BY TANIA APAZA
This is my third attempt at writing about Grenfell Tower. I’ve tried to write it the “typical” way. The way a so-called “objective” journalist would.
But an “objective” journalist wouldn’t feel tears roll down their cheeks every time they see the burnt remains of the tower block. An “objective” journalist wouldn’t want to tear down the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, RBKC, council walls brick by brick when remembering the desperate face of their nephew’s friend screaming “WHERE’S MY COUSIN?” at the first protest outside of it. Nor would they want to hold their best friend tight when she speaks about her school friend who was killed in the fire. Nor would the vengeful image of the Houses of Parliament in flames burn in the back of their eyelids when they close their eyes to hold back tears every time they hear the testimonies of survivors.
This is not an article about a fire that happened in West London a year ago. This is an expression of anger, pain and sadness at a savage attack against working-class and immigrant lives. In a borough where one ten-minute bus ride will take you past substandard council housing alongside multi-million mansions.
In order for readers to understand why there’s so much anger, one has to explain what exactly happened. On June 14, 2017, a tenant’s refrigerator set alight. It was next to his kitchen window, which was open. The fire spread to the outside of the block of flats where he lived. Within 15 minutes, it moved from the fourth floor, engulfing the 24-storey block completely. It took an entire 24 hours to get the fire under control.
This happened because the tower had been wrapped in a material that was flammable. It would have cost the council £293,000 to buy fire retardant cladding and they had that amount one thousand times over in the bank. On top of this, there was only one stairwell, there were no fire sprinklers and there was no adequate communal alarm system. Tenants had complained about the fire safety hazards multiple times, each time being ignored by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, KCTMO.
Following the fire, there was no assistance from the local council. It was the community who united and began to gather donations for the survivors. A year on, more than 50 percent of the survivors have not been suitably rehoused. Many are still living in emergency accommodation like hotels. No arrests have been made, despite RBKC and KCTMO being charged with corporate manslaughter. There are also 300 tower blocks across the U.K. covered in the dangerous cladding that was put on Grenfell Tower and only two percent of 4,000 council blocks in the U.K. have fire sprinklers. In summary, their indifference towards our lives shamelessly continues.
The death toll has been recorded as 72, including a stillborn baby. However, for a lot of the residents of the area, the number is suspiciously low, considering the amount of people missing and how many people weren’t officially registered as living in the block. An example of this being undocumented people who after escaping with their lives had to go into hiding fearing deportation. Prime Minister Theresa May said they would get amnesty so some decided to reveal themselves. Since then, she has reneged on that promise.
This comes as no surprise, to be honest. After all, this is “Great” Britain. We die by their bombs. We die by their multinational companies. We die by their fires. We die by their police brutality. We’ve died and we’ll keep dying until this parasitic government no longer has the power to kill us. Until we take that power away from them.
This is capitalism-imperialism. Here, the lives of working-class immigrants don’t matter. We are displaced from our homelands and forced into slum housing wrapped in what is essentially solid gasoline.
Next time someone speaks proudly about British values, I’ll point them to Grenfell Tower.
Rest In Peace.