Rioting has broken out in Ely, south Wales, this week following the deaths of two teenage boys – 16-year-old Kyrees Sullivan and 15-year-old Harvey Evans – in a crash on Monday evening.
This anger is particularly directed at the police, who have been caught lying about their involvement in this tragedy. But it also reflects years of neglect, poverty, and tension in this working-class community boiling over.
“I would call for calm, and for people to support the police,” stated Jane Hutt, member of the Welsh Senedd and minister for social justice, in the aftermath of these events. Her words will be cold comfort to the parents of these two boys, however.
2 teens, Kyrees Sullivan & Harvey Evans, were killed in my hometown, Cardiff. They were riding an e-scooter & a South Wales police van chased them down.
Incident sparked a riot in the working-class area of Ely. Police lied about their involvement until CCTV revealed the truth. pic.twitter.com/7z5YHWtVVj
— Joseph Attard (@josephattard02) May 23, 2023
Here in Wales, the reputation of the police amongst ordinary people has soured in recent years.
In 2021, protests against police violence and racism broke out following the death of Mohamud Hassan, who passed away shortly after being released from police custody.
Initial South Wales Police (SWP) statements denied excess use of force, and dismissed public concerns. Only later were they forced to launch investigations into these events, as the truth began to come to light.
The SWP also holds the disgraceful title of being ranked amongst the top ten police forces in terms of the number of internal sexual misconduct allegations. This is clearly not a body that commands any trust amongst workers and youth.
Above all, this episode has once again demonstrated that the police are not our protectors, but exist to protect the capitalist class and their rotten system. Both must be overthrown.
Barrage of propaganda
Initially, facts were quite thin on the ground. Following the crash that sparked the riot, locals were denied access to the scene of the collision. And families were not told what was going on for hours.
But when locals in Ely clashed with police – in a night of rioting that also saw fireworks thrown and cars set alight – a barrage of propaganda was launched by the authorities and the media, in order to get the public on the side of the police, and avoid another potential scandal.
The rioters were almost instantly condemned, described in the media as ‘thugs’ or worse. These events were further presented as proof that the people of Ely are nothing but trouble; evidence of a moral rot amongst down-and-outs, and certainly not of a police force that had gone too far.
Joining this chorus of reactionary rubbish, South Wales Police Crime Commissioner Alun Michael appeared on the radio the next morning, stating categorically that the police had not been involved in a chase. Such claims were nothing but rumours, he thundered.
There was just one small problem with all of this, however. The police had been seen chasing the two kids shortly before their fatal accident. And CCTV footage was soon released that proved this beyond doubt.
Even after the release of this incriminating video, the obfustications kept on coming. The official line now changed to a claim that: “There was no police vehicle in the road where the crash happened.”
In other words, even if they did chase the boys, the police are still somehow not to blame! This pathetic excuse, which wouldn’t fool a child of six, is an insult to the young victims, their families, and their community.
No matter what the exact circumstances of the boys’ deaths, it is clear that locals in Ely saw this incident as the final straw.
Many may not have welcomed the rioting. But the mood on the ground shows that they understand its real cause. Hatred for the police in Ely is common. Many residents have stories about how shabbily the SWP have treated them over the years.
Furthermore, this police harassment comes on top of more than a decade of Tory austerity and attacks, which have decimated the community, and piled pressure on workers and youth.
Ely, as with many working-class areas across Britain, has suffered from years of deprivation, with services cut and large numbers unemployed. In recent years, for example, the local boxing gym and library have been closed.
This is a community where almost 60% of kids qualify for free school meals. Many have been left feeling helpless, without any prospects or hope.
These combustible conditions have created a powder keg, almost perfectly-designed to produce flare-ups on the streets.
Erosion and attacks
Indeed, Ely has seen such outbursts in the past – most famously the bread riots in 1991. And there has long been the belief amongst local residents that history could easily repeat itself.
“It’s [been] 13 years of the erosion, the systematic erosion of the things that sustain community life,” commented Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, responding to the recent events in Ely.
“People have less and less to live on and they see their bills going up every day,” Drakeford continued. “The struggle is not theoretical for those people, it’s something that matters and bites into their lives every single day of the week.”
“And the public services that are there to try to help them through all of that have had 13 years of budgets reducing every single year as well,” the Welsh Labour leader concluded. “So I don’t think you can understand what happened in Ely without understanding that sort of fundamental background cause.”
In short, the Tories – and the system they represent – is to blame. They are the real criminals.
Scandals and struggles
From the point of view of the ruling class, such social explosions couldn’t be coming at a worse time. Workers everywhere are rising up and entering the class struggle, with a wave of strikes continuing to sweep across the country.
At the same time, a string of scandals has led to trust in the police plummeting in recent years: from the murder of Sarah Everard; to the abuses, racism, and misogyny at the Met; and much more.
The global Black Lives Matter protests, meanwhile, are still fresh in people’s memories. And all the institutions of the establishment and the state are being undermined and brought into question.
The deaths of Kyrees Sullivan and Harvey Evans will only contribute to this mood and malaise. And no amount of lies and propaganda will stop workers from drawing radical conclusions.
The police cannot change. No amount of official ‘apologies’ – which are sure to come in this case, sooner or later – can hide this fact.
Racism, sexism, and disdain for the working class permeate capitalist society at all levels – a product of a system built on exploitation and oppression.
The role of the police is to uphold this rotten system. That is why the deaths in Ely, in London, and across the country at the hands of the police are not merely an accident or a tragedy. They are baked into the system itself; an inevitable consequence of capitalism and class society.
The explosive events seen over the last week in Wales are the latest symptom of a decaying system that cannot be reformed. Its putrid stench is overwhelming.
But the force to put an end to these outrages once and for all exists: the organised working class. And is already beginning to move.
It’s time for workers and youth to sweep capitalism – and the vicious armed bodies of men that uphold it – into the dustbin of history, where they belong.