Zaheer Kazmi in 3:AM Magazine:
One night in my early teens, my father pulled into the road where we lived in the Lozells district of Birmingham. We had just returned from a family visit to a relative’s house on the other side of town. A few yards from home, we were met by a wall of police officers with helmets and shields blocking the street and told to exit our vehicle. Unknown to us – in a time before the internet, mobile phones, and 24-hour news – riots had suddenly broken out earlier in the evening and our home was near the epicentre of the disturbances. An officer escorted us to our door telling us to keep it bolted and not to venture out. As we awoke the next morning to the detritus of a night’s violence strewn along the streets, politicians and TV cameras at our doorstep, we also learned that two brothers had been killed in a blaze in the local post office. It was 1985, and the scale of the riot had eclipsed even the previous one there only four years earlier.
In her semi-autobiographical debut novel, The Handsworth Times, Sharon Duggal takes the reader back to the scene of the original riots of 1981 at a time when she too was a resident of Handsworth, of which Lozells is a sub-district. The ‘Handsworth Riots’ of 1981 were a seminal part of the first wave of so-called ‘race riots’ that rocked England’s inner-cities, from Liverpool to London, that Summer. They were to erupt again with even fuller force at the height of Thatcherism in 1985 culminating in the murder of police officer Keith Blakelock on the Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham and the deaths of the post office brothers in Birmingham.