Monday, 8 August 2011

London riots - here we go again!

If, like me, you are middle aged, you will have seen many riots in the UK. Brixton, Broadwater Farm, and Toxteth are some of the the better known examples in the past 30 years or so. These riots are always triggered by an incident involving the heavy handed policing of members of an ethnic minority community, usually black. The Broadwater Farm riot was triggered by the death of a black woman, Cynthia Jarrett, when the police were searching her home. The riots always occur in  communities that are characterised by high unemployment, poverty and poor housing. Tottenham has a history of these problems, Broadwater Farm is just one example, and we still have not heard the true facts about the mysterious death of Smiley Culture, who died whilst in police custody in his own home in April 2011. Allegedly he stabbed himself. A thousand people protested after that incident. What the riots show is the simmering resentment that exists in many inner city communities in the UK.

In the case of the Tottenham riot, which took place on Saturday, supporters of the  family of Mark Duggan, who was shot and killed by the police last week, staged a peaceful protest. The police failed to respond to requests from the family to speak to a senior officer. The family and their supporters were kept waiting for hours. The police clearly failed to deal reasonably with the family, sparking further anger. After the Duggan shooting incident, we heard that a police officer had been shot, implying that Duggan had fired on the police, now we hear that both the bullets that were fired came from police weapons. Did someone fire on the police? We don't know. But what we do know is that the police have a history of putting out misleading information in the aftermath of incidents of this kind. In the case of Jean Charles De Menezes, in 2005, the police said that he had behaved suspiciously, and had vaulted a barrier at Stockwell tube station. This turned out not to be true. Jean Charles De Menezes was just a man on his way to work. The police killed an innocent man, and eye-witnesses to the shooting later claimed that they had no need to shoot him dead.

There is a clear pattern here. Communities plagued by unemployment, poverty and poor housing. Heavy handed, inept and racially dubious policing. The police putting out misleading statements about what happened. The police being used to keep a lid on the simmering community resentment. The establishment mouthing platitudes and making token gestures about investment and regeneration.  And so it goes on and on and on. This is 21st century Britain, a place where institutional racism and poverty are still being swept under the carpet, where mass unemployment, and four million people needing housing, has become acceptable . Riot inquiry follows riot inquiry but the same old pattern is still repeated. Kack-handed responses by Home Secretaries like Theresa May, who today launched a tirade against the "criminals" who burned and looted. Yes, Theresa, it was wrong and should be condemned, but why did it happen on your watch? Why were so many people involved? Why did it spread so widely? Tell us the answers to that Theresa, instead of mouthing off the usual platitudes about criminality.

The people who really suffer in the end are the people of the afflicted communities themselves. They are the ones whose houses and businesses are destroyed. I wonder what would happen if people took their resentments, arson and riots to Kensington or Mayfair? What sort of police response would we see then? A very different one to one we saw in Tottenham on Saturday night I'm sure. The point is that nothing will ever change until we have an economic system that can provide decent housing and jobs for all, and a police force which is there to protect citizens, instead of helping to keep them under control. Clearly capitalism is not that economic system, and as long as it exists, so will these problems.

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