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Unrest in Dalston: the death of Rashan Charles took place in a divided community

Cohesive local relationships have been replaced by envy. 

The death of Rashan Charles, a 20-year-old black man who was restrained by police in the London borough of Hackney, has been shrouded in suspicion, disinformation and rumour. The protest that followed has been no different.

The police have been largely stoic and impassive in the face of acts of vandalism and brutality. Charles’s family has been dignified – their interest is in getting justice for their son. Behind all of these conflicts there is another: one of a community existentially and fatally riven.

Dalston has been growing ever more divided for some time. A marker of change was the announcement of the £160m Dalston Square scheme back in 2007, all luxury flats and shiny cafes. Then came the Olympics rush. In 2014, Hamptons reported a 31 per cent jump in house prices in one year. That was only a few years after Dalston saw widespread riots, one of many during a national night of shame.

Indeed, Dalston has become a bonanza for the rich. It is a short walk down the Kingsland Road to the opulent City of London. Over recent decades, the area has cultivated a hipster ambiance. It began in the 1990s with “Young British Artists” Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin et al who were based in Hoxton Square, south of Dalston and east of the City. Artists Gilbert and George still take their evening stroll down the road. Now the square is clustered with artisan boutiques which serve up a simulation of the high-art aesthetic at ten times the price.

The problem here is not as simple as saying “well, it’s gentrification, innit?” When done badly, gentrification excludes those without money from actively participating in the public space. At the same time, it encourages rentiers and speculators to do what they do best: shoehorning buildings at extortionate rents into crevices and alleyways, whatever the consequences.

Take Dalston Square. It is the single greatest architectural abomination to hit the area in the last decade; a perfect construction of social apartness. Its right angles and wood panels are garish enough, but it is constructed to encourage its residents never to have to play anything but the most cursory role in the lives of those around them or who came before them.

You can live there, walk to the attached train station, go to work in the City, shop at the Co-op, go to one of a number of identikit cafes and even play ping pong  – all without leaving the stone-clad ground that differentiates it from the earth around it. 

This story is repeated in triplicate across London. New space-age skyscrapers are planned – think Dubai hotels, dwarfing the ramshackle tenements about them.

The danger is we dismiss these complaints as some kind of aversion to progress – not a bit of it. This is not about nostalgia, but anger. The relationships that made this community special and cohesive have been eviscerated and replaced with envy.

Social media presents a stark picture. Some residents online referred disparagingly to the race of those involved in the protests about Rashan Charles. They used racial epithets at will. Others accused the police of “execution”. Others still vented their anger at the gentry in their “million-pound studio flats”. The viciousness of these opinions are a symptom of the crucible in which they foment. And the reality is that we expect that this unrest will not be the last.

Some work tirelessly to build links between the old residents and the new. Social enterprises like Bootstrap Company, which runs Dalston Roof Park, buck the trend. Others try, and are ripped up for their trouble.

Consider Passing Clouds, a social enterprise which put on club nights, gigs, permaculture and yoga classes. It occupied a building that was once daubed in beautiful murals.Then the building was acquired by a speculator. The social nights carried on – until police were called in. The building was locked. Huge notices were put up saying that dogs patrolled the premises. The murals were daubed over in grey.

This building has been empty, now all but derelict, for months. A community hub now looks like the watchtower of a prison camp. In this new world of barter and exchange, grey paint and police dogs are preferable to joy and connection and aesthetics.

We pretend there is a society here in Dalston. There isn’t. Rashan Charles is the focus of the protests for now. But the sand on which Dalston’s segregated build their lives and skyscrapers will not take much more of this.

Asheem Singh is the author of "The Moral Marketplace", a journalist, activist, broadcaster and founder of social entrepreneur platform He tweets @Robinasheem and is a resident of Dalston

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Commons Confidential: Tories turn on “Lord Snooty”

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

With the Good Friday Agreement’s 20th anniversary rapidly approaching, Jeremy Corbyn’s office is scrambling to devise a celebration that doesn’t include Tony Blair. Peace in Northern Ireland is a sparkling jewel in the former prime minister’s crown, perhaps the most precious legacy of the Blair era. But peace in Labour is more elusive. Comrade Corbyn’s plot to airbrush the previous party leader out of the picture is personal. Refusing to share a Brexit referendum platform with Blair and wishing to put him in the dock over Iraq were political. Northern Ireland is more intimate: Corbyn was pilloried for IRA talks and Blair threatened to withdraw the whip after the Islington North MP met Gerry Adams before the 1997 election. The Labour plan, by the way, is to keep the celebrations real – focusing on humble folk, not grandees such as Blair.

Beleaguered Tory Europeans call Brextremist backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg – the hard-line European Research Group’s even harder line no-dealer – “Lord Snooty” behind his back. The Edwardian poshie, who orchestrates Theresa May’s taxpayer-funded Militant Tendency (members of the Brexit party within a party are able to claim “research” fees on expenses), is beginning to grate. My irritated snout moaned that the Beano was more fun and twice as informative as the Tories’ own Lord Snooty.

Labour’s Brexit fissures are getting bigger but Remainers are also far from united. I’m told that Andy Slaughter MP is yet to forgive Chuka Umunna for an “ill-timed” pro-EU amendment to last June’s Queen’s Speech, which led to Slaughter’s sacking from the front bench for voting to stay in the single market. The word is that a looming customs union showdown could trigger more Labexits unless Jezza embraces tariff-free trade.

Cold war warriors encouraging a dodgy Czech spy to smear Comrade Corbyn couldn’t be further from the truth about his foreign adventures. In Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Corbyn recalled spending a night in Burundi pumping up footballs. The club offered to donate shirts for an aid trip but he asked for the balls to be shared by entire African villages. He was War on Want, not Kim Philby.

Screaming patriot Andrew Rosindell, the chairman of an obscure flags and heraldry committee, is to host a lecture in parliament on the Union Jack. I once witnessed the Romford Tory MP dress Buster, his bull terrier, in a flag waistcoat to greet Maggie Thatcher. She walked past without noticing.

A Tory MP mused that Iain Duncan Smith was nearly nicknamed “Smithy”, not “IDS”, for his 2001 leadership campaign. Smithy would still have proved a lousy commander.

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia