An anonymous group of artists dubbed as “Colombian Road Cartel” installed fake street signs near the Shoreditch area on Sunday morning to highlight levels of drug-related activities in the borough of Tower Hamlets.
The six street signs scattered throughout the E2 zone said ‘Crack pick up point’, ‘give way to oncoming drug deals’, ‘needle free zone’ and parking bays labelled ‘drug dealers only.’ A “drug dealers only” parking space was also created.
The project, commissioned by community activists The Weavers Community Action Group from the E2 postcode area, quickly drew widespread attention from neighbours and passers-by. The Action Group was backed by around 70 locals who were fed up with rampant drug-dealing in their neighbourhood.
It blew up on Twitter when local resident Penny Creed tweeted the images, saying: “Local street artists trying to embarrass the @metpoliceuk and @TowerHamletsNow into doing something about the brazen drug dealing in my neighbourhood #columbiaroad #asb”.
Local resident Jonathan Moberly told Love Wapping: “One corner of our street is used as a drug collection point 24 hours a day. Heroin and crack addicts gather in small groups waiting for deliveries which arrive by speeding car. It is barely possible to avoid walking around or through these gatherings when leaving or returning home.
“Six months ago, my stepson Jake was victim of a hit-and-run by one of the dealers. His ankle was badly smashed and he is still unable to return to work. The authorities seem to be powerless or uninterested to act.”
Another local added: “I have to change the way I walk home from work as there are so many picking up drugs at 7.30pm. Where I work they sleep outside every night in Florida Street, we have to have the needles picked up each day.”
The area of Tower Hamlets in question is a high density residential area on the fringes of Zone One and has seen a boom in the drug trade in the last two or three years; with heroin in Tower Hamlets said to be the cheapest in Europe. Residents believe the problem escalated when Shoreditch replaced Soho as London’s busiest night-time economy, but the councils that border the area – Hackney, City of London, Tower Hamlets – are not working together to address the problem.
Furthermore, as police numbers have dropped they have not had the resource to tackle the issue properly. Drug-related incidents have also grown as drug, mental health and homeless services have been cut back and closed through austerity cost-cutting.
Metropolitan Police Crime Data indicates that the number of arrests in Tower Hamlets has dropped since July 2013, with 3,011 arrests between July 2013-2014, compared to 1,842 arrests between July 2017-2018.
A Tower Hamlets spokesperson said: “Like the rest of London, Tower Hamlets suffers from some blatant drug dealing at times.
“We understand the frustration of these residents, which is why the council has invested £3 million in additional police officers to make up some of the shortfall in government cuts to the police.
“We are also working with the police on Operation Continuum, which targets drug dealers and offers support to those affected by it. So far, 160 people have been arrested as the operation works its way around the borough.”
Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs wrote on Twitter: “Police are not a council responsibility and government cuts have had a big effect – in Tower Hamlets we have lost over 200 officers and this has a real impact on the ground.
“Too often, criminal activity including drug dealing is not stopped and like residents I think this unacceptable.”
Drug dealing is a massive issue & I understand why residents are frustrated. Anyone would be if this was happening on their doorstep. https://t.co/FUtdhGbQxu
— Mayor John Biggs (@MayorJohnBiggs) September 17, 2018
The Weavers community action group have been actively working with the police and council to tackle the drugs problem. They have been using their own WhatsApp group to exchange information and pass it to the police.
The Metropolitan Police have been contacted for comment.
As of Monday afternoon, the signs had been taken down by the council.
If you see any suspicious activity or have any information about such crimes, please call police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.