for non-payment of the Poll Tax too.

An article in the Guardian on 1st of November 1990 stated:

The latest survey by the Guardian shows almost half of eligible residents in Hackney have not paid the poll tax.

The east London borough of Hackney has replaced Liverpool as the bastion of non-payment in the Guardian’s latest monthly survey of the community charge in 20 local authorities.

Forty-four per cent of residents liable for the poll tax have so far paid nothing, compared with 42 per cent in Liverpool.

But Hackney has managed to obtain more revenue than Liverpool, which has pulled in only 30 per cent of the money it ought to have received by now, and is heading for severe financial problems.

Hackney has reached 55 per cent of the target.

This is partly because Liverpool, after political and printing delays and an industrial dispute in the poll tax department, has only just started to issue 93,000 final notices to non-payers and has not yet started taking people to court.

Hackney, however, has obtained more than 4,000 liability notices from magistrates, and has already asked bailiffs to take action in 2,000 cases. Some other Labour authorities, by contrast, are using bailiffs as a last resort, or not at all. […]

Poll Tax

A proud legacy!

People burning their bills, Clissold Park

People burning their bills, Clissold Park

film – Somewhere In Hackney (Ron Orders, 1980)

Screenshot 2015-08-13 20.22.56

http://player.bfi.org.uk/film/watch-somewhere-in-hackney-1980/

A great 50 minute documentary at the British Film Institute site that covers a wide array of the community and cultural groups active in the Borough in 1980, including:

There’s also  lots of great footage of bits of Hackney which have since disappeared or aged gracefully…

Thanks to Good News Hackney on twitter for flagging up this up.

A few screenshots:

caribhouse3

Caribbean House

Lenthall Road Print Workshop and Hackney Womens' Aid

Lenthall Road Print Workshop and Hackney Womens’ Aid

Centerprise, 1980

Audio: Radical community arts centres in 1970s and 1980s Hackney – what legacy?

Below is a recording of some talks and discussion at Open School East in 2013:

It covers the origins of spaces like Centerprise (Dalston, 1971-2012), Chats Palace (Homerton, since 1973) and Cultural Partnerships (De Beauvoir Town, 1983-1999) and current projects geared at recording or re-presenting their histories.

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Open School East is based in a former library in De Beauvoir and describes itself as:

a unique space that brings together:

  • A free study programme for emerging artists;
  • A multifaceted programme of events and activities open to all.

Open School East was founded in 2013 in response to spiraling tuition fees and student debt. It was instituted as a space for artistic learning and production that is experimental, versatile and highly collaborative.

Central to Open School East’s approach is a commitment to foster cultural, intellectual and social exchanges between artists and the broader public. We do this by opening our study programme outwards, responding to our locality and providing an informal environment for the sharing of knowledge and skills across various communities – artistic, local and otherwise.

The OSE archive also includes recordings on of other past talks on topics including “Architecture of the De Beauvoir Tow Estate: A discussion between Wilson Briscoe and Owen Hatherley”

They have a whole bunch of interesting activites planned, including a talk by anthropologist Nazima Kadir on “The Dutch Squatting Movement and Self-Organised Groups” on Thursday 25 June 6.30-7.30pm.

Well worth keeping an eye on and supporting.