By Dotun Adebayo - Broadcaster
I can’t go on a flight without thinking about my old mate Richard Reid. While you might be indignant at the inconvenience of having to take off your shoes as you go through passport control, for me, it’s different. What’s going through my mind is, “It’s all my fault, it’s all my fault.” If only you lot knew that I had the opportunity to change the course of history…
The last thing you’re thinking is, “It’s the SAME Richard Reid!” No matter how many times the bulletins reported his name and showed his photo, your mind refuses to conclude that you could possibly know anybody who was trying to blow up an aircraft over the Atlantic by lighting a fuse in his shoe.
It doesn’t make sense. For one thing I’m middle class. We don’t know people like that. For another thing, it was just before Christmas – December 22nd 2001. Your thoughts are on last minute prezzies and whether you’ve omitted anyone from your late-late-late-late season’s greetings card list. I’m not even thinking, what a coincidence, that nutter’s got the same name as my former housemate, the lanky teenager who used to nick my records with one hand and give me the old ‘As salaam alikun’ with the other.
The last time I saw Richard Reid was at the beginning of 1990. Nearly twelve years before his mad Osama Bin-Laden inspired mission to blow up a Boeing 767 mid-air with a bomb hidden in his shoe. It was at the Nelson Mandela release party we threw at our house in Endwell Road in SE4. It was the house I had bought from his mum a couple of years before. Richard didn’t get on with his step-dad and when the house was sold the rest of the family moved to the West Country, but Richard stayed in London.
He was only a teenager of fifteen or sixteen when he showed up at my door along with his best mate, Mark, who lived down the road. This was at the time when my house was like an unofficial youth club. You see, I figured that the best way to stop the local hoods from breaking into my empty house when I was away at work was to give them the keys. I had a proper sound system at home and, on account of being a music journalist, stacks upon stacks of vinyl.
Mark had a key to my gaff. Now Richard wanted one. In fact, he needed a place to doss and pointed out to me that “This used to be my yard.”
Before I knew it, Richard and Mark and a few other friends were controlling a shebeen in my front room.
They always had ways of making money, some more legal than others. But music was their first love. Particularly hip hop which was going through a renaissance with the advent of Islamorap and the likes of Public Enemy and Brand Nubian praising Allah and the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
For me it was just the music. I chanted words like “Farrakhan’s a prophet so I think you ought to listen to/ what he can say to you….” Without really thinking about it too deeply. For Richard who, even at the age of fifteen towered over the rest of us at six foot three, the words were sinking a lot more deeply. He wasn’t a muslim, but he would say “that’s serious stuff, do you really know what that means?” when I would be rapping, “Can a devil fool a Muslim?
No, not nowadays bro
Do you mean to say the devil fooled us 400 years ago?”
I didn’t think anything of it. Richard was a cocky young kid, as I suppose you’ve got to be when you’re taller than everyone else and you’re having to fend for yourself when you’re just fifteen. But there was more to it than that. I humoured him because he was crying out for help. You see, Richard didn’t look mixed race, or at least not black and white mixed race. He looked Greek or at the very least Moroccan or of undefined racial background. But he certainly didn’t look as if his dad was black. But that was the first thing he would tell you when you met him. Like it was a really big deal to him that his dad was Jamaican and he wanted you to know it. He never talked so glowingly about his mum though. And that was the problem.
Like so many white mothers bringing up kids of mixed heritage on her own, Richard Reid’s mum thought she was bringing up a mixed race child. So when her son started becoming ‘black’ she didn’t know what to do. And Richard’s black dad was doing time, and unable to guide him through this ‘blackness’. That’s what I reckon anyway.
Unfortunately, I was more interested in pulling chicks at their shebeens than in getting involved with the social worker aspect of running an unofficial youth club from my front room. That’s why I blame myself for everybody having to take their shoes off at airport security. When I should have been the big bruvva for Richard and Mark and all the rest of the ruffnecks that passed through my life, I was acting like I was their mate. When I should have pulled them aside and slapped them down for stealing my records, I let them get away with it. When I should have been showing them the right way, I left them to their own devices and guidance from the wrong influences.
I’m grateful every time I get on a plane that they caught my mate Richard Reid before he was able to blow up a plane, but as he serves his sentences in the ADX Florence, a Supermax prison in Colorado I can’t help feeling that I played my part in his downfall.
Dotun Adebayo is broadcaster on the BBC and proprietor of Colourtelly.com