North Greenwich shooting, 26/5/16

(I wrote these words on Friday morning, sitting in a café in Ipswich train station)

There were shots fired outside my house, last night.

I’m not going to oversell it or write it into something that it wasn’t.

I was on my computer in my room and I heard two loud bangs and I thought; those are gunshots. And then I thought that was absurd and, because there had been lots of engine noises too, I thought it must have been a motorbike backfiring. A motorbike backfired near me recently and it sounded like gunshots. Then I started to hear police arrive and I started to Google things like ‘gunshots Greenwich’, and checking Twitter’s live feed for ‘gunshots’.

That’s a sobering thing to do – you can check Twitter for ‘gunshots’ at any time and someone in New York, Lahore, Kingston will be talking about gunshots.

An unmarked police car with blue lights flashing stopped in the middle of the street and I watched it from my window. I thought about going outside and asking what had happened but I felt nervous. I didn’t feel unsafe so much as unwilling, to step from being outside the incident to somehow puncturing its membrane.

The decision was taken from me by a policeman knocking on the door. He asked what I knew and what I’d heard and I told him; two loud reports which I’d thought might be a bike backfiring. He took my name and number and he assured me that it was safe to come and go and there’d be a police presence for so long as it was being treated as a crime scene. He said CID would be along later and I didn’t say that I didn’t know what the acronym meant. Later my housemate’s girlfriend, returning from work, saw police officers running a reconstruction, sprinting out of a building and onto the road; role-playing the shooting whilst other police took notes.

I mentioned the shots on Twitter and a London Evening Standard journalist asked if I had any good pictures of the scene. I hadn’t – only the ones on this post – and I’m uneasy about the LES anyway so I said no. The same journalist later filed a story with quotes from the police. It said that the shooting was at a car – and I do vaguely remember engine noises – and that the victim of the shooting was found injured in the car in a road a few minutes’ walk away. He was a young man, and was taken away by air ambulance. His injuries were not life threatening.


How many gunshots have I heard? It must be millions, tens of millions. TV, film, videogames. How many in real life? Real gunshots, fired in anger?

Two, now.

I don’t think my street is significantly unsafe. There are places in London that feel much edgier and I think it’s safe to say this shooting was over something specific – probably drug deals – rather than a random assault or armed robbery.

It did put me on edge. Sitting safe in my room, I found myself sucked into trawling the web for information, desperate to know, to know soonest what this explosion of violence just outside my house – in my peripheral hearing if not my vision – had been. Had been about. It’s an impulse that I recognised, in a warped form, from when I sat as a helpless bystander to the Brisbane floods in 2011.

This morning I read – again in the LES online, amply commented upon by racists and misanthropes – that people on the street saved the victim’s life. Two medics who happened to be passing (such fortune!) looked after the bleeding victim on the pavement. It’s unclear from the article whether this was on my road or Felltram Way, where the original article said the victim was airlifted away from. I suspect the latter* because the quoted bystanders mention hearing screams and I didn’t hear screams. The shooting was a few houses away from me but I think I would have heard screams. If I had, I have no idea whether I would have had the courage to go out and see if I could help.

The shooting happened shortly before 9pm. The road was cordoned off about a block further up the street from my house. At 1am, having watched some comedy programmes to distract myself from fretting as I lay in bed, I glanced out of the window before going to sleep. The cordon had been extended; my house was now part of the crime scene. I could hear the two police officers who were still there as they spoke to late-returning residents. Those who lived outside the cordon were asked to take the long route around. Those inside were escorted to their front doors.

This morning – I’m writing this in my journal on Friday, to be typed up later – I woke up to see no police, no cordon. I guess from my conversation with the policeman last night that this means my street is no longer a crime scene. CID must have done their thing. I took a train to Ipswich this morning, to meet my friend who is driving me to another friend’s house in Northumberland for the weekend. When I come home to London on Monday there will be no sight of a crime scene, of a shooting; no echoes of what could have been a motorbike backfiring hanging in the air.

Already other shootings are pushing this one into the archives. The most recent Google news result for ‘South London shooting’ is about new CCTV footage of a shooting which happened three weeks ago, in Rotherhithe. 16 hours on, ‘my’ shooting is old news.



4 thoughts on “North Greenwich shooting, 26/5/16

  1. You’re not a trained journalist, so it’s okay not to have gone out and reported on it. You’re not a trained medic, so it’s okay not to have gone out looking for injured people to help. You’re not a trained police officer, so it’s okay not to have gone out looking for the ‘people responsible’.

    It’s okay to be near a newsworthy incident and stay inside when the police tell you to. It doesn’t mean you’re not ‘brave’ or you don’t ‘care’, just that you’re aware that trained professionals are handling it.

    I know that’s not very anarchist, of course. But I mean, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s scary that these things happen and good that there was a fast response (from the sound of your account) and I, for one, really appreciate hearing a report like this from a self-identified witness.

    It shows you care about the person who got shot, and that’s kind of what matters in the end.

    1. I didn’t realise what was going on until the police had already arrived, so I’m spared any such wondering about how I “should” have reacted. I certainly never felt any duty to report on it or (gods forfend) look for the perpetrators like some neighbourhood vigilante. The sole wonder I’m left with is how I *would* have reacted had I been living, not on the street where the shots were fired, but on the one where the victim eventually received assistance from residents.

      One thing I do take from all of this is that my experience is an excellent rebuttal of that ‘cops are pigs’ drivel. How many people would have been left feeling trapped in their homes having heard a shooting happen directly outside, were it not for the swift arrival of a friendly, professional police force? (This doesn’t in any way deflect criticism of police forces or officers who have abused their position or whose position has abused the public trust – but it’s a fine example of why police, acting IN the public trust and interest, are valuable.)

      1. Ha ha, no I can’t really see you being a neighbourhood vigilante. In terms of the victim – again, I’d say you’re not a trained medic so unless you’re confident in your first aid or were the first person to the victim able to phone 999 there’s not a lot you could have done there either.

        The ACAB stuff (all cops are bastards) is really interesting because in my experience the police have always been either a) decent and reliable or b) following orders I don’t agree with. But I’ve never met a rogue cop or been on the wrong side of one in a way where I felt powerless (like I’ve never been afraid of the police) – and I think that’s where our privilege kicks in. The police aren’t out to get ‘us’ so what’s there to fear? But I can imagine if I were a heroin addict or a sex worker or black I might feel very differently about the police.

        If anything I find the police reassuring and it sounds like you do to. I try not to feel guilty about that. In an ideal world maybe everyone would feel relieved when the police showed up.

      2. I’m very wary about using discourses of ‘privilege’ in this regard.

        Yes the police are de facto part of the state apparatus which reinforces and maintains certain structural inequalities. But again from personal experience, in my time working in a public library, being able to call the police enabled us to keep the library safe (and functional) for some very vulnerable people who depended on it. (The lack of dedicated security staff at public libraries is of course another conversation). The dispossessed need a benign state apparatus more than anyone; this is the principle behind state welfare.

        A “rogue” in any position of power is a threat and the clear evidence of, eg, insidious racism in certain police forces is of course intolerable; I’m not effacing the need for such things to be confronted, or for frameworks of criminalisation around drug use and sex work to be radically reconsidered.

        But I don’t find “*all* cops are bastards” interesting; it’s a falsifiable claim which is routinely falsified by good people who work in the police force for good reasons.

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