Monday, 8 August 2011
The Tottenham Riots – Part 2
The plot thickens. According to Sky News (12:22pm UK, Monday August 08, 2011):-
‘Fresh questions have been raised over the shooting of Mark Duggan amid speculation a bullet found in a police radio could have come from an officer's gun. However, The Guardian newspaper has quoted a source saying initial tests suggest the bullet was police issue.’ (see http://news.sky.com/home/uk-news/article/16045599 and http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/07/police-attack-london-burns)The Guardian report adds that although a non-police gun was found at the scene, ‘one community organiser suggested the handgun recovered was found in a sock and therefore not ready for use.’ Perhaps these facts explain the very guarded and uninformative explanations of the incident so far given by the IPCC, in the face of a desperate need for some justification of another sudden death at the hands of the Met Police. Colin Roach, Cynthia Jarrett, Roger Sylvester, Jean-Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson and more besides – the list is of innocent victims is long and unsurprisingly arouses the kind of anger that led to Saturday’s protest at Tottenham Police Station. Whatever the Daily Mail may have found out about the dead man’s alleged involvement in drug dealing and gang violence (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2023556/Mark-Duggan-Violence-drugs-fatal-stabbing-unlikely-martyr.html?ito=feeds-newsxml) the police would need to show that he did fire first to have any excuse for shooting at him.
Stafford Scott, veteran of the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign of the 80s, explained to Sky TV the reasons why anger mounted on Saturday as the police apparently stonewalled Mark Duggan’s family and friends (see http://youtube/8a3F3aG9RGw). They then cruelly attacked a 16 year old girl with riot shields, pushing her to the ground, because she shouted that the protestors wanted answers. (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/07/tottenham-riots-peaceful-protest)
A horrible history is repeating itself. We have been here before – in 1981, 1982, 1985 (the Broadwater Farm incidents). And even though fortunately no officer has been killed – so far at least – the consequences of the Tottenham riot 2011 are going to be far worse, in several ways, than those of the riot in 1985. Now, almost 25 years on, the police have not learnt their lesson. They and the IPCC need to come clean – and quickly – before the anger worsens. ‘Fuck the police’ was painted on the tarmac of Tottenham High Road on Saturday night.
Having moved to Tottenham in 1983, and lived ever since in a flat not half a mile from Broadwater Farm, I followed the events of 1985 at close quarters. Who can forget the hundreds of arrests over several months as the police sought PC Blakelock’s killer. The rough handling and alleged beatings in the cells. The traumatizing search of a middle-aged mother’s bedroom at dawn as the police combed her home for evidence of what her son might (or might not) have done. The young people on benefits deprived of their winter clothing for several weeks as the police trawled through mass forensic searches for traces of blood or petrol bombs. The continued insults and stigmatization of a whole community, amounting to a form of collective punishment. Weeks of being kept awake by helicopters and screeching sirens. The negative ‘labelling’ of Tottenham as the home of crime and disorder, the sharp fall in house prices and in owner-occupation, the arrival of an ever-changing population of short-term tenants who can’t stay long enough to join in local organizations or participate in local politics. The loss of businesses and jobs.
All this we will face again. But this time, worse. Worse firstly because whereas the main target of the riot in 1985 was the police themselves, August 2011 has started a wave of looting and destruction of shops and offices. So insurance premiums, particularly on business premises, will rise and small shops will suffer. The percentage of Tottenham’s population on the dole in June was 8.3%, less than half what it was in 1985. But whereas the unemployed of the 80s could try for the Community Programme, a job creation scheme that provided a three day week, albeit for a rock-bottom wage, for around 3000 people in Haringey in 1987, the present government has axed the Future Jobs Programme. Today’s claimants are forced by job centre rules to compete ever more frantically for a dwindling number of vacancies – currently about one job per 54 jobseekers, and hardly any are offered real skills training, whereas in 1985 they could have done a year’s course in construction trades, computing, or motor repair. Today’s Tottenham youth face a grim future – with cuts in the Education Maintenance Allowance, in further education courses, and the poorest prospect for decades of an affordable university education. When Haringey Council made cuts in youth club services some months ago, many predicted a rise in crime would result.
During the 1981 Toxteth riots, which saw 70 buildings burned, 470 police injured and 500 arrests, the chair of the Liverpool police authority made a connection between unrest and ‘cuts’ which was echoed by Ken Livingstone’s and Jenny Jones’ comments yesterday. Lady Margaret Simey remarked in 1981 that local people would have been 'apathetic fools' if they had not rioted in response to the conditions they then faced - chronic unemployment, racism, bad housing and poor education - all aggravated by police harassment. The current generation of youth faces all these things and worse – a drastic collapse in public services and in funding for the voluntary sector, greater inequality and greater insecurity in the few jobs they can look for at the bottom of the ladder.
In the west of Haringey it is hard for people to grasp the depth of social malaise which grips Tottenham’s council estates. Postcode turf wars between gangs made it dangerous for the youth campaigning against youth club cuts to join protest marches against the cuts last autumn. A project to give free recycled bikes to teenagers found parents saying ‘don’t give one to my kid – the drug dealers look for kids with bikes to run errands for them’. The drug and gang culture which according to some media reports appears to have given rise to coordinated, planned looting here and in other districts has its roots partly in the bad jobs, bad education cycle. But it also may be a response to the fact that white collar criminals generally get away with it. As bonus-seeking bankers and city traders remain unpunished for economic sabotage, as MPs get away with expenses fiddling, as inequality has soared to Victorian proportions in the last 25 years, role models for honesty and hard work are increasingly hard to find.
What is clear is that no solution can wait till the next elections, local or national. The local community needs to be working together on solutions now. Investment in better housing and ‘green’ sector jobs are part of that solution. The campaign against Britain’s ‘feral elite’ launched by Compass and supported by Caroline Lucas, is also a part (see http://www.potteye.co.uk/?p=1956). But Greens and other left forces in Haringey need to come together to develop a local strategy to salvage Tottenham’s economy and community.
Tonight (8th August) a group of Christian ministers called a ‘Vigil of Hope’ at High Cross, attended by about 200 people including their congregations, some supporters of local groups like the Ward’s Corner Coalition and HAPS, and at least one councilor. It was a good start, and an impressive call for unity across faith, ethnic and political boundaries. But we will need more than hopes and prayers, we need concerted action over a long period. Dave Morris of the Haringey Federation of Residents’ Associations distributed a leaflet with a list of suggested actions and demands, which you can see on here. It’s time to mobilize.
Written by Anne Gray
Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for Tottenham 2010