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Why Cardiff burned

After years of sporadic and overbearing enforcement, South Wales Police needlessly divided a community before it even had time to realise it was grieving.

May 27 2023, 03.10am

On Friday afternoon, balloons filled the sky above Ely, Cardiff, in memory of Kyrees Sullivan, 16, and Harvey Evans, 15.  The boys were riding an e-bike - an early birthday present - when a police van began tailing them. Evading the pursuit, the boys slipped between two bollards, only to crash into a post. Police have still not explained why the boys were followed - or why they spent hours and hours denying the boys were followed at all.

Shortly after the crash, cars in Ely went up in flames. 


I live on the road next to where the boys were killed, but I was oblivious to the pursuit and the crash at first.  The break of evening of the 22nd of May caught me in the garden, relaxing with a book and some jazz. Only when I took off my headphones did I hear the noise of the police drone and the sound of my neighbours talking out front. Which is where I went right away.

The police on the cordon were surly, even grumpy. One officer resolutely refused to acknowledge me when I approached for information, on behalf of residents who seemed a little unwilling to engage with the the cordon but desperately wanted to know when they could get home.

The officers who were talking refused to give out any useful information. It was a case of “don’t know, not my job to” - which to me sounded a lot like "I don't care."

Two children had just died. Many of those present had known them, or their kids had. Not much to ask: a little empathy, a little compassion, even a vague attempt to look like a tragedy had just happened. Not one inch was yielded by the police.

They had the batons. They had the dogs. They had the vans to block access as they pleased. And they had the skies in the form of drones, and, later a helicopter.


From early on people spoke of riot. They didn’t threaten to riot; they just spoke as if it was coming, inevitably. They had good reason to believe that: from what I heard on the night, the CCTV footage that later hit the media had been circulating via things like Signal and WhatsApp almost from the beginning. And as the crowds mixed on Stanway road, rumours met eyewitness accounts of the crash. Together, these became the horrified, angry voices accusing police of killing the kids. 

People here often have a healthy distrust of the police, because the police always come in heavy handed. I’ve lived in two places in Ely, for about five years now, and at both ends of that curved green road I have witnessed multiple vans turn up for basically nothing of note. Just people yelling at each other a bit, some high tempers. No need for a huge response - yet it seemed like there always was.

And what might be less obvious for those outside Ely is how much this heavy-handedness is rooted in racism and prejudice, going back generations. 

This is not an area where people trust authority - and in part that is because there is a history of being forced here from elsewhere (including more recently through poverty, and a lack of affordable housing elsewhere), and then facing marginalisation and alienation for being here at all. 

That is a desperately unfair, violent situation - and it is a deepening of that unfairness that it is one that goes unremarked and unnoticed much of the time because of the prevailing prejudices against the people who live here.


Ely is very often subject to violence from without:  police presence is as sporadic as it is intense. You can have vans of coppers turning up for a neighbourly disagreement and, on the same day, drug pushers coming here to deal. Sometimes loudly, right in the street. They’re not the only ones: when you dig into violent incidents you often find that at least one of the parties involved aren’t from here, don’t live here.  

The city exports violence to Ely so it doesn’t have to be elsewhere, the same as it leaves the rubbish in the streets here, the same as it prefers closing services here & retaining them elsewhere. That closing of youth services leaves little to do that isn’t liable to misadventure.

That stigmatisation has claimed two more young victims. Those kids didn’t deserve to die, not because they were angels, and not because they were devils; there are no angels and there are no devils. 

There are just people, and people are complicated. Sometimes it takes people decades to learn who they are; sometimes people never recover from that learning. Sometimes people know from a young age, and get to live relatively stable lives.

And sometimes they get chased down the road to their deaths by cops when they’ve barely had the chance to live at all. And instead of owning up to what they did, the cops spend days covering up - up to and including lying about what later turns out to be documented evidence.


Ultimately the truth is this: the police came to Ely and they killed two kids - whether by incompetence, by hate or by indifference - and then they spent hours and days trying to blame everyone but themselves for what came after. 

The riot is on everyone who participated, sure. The tiny proportion of people who took part instead of watching, that is, because most residents were just standing around on Stanway Road. The biggest contribution they made was yelling, being present, or perhaps giving an unwanted item that had been in the garden for years to the fire.

But that doesn’t really matter very much in the wider context.

What matters is that the decisions that became the Stanway Road riot would never have come up had the police not terrified two kids on an electric dirt bike to the point of tragedy.

South Wales Police divided a community before it even had time to realise it was grieving - a community that didn’t trust them before, and will certainly not trust them now.