In the early hours of June 14, a fire engulfed Grenfell Tower in Kensington, London. The blaze destroyed 151 homes and left at least 79 people missing or presumed dead. The death toll, even months on, is still uncertain. It is predicted to be unknown until early 2018.
Within days, media attention toward the tragedy skyrocketed. Videos and articles were shared all over the internet with the scarring details of the long night. Survivors came to speak about their dystopian experience, and local charities came to the aid of the newly homeless. After some controversy, even the Prime Minster herself spoke with survivors of the blaze.
It became common knowledge that the building’s framework, despite being recently refurbished, was a huge contributor to the spread of the fire. In the refurbishment program, dangerous cladding, banned in the U.K., was used to cheaply insulate the building and improve the appearance of the tower. According to research at the University of Leeds, the cladding would have burned “as quickly as petrol” and was 14 times over the combustibility limit.
At the time, the discontent with the government over Grenfell seemed revolutionary. There was even a “Day of Rage” when people marched in the streets of London and called for Theresa May’s resignation in response to the tragedy. There have even been calls for manslaughter and gross negligence charges against those who oversaw the building’s refurbishment. The uproar was highly political: Grenfell was a tower home to largely the working class, immigrants and people of color. The negligence of the government and local MPs felt like racism and classism.
Developments have continued since then, even though media attention has fallen. Some believe that the death toll may have been covered up to prevent unrest. Despite charity efforts, less than 15% of charity proceedings are being received by the survivors of Grenfell, and most are still without homes.
A mother of four spoke to Justice 4 Grenfell after living in a hotel for 7 weeks with no contact from the council. “It feels as if we’re forgotten, that our issues are not important; we’re made to feel that we should be grateful, but how can we move on with our lives?” she said.
Many complain about the complacency of the justice system, having been promised that criminal charges will be faced by those responsible. Social and public policy expert Samia Badani describes frustrations with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council for failing to follow their own policy and keeping those responsible in their positions after the tragedy:
“Residents have expressed concerns that some officers are still in post and are making decisions that may impact on their lives. This is despite the fact that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a duty of care was breached. I don’t understand why RBKC have failed to invoke their internal code of discipline, irrespective of the outcome of the criminal investigation. I find their position untenable. What we need now is reassurance, to regain trust in our Local Authority we need them to send a clear message.”
Justice 4 Grenfell concurs with Badani’s statements, and still has a list of questions for Kensington Council or the Government, which were presented at a peaceful protest on July 19th.
The organization has also called for the arrest of those who enacted the dangerous refurbishment policies, for housing of those unhoused and for the waiving of fees involved in accessing documents of those who are deceased.
Since the demands were announced, the police have confirmed that corporate manslaughter charges could be faced by those involved, and a Kensington MP has stated that jobs will be lost in response. Justice 4 Grenfell has stated that it wishes to also see individuals held accountable for the disaster, not just corporations. According to a statement made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, there may well be lengthy sentences for those involved.
Grenfell has now become a moment in history, a moment depicted in art as a cry for change. Within the past week, rapper Lowkey and singer Mai Khalil have released a heart-wrenching music video called “The Ghosts of Grenfell.” Lowkey has spoken out about Grenfell before, interviewing those involved in the tragedy. Lowkey spoke about the release of the music video on his facebook.
During the video, Lowkey uses powerful lyrics and to describe the tragedy, speaking of the haunting corporate manslaughter going down in history. Mai Khalil sings “Did they die or us? Did they die for us?” and even has a verse in Arabic about feeling like she’s in another world, asking where she can go and speaking of people burning.
Later in the video, the song turns into a letter aimed at the Queen’s Royal Borough of Kensington with the names of the missing, spoken by survivors of the tragedy.
The hard work of all those involved in the video shouldn’t just be rewarded with interest. It should be rewarded with action. The Kensington Council needs to answer to the Justice 4 Grenfell demands and even uphold its own promises. Empty houses in the borough must be allocated for the homeless after the tragedy. Those whose have lost their friends and family need closure, they need their wills and documents and they should not be charged for them. Survivors of the blaze need support from us, from their council and from the government. Those who allowed and oversaw the deadly renovations need to be held accountable, even if it means life sentences.
But for now, we don’t know how long it will be until charges are brought against those involved. We don’t know how long it will be until the full death toll is released. We don’t know how long it will be until the survivors have homes again.
Find out more about how you can help the survivors here.
Please put pressure on those in charge of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea by increasing the visibility of the tragedy, and by joining Justice 4 Grenfell for updates on progress and what you can do.
Watch and share Lowkey’s video here.
Photo credit: David Mirzoeff.