In Brixton in 1981, tensions were rising between the Black community and the Metropolitan Police as racial profiling and police brutality escalated in the area.
Unemployment, poor housing and poverty disproportionately affected the Black community.
The area’s crime levels were at their highest and Black people believed they were discriminated against and racially targeted by the Metropolitan Police.
Powers such as ‘Operation Swamp 81’ and the ‘sus’ (suspected person) law allowed for plain clothed police officers to stop, search and potentially arrest anyone they felt was suspicious.
On April 10, 1981, tensions reached boiling point as police tried to assist a young Black man, Michael Bailey, with a suspected stab wound.
The police tried to take him to hospital in a police car near Railton Road, but this confused Michael and people had started to gather round.
Believing he was in trouble with the police, Michael resisted and was later taken to hospital by friends.
The commotion caused anger, and violent clashes with the police began.
Schools, pubs, businesses and other buildings were set on fire by protesters, who were a majority of young Black people, throughout the day and into the night.
Police were attacked with bricks, bottles and other objects, leading to 82 arrests, 279 police officers injured and 100 cars were damaged.
It would be known as the Brixton Uprising and lasted until April 12, 1981.
After the uprising, Lord Scarman’s report concluded there was “no doubt racial disadvantage was a fact of current British life”.
He added the uprising was a build-up of resentment and anger and was unplanned.
He recommended “urgent action” needed to happen to avoid an “endemic” of racial disadvantage.
After the murder of Stephen Lawrence twelve years later, the Macpherson report concluded that the Metropolitan Police were institutionally racist.
Several reports examining race relations in Britain have been published over the years, including the Windrush report.
Three people who were connected to the uprising shared their stories with My London 40 years later.
‘It was really pivotal to me as a Black teenager’
Anthony (Abdul Haqq) Baker, lived in Tooting and was 15 years old in 1981.
After encountering his first stop and search aged 12, Anthony explains tension was felt all over South London.
He says: “Going through that experience, week on week, month on month, year on year, it’s not a surprise what we saw in Brixton happened.
“It was really pivotal to me as a Black teenager, it felt like this was the only way they would listen to us.
“It wasn’t pre-planned, it was quite organic what was taking place.”
Anthony and his friends walked from Tooting to Brixton, but by the time they arrived, Clapham Common was already sealed off by the police and Anthony could not get further.
He adds: “It brought awareness at that moment, it highlighted institutional racism, but the Macpherson report showed things only changed temporarily.
“There is a stereotype on Black young men that continues today, it hasn’t changed very much at all.
“A lot more needs to be done.”
Anthony converted from Christianity to Islam in 1990 and was Chairman of the Brixton Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre for 15 years.
He has worked in law, education and continues to be a religious leader in Dubai, where he lives with his family.
‘They were behaving like Zulu warriors, banging their shields and truncheons’
Europe Singh, lived in Brixton and was 32 in 1981.
He and his wife were active anti-racist campaigners and regularly protested against police behaviour and racist incidents.
Working as a teacher nearby at a comprehensive school in Vauxhall, Europe campaigned to change the curriculum and teacher behaviour.
Recalling the first day of the uprising, Europe says he was concerned for his heavily pregnant wife.
“Outside our front door there was a car burning and we watched while police tried to drive up Railton Road.
“They were behaving like Zulu warriors, banging their shields and truncheons.”
Europe tells My London people were at the end of their tether with “the endless stop and search”.
“It was quite scary even though we very much supported the uprising, stuff was burning down,” he adds.
Reflecting 40 years later, Europe says: “It did calm down for a while, but the culture re-associated itself, racial stereotyping continued and continues today.”
Europe is now retired and lives nearby.
‘An explosion of rage, anger and protest’
Kate Yde moved to Brixton in 1977 and was 28 years old in 1981.
She also worked as a teacher nearby and was an antiracist activist.
Sharing a flat with her friend at the time, Kate tells My London the events were an “explosion of rage, anger and protest.”
Here at MyLondon, we’re doing our very best to make sure you get the latest news, reviews and features from your area.
Now there’s a way you can keep up to date with the areas that matter to you with our free email newsletter.
The South London newsletter goes out twice day – at 7am and 4pm – and sends you the latest stories straight to your inbox.
From Croydon to Catford, Peckham to Putney, we’ll make sure you get the very best every day.
To sign up to the South London newsletter, simply follow this link and select the newsletter that’s right for you.
And to really customise your news experience on the go, you can download our top-rated free apps for iPhone and Android. Find out more here.
She says: “It looked like a battle, it was scary.
“But we didn’t feel we were under any attack by young people.
“It was certainly to do with the police and figures of authority.
“I can’t believe the lack of progress that’s been made, it’s astonishing.”
Kate is now retired but lives nearby.