Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Riots Spread Across London and Other English Cities

The shooting by armed police of local man Mark Duggan in Tottenham last week, which sparked violent scenes and widespread looting of shops in north London, has now spread to several areas of the capital, and to Birmingham, Liverpool, Croydon, Nottingham, Bristol and Leeds. Police have arrested hundreds of people on Monday night, the third consecutive night of unrest.

The situation has got so bad that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, the Home Secretary, Theresa May and London Mayor, Boris Johnson, have cut short their summer holidays and returned to the UK. Parliament has been recalled for one day on Thursday so that MP’s can debate the situation and 16,000 police officers are on standby for deployment in London tonight (Tuesday). The England versus the Netherlands football match due to be played on Wednesday at Wembley, has been cancelled.

In the part of London where I live, you can sense that people are scared, they have seen that the police cannot cope with the sheer numbers and the mobility of the young people involved in these disturbances. The corner shop in my area was robbed by five men at around 1am on Sunday morning, injuring two of the shop workers. This attack was obviously perpetrated in the knowledge that the police had their hands full in Tottenham at the time, and they were right.

Whether it is worthwhile the politicians cutting short their holidays is open to debate. Of course, they need to be seen to be concerned about events for public relations reasons, but if all they do is to make speeches full of platitudes, criminality, thugs, law and order, blah, blah, blah, then they may as well have stayed on the sun lounger.

It is important that we try to understand what is going on here, and I think we have a combination of complex reasons behind what is happening.

Firstly, in Tottenham where this unrest started, there was a spark, a catalyst, in the killing of Mark Duggan at the hands of an already distrusted Metropolitan police force. As far as I can tell, the people in the original demonstration where not involved in the subsequent riot, but the anger generated by the killing itself, and the police’s apparent disregard of the family’s request for true information about the incident, spread like wildfire through the young people of the community.

Reports from other parts of London and parts of the rest of the country appear to show no direct link to the Tottenham shooting, but in many of these communities they have a similar opinion of the police, and these areas have common problems of deprivation and unemployment (particularly youth unemployment). Put all of this together with the greedy consumerist society that has been rammed down our throats since the 1980’s and a feeling of general alienation felt by many young people, and you have fertile ground for the type of disorder that we have seen over recent days.

The BBC reports an interview with two young women from Croydon, who took part in the rioting there last night. They boasted that they were showing the police and "the rich" that "we can do what we want". I heard a young man from Hackney being interviewed on the radio where he complained of bankers bonuses and the MP’s expenses scandal, as a justification for the riotous behaviour in that area yesterday. Shocking though it is, these interviews give an insight into the mind-set of the people involved in the disturbances.

I’m not trying to make excuses for what has gone on in the past few days, but to brand it as merely criminal behaviour shows just how out of touch our politicians have become. We need a period of calm, so everyone can simmer down, so I hope that this disorder will fizzle out, but then we need to analyse what has led us to this sorry state of affairs, and act on this analysis. Don’t hold your breath though, the politicians don’t see anything wrong with the way we live these days and it is reminiscent of the denial displayed by the same people when trying to formulate economic policy at the moment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good article given the word count.

Their is definitely a profound degree of alienation here with these kids,given nothing by society in terms of education,job opportunities and a safe community. Then they are expoited by gang leaders and the politicians and media ( the two young women in Croydon (well-educated and thriving?) and all against a raciost backdrop of a Met police force who from the New Cross Fire (13 black youths murdered - many say the police were involved in a cover-up because some witnesses saw things that linked the police) all the way to Duggan's death and more police dirty work.
And too against the back-drop of a political and banking class on the make,ripping the heart out of the country.
A period of calm is definitely needed - such structural inequality won't be dealt with by the political parties all in the pockets of big business and the banks.

But who will step up in a constructive way?