In June 2017 the country’s attention focused on London, as we witnessed one of the UK’s worst disasters: the fire at Grenfell Tower. The 23-storey tower block, located in North Kensington, West London, was consumed by fire just before 1am on June 14th 2017 after a fire erupted in the kitchen of a 4th floor flat.
Lecturer in Criminology
Ben Colliver, Lecturer in Criminology
Yusef Bakkali, Lecturer in Criminology
The fire quickly spread around the outside of the building as insulation fixed between the outside wall and the recently fitted external cladding burned rapidly. These tragic events led to the inconceivable loss of 72 lives, which is incomprehensible.
This tragic event must be understood within its contemporary and historical context. Residents had been resisting ill-judged efforts at renovating local community spaces and housing for some time. It was deemed by members of the community that these efforts were superficial and not meeting the need or concerns of local residents but instead those of private investors and people in power.
These attempts at redevelopment were informed by neoliberal orthodoxies which hold the principles of the market and the interests of capital as central; over and above concerns for human life and wellbeing – tragically in the end this ill-adjusted misbalance in values led to the otherwise avoidable deaths of local residents as well as widespread trauma amongst the local population.
Had it not been for the moral deficit engrained within the neo-liberal approach, that in effect leaves the implausible attitudes towards safety as inherently negligible if the profits justify the ends, this would not have happened. It is only within this context questions are raised prompting the much needed discussion around this moral deficit in which culpable manslaughter in the context of corporate crime is fully realised.
It was in the spirit of understanding how wider structural issues connected in to this disaster along with the deep seated wish to demonstrate solidarity with those in the community that a group of Birmingham City University Black Studies and Criminology students and staff attended the 17th Grenfell Silent Walk to remember the tragic events of the 14 June.
Each month, people gather around the area located near the remains of the Grenfell Tower and walk in solidarity and silence to remember the lives lost of friends, family and neighbours alike. The walk not only demonstrates the shared love and unity of a community that has experienced unimaginable injustices but also demonstrates their continued commitment to seeking answers, getting justice and holding the most powerful to account for their role in these events.
Dr. Yusef Bakkali worked in collaboration with local resident and artist Lowkey to help facilitate BCU students’ participation in the march. As the second biggest city in the United Kingdom, there are many similarities between London and Birmingham, though they are located some 150 miles apart. Many students and staff had followed events on the night of the fire and beyond with deep sympathy, but due to various constraints had been limited in their ability to demonstrate their true sense of solidarity with those in the community there and elsewhere. It was therefore important for students living and studying in inner city Birmingham to be supported to follow through on their convictions and engage in activism demanding justice and change for the community around Grenfell.
BCU encompasses both the Centre for Applied Criminology and the Centre for Critical Social Research. The emphasis on applied learning and doing central to these hubs means that students must have opportunities to involve themselves in real life activism and show support and solidarity with those affected by issues that are discussed in the classroom on a weekly basis.
It is our hope that in collaboration with local residents our institution and others will work to write local perspectives around Grenfell into our curricula; encouraging student movements to be well informed and actively supportive of the local community there. It is hopes this will encourage students to collaborate in the cultivation of a more just and hopeful society. In the final part of this entry we will foreground the perspectives of students who wished to contribute their reflections on the experience of joining the march.
These extracts below demonstrate the powerful impact the march has had on those who attended.
Maram Abdulkader, BA (Honours) Criminology student
"Coming back from Grenfell's silent march was something I never anticipated prior to being there. A few weeks ago I was excited to be a part of an empowering movement. Today, on the 14th of November, I walked the same walk many have been walking for 17 months. Today I witnessed something so fascinating, something not only this country lacks, but the world as a whole does. Today I witnessed unity and love. As I looked around me, I saw people from different backgrounds and religions marching the same march, feeling the same emotions. For once I am able to use the word 'We'. We were all silently and deeply outraged by the wrong doings of political corruption and a government that segregates and dehumanizes people based on their social class, religion and ethnic background. What happened to the people of Grenfell could have been prevented, if a life of a human was treated as an inarguable human right rather than a cheap investment.
Walking away from this march, I realised that actions speak louder than words. We walked in silence but in those moments of silence, our actions spoke a thousand words. As Albert Einstein said, 'The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.' I walked away feeling empowered to never stop fighting for the justice of those who were tragically lost and for those who luckily survived but have to live with the pain and heartbreak continuously as those in power unashamedly turn a blind eye and refuse to hold themselves accountable. Today the significance of the number 14 will resonate deep in my heart. So thank you again for pushing forward this suggestion and making it happen. It really left an impact on me. I have learned a lot and would definitely do this again."
Liam Miles, BA (Honours) Criminology student
"I will never forget the feeling I felt when I looked up at the remains of the Grenfell tower. I felt sadness, anger and more than anything I just felt empty. Knowing that someone was to blame for this tragic event. The feeling of betrayal from our government. The feeling that our government are not dedicated to the upkeep and regulation of the building quality standards in which this event was caused by. Putting all these emotions and facts to one side, the silent demonstration march which I was privileged enough to attend showed me that the sense of community and knowing your neighbours was something ever present. Never in my life have I seen a community who is so connected with one another, supportive, loving, caring and welcoming. The News depictions of the Grenfell fire do it no justice compared to visiting the site itself, allowing time to reflect upon the tragic event which unfolded and to also meet the survivors, victims’ families and the firefighters who bravely fought this battle. This was truly one of the most sobering and honourable moments of my life.
This silent demonstration has shown me people’s willingness to come together in unity, even in the darkest of times. It has shown me how important this fight now is. Collectively we are fighting for justice, we are campaigning for the Government to take a serious approach and to clamp down on building suppliers and to adopt a more regulated approach. I feel however, that we are ultimately fighting to ensure that an event like this never happens again, on any scale and level. I personally have every confidence that the communities and agencies who work together and support one another will ensure that this will be the case."
Elisa Frenkel, BA (Honours) Criminology student
"I have been meaning to attend one of the silent walks for Grenfell for a long time now and to have this opportunity with the university and be able to speak to Lowkey, some of the survivors and other members of the Grenfell community was truly incredible and extremely emotional. I learnt much more about the background of the disaster and hope to see change as soon as possible.
What struck me most from this experience was when everyone gathered at the meeting point, we had plenty of individuals come up to us and speak to us, discuss matters and all sorts, the volume of everyone's voices was so present, but as soon as everyone stepped off the pavement getting ready to start the walk, it instantly fell to silence. No one had to shush or ask anyone to be quiet, it was instant and that was so powerful. Once the walk began, I felt extreme sadness, but huge pride at the same time. I hope to continue taking part in this walk if the university are able to make this a regular trip. Justice for Grenfell."
Atlanta Bassey, BA (Honours) Criminology student
"Attending the Grenfell Silent March was honestly the best thing I have done in my life so far. This may sound strange given the atrocious events that led to the march in the first place however, I genuinely believe it has helped me towards finding my purpose. Despite the fact that I always knew I wanted to help marginalised people the march really opened my eyes to the importance of activism.
Prior to attending the march, I had some reservations. I was extremely anxious about being in the presence of grieving friends and families and possibly saying something inappropriate or insensitive and I anticipated feeling extreme sadness and despair. Oh, how wrong I was. There was an immense sense of togetherness, solidarity and even hope. It was almost impossible to not see myself in the grieving. This outrageous and wholly preventable atrocity could’ve happened to any of us. We must fight against these Neo-liberalistic powers in which the maximization of profits overrides human life. We must continue to fight until justice is served.
The silence of the march spoke a thousand words. It was such a peaceful experience. It felt as though time, and everything just stopped and all that mattered in that moment was remembrance, reflection and justice. I was also able to directly speak with the family of Raymond ‘Moses’ Bernard. I seriously can’t remember the last time I laughed from the pit of my stomach like I did with his family that day. Such a beautiful, inspirational family. The difficulty of finding light in such dark times should never be underestimated. Their strength is incredible. It was truly a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. The feelings I felt from attending the march are almost indescribable, it was such a crazy cocktail of emotions. Yet, what I do know is that I will now try everything in my power to go to every upcoming Grenfell Silent March where possible.
Thank you Yusef, Lowkey and BCU BLSS for organising this life-changing opportunity, I will be forever grateful."
Finally it is important to thank Lowkey, Zeyad Cred and everyone in the community around Grenfell for allowing us to join them on the 17th monthly march. It is our deepest hope that the solidarities and collaborations will endure and grow over time and that we will be able to return to the Grenfell Silent March in the future.