Authors: Benjamin Zephaniah
For the kids of Broadway Comprehensive School,
the kids of Birmingham who try their best,
and Tony Benn (RIP), who first told me to
write this book.
Table of Contents
Rico stood and stared as the shopping trolley flew through the air and smashed through the sports shop window. The boots and shoulders of the rioters had already weakened the toughened glass, and the force of the trolley caused the whole pane to shatter and collapse. Before the glass had even settled, a sea of people charged into the shop. The rioters danced, they chanted and they celebrated as they left the shop carrying balls, bats, trainers and football shirts, anything they could pick up and carry away.
It was a hot, sticky Friday night in Birmingham, but the riots happening there had started five days earlier when a young woman had been shot dead by police in Leyton, East London. Young people all over London were angered, and started protests and demonstrations. On one of those demonstrations a police officer pushed another teenage girl to the ground and kicked her whilst she was down. A bystander filmed it all on his phone and uploaded it to the Internet, and then the anger spread. The demonstrations turned to riots, and in a few days the riots had spread west to Bristol and north to Wolverhampton, Salford, Nottingham, Manchester and Rico's city, Birmingham. The British people, mainly young people of all races, all faiths, and many with no faith, were rioting up and down the country. They had had enough.
Rico Federico stood on Dudley Road and watched as shop after shop was smashed, rushed and then emptied. A large number of police wearing hard helmets and dressed in heavy black protective clothing gathered at the top of the road carrying shields. The police charged but they were outnumbered by the mob and were soon forced back to watch from their lines. A police car and a bus were set on fire. Fire alarms, car alarms and burglar alarms rang out from near and far, and Rico seemed to be the only one standing still. He turned a full circle to see the destruction all about him. Suddenly someone put their arm around his shoulders and ran their fingers through his hair.
âRico, it's showtime,' a voice shouted in his ear.
It was Karima. Karima was the tough, fiery daughter of Somalian refugees and the closest Rico had to a best friend, but they were very different in character. Karima was charismatic and had many other friends. Rico just had Karima. She was into kick-boxing and grappling; Rico couldn't beat a doll up. Karima was loud, cool and streetwise; Rico wasn't. Karima was addicted to social networking sites; Rico didn't care for them. But even though Rico wasn't interested in chatting to people online or collecting hundreds of online friends, he was definitely into computer hardware, computer programming and his computer repair business. He was really into computers. But to relax they both loved playing computer games. Karima just loved the thrill of winning, whilst Rico would spend time modifying the code and changing the graphics. They were an odd couple.
Rico was surprised to see her.
âWhat you doing here?' said Rico, looking at the gang of other people that she was with.
âShopping, man,' she said with a wide grin on her face.
âShopping?' Rico replied disapprovingly.
âThe revolution has come, let's go shopping!' Karima shouted, beckoning him on as if into battle.
âIt doesn't work like that,' said Rico, taking her arm off his shoulder.
Karima and her gang ran off into a phone shop to continue their shopping, and Rico began to walk away.
Everybody, it seemed, was doing something, either heading to a shop to get free stuff, or leaving a shop with their hands full. Some carried their loot on top of their heads, some on bicycles, and others used shopping trolleys from the very shops they had looted. It was so easy. The police were at one end of the street, but the rest of the street belonged to the looters, who just took what they wanted and left at the other end. As he walked away Rico heard his name being called behind him. It was Karima and her gang. They ran past him with their hands full of boxes and bags.
âSee you later, brov,' shouted Karima as they ran off triumphantly.
Rico carried on walking up Dudley Road and before long he had left the rioting behind and reached the road where he lived. As he turned the corner a police van screeched to a stop. Four officers jumped out of the van and ran up to him, but Rico wasn't worried, he was calm and ready to explain that he had nothing to do with the riots. But there was no time for that; he was taken straight to the ground before he could say a word.
âWhere's the stuff you took?' asked one officer.
âI didn't take any stuff.' Rico's face was being pushed into the ground, his lips pressed against the pavement, making it difficult to speak.
âYou're under arrest for theft!' yelled the officer.
âBut I haven't taken anything!' shouted Rico as he was picked up and thrown into the cage at the back of the van. The van door was slammed shut. Rico was alone, and there was silence. Then the van drove off at high speed. It wasn't the first time that Rico had been picked up by the police for no reason. Rico could only think about his parents and the stress his arrest would cause them. They had worked so hard to get where they were now. Both his parents were Spanish Romany. As children in Spain, his parents had been spat at, beaten up and refused education. But they had been determined to make a new life for themselves. They came to Birmingham where his father had worked as a builder and then started a small building firm of his own. It was doing well but then they decided to have a family. Then he got work in the city planning department. He was quickly promoted so his rise from nomad to city planner was fast. His mother started her new life in England sewing shirts in a sweatshop, and then she went to college, studied hard, did her training, and became a nurse.
Rico's parents had often taken him to the library as a young boy and as he grew older he had read about the history of the Romany people. But he didn't identify himself as Romany, He was a Brummie; born and bred in Birmingham, with a Birmingham accent. With his straight nose, light skin and mousy hair, no one would guess he had Romany roots, not even other Roma people. He didn't smile much, he didn't hang out in gangs, he didn't follow the crowd, and he didn't care what people thought of him. Friends came and went, but that didn't worry him. He didn't use the word âpolitics' much â like his parents, he didn't care for political parties, but he did care about people. In the library and inspired by his parents' lives he had searched out stories of how other people struggled and fought for their rights and of how sometimes people's rights were taken away from them. Like millions of other people he watched the news on television and saw wars and famines around the world, he saw how people were forced to flee their countries for safety, and how one group of people could oppress another, and when he had listened to all the politicians talking and making excuses, he still couldn't understand why. Why people did the things they did to each other, and why decent people didn't rise up to end the conflicts and inequalities in the world. He was sensitive to the suffering of others, but just feeling sorry for them was not enough: he wanted to help them, he wanted to do something. He was angry, but his anger was silent. He hated violence, but he wanted to change the world. He just didn't know how.
The police van arrived at the station, and Rico was taken by two officers to the front desk. It was a busy night. Rico was waiting for the Enquiry Officer to process two people in front of him when he heard a commotion outside. He could hear officers shouting, telling their captives to be quiet, but they got louder and louder as they got nearer. Rico kept looking ahead until they entered the station and he heard his name.