The story of a riot foretold
Riots across London are a result of rising anger against the corrupt and repressive Metropolitan Police, and against the poverty and unemployment hitting the poorest first.
The police version of the shooting of Mark Duggan after the Met's CO19 firearms squad killed him is falling apart. They claimed an officer was shot, but was saved by his radio – and then Duggan was shot in self-defence. Now it appears the bullet in the radio may have been police issue.
Duggan’s family was only allowed to see his body 36 hours after he was killed. When they and about 100 supporters stood peacefully outside Tottenham police for four hours on Saturday night waiting for answers, nobody was prepared to talk to them. Police instead formed a confrontational line across the front of the police station.
As the protests escalated across Tottenham, it appears that a 16-year-old girl was beaten when she advanced towards a line of police to remonstrate with them, saying all the community wanted was answers. An extreme sense of injustice rapidly built up, leading to two nights of rioting across London and opportunist looting as well. This fury on the streets shows that the issues behind Britain’s 1985 inner-city riots have never been resolved. The regeneration of estates like Broadwater Farm and other deprived areas is being reversed by the economic crisis.
The Coalition’s slash and burn budget cuts are affecting the poorest boroughs. The London Borough of Haringey slashed its budget for youth services by 75% after the Coalition cut its grant by £41million. Labour Councillors who voted for this must share the blame for the riots.
Eight out of 13 youth clubs in Tottenham – safe havens for youth trying to avoid “post-code wars” and crime – have been closed. Local youth at the end of July warned in a filmed interview that there would be riots. There are currently more than 50 people for each unfilled job in Haringey, and the number claiming jobseekers allowance has risen 10% this year. There are plans to cut as much as 25% from the budget for courses for 16 to 18 year olds at North East London College, with a big campus in Tottenham.
And Tottenham is not an exception. A sense of extreme alienation amongst tens if not hundreds of thousands of youths in London and around the country is simmering and will continue to erupt in explosive ways. Added to the sense of injustice is a lack of trust in the police and the political system as a whole.
Back in 1985 local MP Bernie Grant took the side of the community, when riots broke out after the death of Cynthia Jarrett. Yesterday, slick New Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, condemned the violence and looting and commiserated with injured police. He said nothing about the killing of one of his constituents.
The same political, police and media establishment that colluded to hide the crimes of the News of the World, is coming together to attack the youth. Small wonder that big swathes of the community feel unconnected from any political process.
Now the right-wing media are calling for strong leadership and a strong arm to put an end to the disorder on the streets and in the financial markets. It seems the Coalition is not brutal enough for them.
These are important warning signs. A bold approach to re-shaping society is urgently needed that will unite the youth and communities across the generations to challenge this rule while it is still possible to do so. Democratising the economic and political basis of society through the formation of local People’s Assemblies, which will self-police communities, offers a positive way forward.
A World to Win secretary
8 August 2011