Huffpost UK uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Kevin Samuel Headshot

Running Away From Trouble: My Experience of the 2011 Riots

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

This weekend I watched Usain Bolt run the 100m as a VIP guest in the Olympic stadium; this time last year I was watching my home town burn in the summer riots. Had I made different choices I could have been watching the race from prison.

Last summer Mark Duggan was shot by police in Tottenham, London. In the days afterwards, protesting turned to rioting across London.

Then the spark went off in my hometown West Bromwich. People weren't rioting about Mark Duggan here. It wasn't about getting one up on the police either. I think people saw an opportunity to let off steam, especially since the police in London weren't doing anything to stop the riots.

People around here have been on edge for ages. Everyone's blaming the cuts, but even before that, life was pretty rough.

There are probably more opportunities for young people in London, but in the West Midlands a lot of us are just bored. There's nothing to look forward to, no excitement, no jobs, and you can't afford the things you want.

So, of course, a lot of young people got caught up in the riots. For the first time ever they could walk into a shop and take whatever they wanted, and be part of something that was on the news all around the world.

My friends came round to my house when everything started kicking off in West Bromwich, and we went out into the town centre. It was madness. I've never seen anything like it. I don't think people really thought about what they were doing.

All around police were just standing back while shops were stripped of TVs, clothes, jewellery, anything people could get their hands on. For the first time in my life, there were no rules, no police, and the shop windows to all the things I wanted were smashed in. It was all there for the taking.

But I went home. I left my friends with their arms full and went home. Now while I'm watching Usain Bolt, three of my friends are in prison, one doing three years.

They're not bad, and I'm not good. I just had more to lose, and people who believed in me that I didn't want to let down.

I got involved in StreetGames nearly two years ago and found out I was really good at the 200 meters. My mentor, Russel, even went as far as paying for taxis so that I wouldn't miss training.

When I was stood in the middle of all the rioting I just thought I didn't want to disappoint Rus. I didn't want to lose the thing I was good at.

I'm currently 32nd in the under-20 group at 200m, and I'm aiming to beat Usain's record in the 2016 Olympics. That's what I had to lose, but most of the people who were involved in the riots aren't that lucky. If you think you've got nothing to lose, why not take what's on offer?

Government, parents and even businesses should do more to include young people and give them something to be a part of. Like Coke, they should support organisations like StreetGames which give young people a community to be a part of.

If they don't, similar riots will happen again.