A police officer in riot gear directs fellow officers to clear bystanders away from a burning car in the London borough of Hackney on Aug. 8, 2011
London Riots: Fires Spread on Third Night of Violence
Why riots break out in London?
It’s not new that riots broke out in London after the killing of a member of the Jamaican immigrant community on Sunday.
After World War Two, immigrants came to London to work in industries such as British Rail and London Transport, mostly from Jamaica. It was also the beginning of racial tensions between the Jamaican Black immigrants and local Whites. Being a poor and unemployed community, they were prone to robbery and theft and often involved in riots following arrests or killings by the local police. Some 250,000 Jamaicans live in London.
The first traces of racial unrest appeared in 1958 when a large number of Carribbean immigrants’ houses were attacked by about 400 Whites in Notting Hill leading to tension in the area and arrests of more than 140 people.
Again in 1976, Notting Hill Carnival with 150,000 participants from the community led to riots targeting the police who were seen harassing the community youth.
In 1979, a protest against racism held in Southall by about 3,000 members of the Anti-Nazi League turned violent over a New Zealand-born UK migrant Blair Peach’s killing by the police. About 21 policemen were injured in the incident and more than 300 were arrested.
In less than a year, a local housing scandal denying equal rights to the community led to riots in St. Pauls in Bristol. Nearly 19 policemen were injured in the incident and 130 people were arrested. Next year saw another massive riot breaking out in Brixton. More than 350 people were injured 100 vehicles damaged and 28 buildings set afire. Another riot in Toxteth in Liverpool saw looting and damage of 70 buildings. Moss Side in Manchester, Chapel Town and Handwork suburb in Birmingham also witnessed riots.
In 1985, a Jamaican mother searching for her son was killed by the Metropolitan Police which led to immediate provocation resulting in a two-day arson and rioting in Brixton, Handsworth.
A decade later in 1995, Brixton saw another riot triggered by the killing of a youth from the community in police custody.
In 2001, racial tension between Asian Muslims and local whites in Oldham led to riots in the area and in Hare Hills alleging wrongful arrest of a youth by Yorkshire police. More than 300 policemen were injured and an equal number of people were arrested.
Ten years later, on August 7, 2011, killing of a local community member by the local police led to looting and riots for three consecutive days in Tottenham, Brixton, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Enfield Town and other parts of London.
Unlike the past riots, the latest one was triggered almost instantly with the help of social media networks like FaceBook and Twitter spreading rumours on BlackBerry messenger.
A writer by name Kami, however, disagrees: “People who protest in the western countries are rioters, looters, and violent enemies of the good state, so social media is the ‘catalyst.’ In Egypt and elsewhere, social media was the tool that made revolution against evil dictators possible.”
Irrespective of the social media, the growing unemployment and poverty among the immigrants in London is one major reason often cited by analysts, but with the economy dwindling, there is hardly any hope for a better future.
No-one wants to hear social and economic justifications for rioting, least of all anyone in the UK political class. But justification is not what is at stake. The issue is explanation, as that will determine the response.
Prime Minister Cameron, and London mayor Boris Johnson, have a very simple explanation: it is opportunism, a chance to smash, grab, burn and run.
Their response, therefore, is a simple policing one. Increase the numbers of police forces on the street, and arrest more people. Some go further. Liberal MP Simon Hughes called for the use of the water cannon. Tory MEP Roger Helmer urged that the army be sent in, and looters shot on sight. With towns and cities rioting across the UK, involving at least thousands of youths, this would result in a bloodbath - if a condign one by Helmer's standards.
In fact, the government's response is totally empty: it amounts to saying, people loot because they want to loot, a circular argument that explains nothing. The question remains: why here, why now? The immediate spark was the shooting dead, in Tottenham, North London, of Mark Duggan by an armed police unit. This is not the first such killing. Between 1998 and 2010, 333 people died in police custody, and not one officer was convicted for any of the deaths.
The circumstances of the killing are as important. Police initially led the public to believe that Duggan had shot first. This is untrue. The bullet lodged in a police radio, said to come from his gun, was actually a police issue bullet. Police also failed to inform the family, who found out about the death from the media. And when a protest outside local police headquarters took place, officers ignored pleas for dialogue with those present. Later, according to eyewitnesses, they assaulted a 16-year-old girl with batons and shields. There followed a night of rioting not witnessed in Tottenham since the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985.
Since then, riots have spread to dozens of London towns and suburbs, as well as to other cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Gloucester. Most rioting is taking place in poor areas where there are pre-existing antagonisms between the police and young people. And, as the riot squad's aura of invincibility has been shattered by their inability to contain the early riots, it seems plausible that others have seen the opportunity to have a go. As young people interviewed on BBC Newsnight explained, "we first lost respect of the police, then we lost fear of the police". This comes amid a major national crisis for police, whose corrupt relationship with the News International empire has recently been under scrutiny.
It also follows a generation of painstaking efforts to overcome antagonisms between police and black communities. A watershed in this respect was the verdict of the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence, a young black man murdered by racists in the south-east town of Eltham, acknowledging 'institutional racism' in the police. Racist policing did not come to an end, and nor did brutality. But relations were significantly improved. Yet the ongoing culture of violence and racism in the police, which may have been behind the death of Mark Duggan, could now destroy the gains made by police on this front. This has added to the uncertainty in the police's handling of the riots.
There is also a class dimension at work. Young people have suffered the most from the recession, with youth unemployment reaching a record high of 20 per cent. Cuts to education and local amenities have hit them particularly hard. In Haringey borough, where Tottenham is situated, local youths interviewed for The Guardian newspaper predicted that cuts would result in riots. When rioters are interviewed for the media, they often foreground class issues, as well as hatred for the government. One witness told the New York Times that he felt the rioters were taking on "the ruling class". Rioters interviewed for the BBC explained that it was about expressing hatred for the government, and "showing the rich we can do what we want". For these young people, there is a fleeting sense of power and freedom in such actions.
The taboo on such explanations is perfectly understandable from the government's point of view. Liberal leader Nick Clegg, before the 2010 election, predicted that if the Tories implemented deep spending cuts, there would be riots. He is now part of a coalition with the Tories, carrying through cuts amounting to a fifth of the government's budget. They have an interest in denying any responsibility for this situation.
But if the government are wrong, then a simple policing response won't work. Police bullets sparked this situation; it is unlikely that police batons can resolve it. A few totemic arrests and convictions may placate the siege mentality and lust for punishment of some, but it will leave the terrain prepared for further unrest. Nothing short of justice, for those affected by cuts and police brutality, will suffice.
Richard Seymour is a London-based writer and PhD student.
source : ABC online
London Riots: Why the Violence Is Spreading Across EnglandBy William Lee Adams / London
The morning after riots gripped its main shopping thoroughfare, parts of Ealing, northwest London, looked less like a middle-class suburb and more like a war zone. On the night of Aug. 8, a group of hooded youths ran up the street throwing trash bins while others stomped on the top of police patrol cars. Still others shattered through glass phone booths and set cars on fire, not far from the town's picturesque rows of Victorian houses. Simon Kirby, who runs Flower Haven, a small florist, says his brother phoned him at 6:30 a.m. to let him know that his shop's windows had been smashed and his floral displays ransacked. The violence sickens him, but he understands why disaffected youth — whom he thinks traveled to Ealing from elsewhere — would lash out. "If they had something to do, if they had money and jobs, they wouldn't do this," he says. "They see footballers who all have lots of money but aren't very bright, and they want to know why they don't have any."
In the three days that followed the initial riots in Tottenham, disgruntled youth across the country have shown they're ready for a riot — and whatever status and material objects their disobedience may confer on them. By 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, mobs were disturbing the peace for the fourth consecutive evening. In Manchester, hundreds of youth — some clad in balaclavas, others in ski masks — fought running battles with police. In Salford, a nearby suburb, separate groups of hooligans looted a liquor shop and set a clothing store on fire. In Nottingham, a group of at least 30 men firebombed a police station. And in Birmingham, a hit-and-run driver killed three men who had taken to the streets to protect local shops. That unrest followed copycat lootings and violence that had already taken place in other major hubs including Bristol and Liverpool. Nationwide, police have now made more than 1,000 arrests.
Paul Bagguley, a sociologist at the University of Leeds, believes rioting will continue to spread to other cities unless police step up their intervention. The brigands hurling bricks through windows aren't doing so out of solidarity with the people of Tottenham. "They are making a rational calculation that they can go out and do this," he says. "They see on television and the Internet people looting shops, going in and walking out with new mobile phones and flat-screen TVs. And no one is stopping them." That might explain the images of one teenager calmly texting someone on her phone as she stands among looters in a computer store in Croydon or of the looters in Brixton who stood in line to try on a pair of stolen sneakers.
Bulking up the police presence — 16,000 officers policed the streets last night, compared with 6,000 the night before — did much to turn off would-be vandals. London saw relative calm for the first time since Aug. 6, though there were a few minor clashes as community vigilantes took security into their own hands. The decision to release images of rioters, culled from CCTV footage, on the London police's Flickr page and via the BBC on Tuesday afternoon has also sent a strong message that authorities — and the wider public — want to see justice served. The police's Flickr page received around 3 million hits within five hours of going live. (Read "The Great Riot of London: The Stakes for David Cameron.")
But arrests resulting from those photos may not come for months, if at all. And they will do little to resolve the underlying issues that are now boiling over. Racial tensions have fomented much of the anger that's being released, and that informs the deteriorating relationship between officers and the communities they police. In the past five years, the number of black and South Asian people stopped and searched by the police in the country has nearly doubled to 310,000. "Most of the time the police don't find anything," Bagguley says. "I think what we're seeing is partly a consequence of those tactics." That many of the looters come from high-crime areas that are heavily policed strains the relationship even more. The riots in Hackney on the afternoon of Aug. 8 reportedly kicked off after one of these searches. (See more about the events in Ealing.)
Social scientists say it's too simplistic to make a direct connection between Britain's austerity cuts and the mob violence. But the effects of those cuts may influence idle young people. The issue, sociologists say, is not that youth are unemployed. It's that they're unoccupied — and therefore more likely to loiter on the streets and in shopping centers, and to get wrapped up in the madness of rebellion. Tottenham, for instance, is in the borough of Haringey, where the local council had to shut 8 of its 13 youth centers at the beginning of July. The centers had offered courses on everything from beauty treatments to DJing, and services ranging from sexual-health tests to exam revision. "A lot of those radicalized youth who were on the street Saturday night would have been going to those youth centers," says Clifford Scott, a senior lecturer in social psychology at the University of Liverpool. "They no longer had anywhere else to go."
As the sun set on Tuesday evening and the country braced for a fourth night of riots, the BBC rolled footage of still more disturbances, this time in Wolverhampton, a town northwest of Birmingham. Groups of youth dressed in black hoodies ran down the street and set to attacking shops. Back in Ealing, local MP Virendra Sharma walked through the town after nightfall to reassure residents that peace had returned to the community. Businesses shut at 3 p.m. Many boarded up their windows anyway.
— With reporting by Sonia Van Gilder Cooke / London and Thomas K. Grose /
London riots: why did the police lose control?
The police have become so sensitive to the issue of race that it is impairing their ability to do the job.
What caused these riots and why did the police lose control? Some commentators think the disorder was understandable and justified; some say the police “had it coming”; others that the violence was only to be expected given the unemployment and poverty in the area.
Some local people told journalists of their resentment towards the police. One student said: “The police never talk to us, they ignore us, they don’t think we’re human in this area.” A youth worker claimed: “The way the police treat black people is like we’re nothing.” And a retired accountant who has lived locally for 30 years reported that some of the police “behave in an arrogant manner that puts people’s backs up”.
Other residents who witnessed people carrying off carpets, trainers and watches noticed that they included individuals of all “colours and creeds”, suggesting an outburst of sheer lawlessness rather than righteous retaliation for past racial slights.
Did the police inflame the initially peaceful crowd protesting about the shooting last Thursday of Mark Duggan? It will be impossible to answer that question until the independent inquiry is complete. But what should we make of another theory, that the police handled the rioters with kid gloves because they were paralysed by fear of being called racist?
Anyone in touch with police leaders will know that most are fully signed-up supporters of the doctrine that the police should use force only as a last resort. As one of the famous “nine principles of policing”, published in 1829 at the very founding of the Metropolitan Police, puts it, the police should “use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient… and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion”.
This was the policy of the Met during the recent protests against student fees. It had worked well enough a few days earlier when the trade unions held a march against the cuts, but the student protests turned violent. Reluctance to use force is right and we should be reluctant to reproach the police for it. However, a second attitude was at work in Tottenham. Since the Macpherson report of 1999 the police have been hyper-sensitive about race. This attitude has now become so paradoxical that they find themselves standing aside when members of ethnic minorities are being harmed. The people who ran shops, or who lived in the flats above, were not given the protection they deserved.
The police have been made to feel that they are the “white police”, and that they lack legitimacy in “black areas”. This unfortunate attitude began with the report by Lord Scarman on the Brixton riots of 1981. He said: “There is widespread agreement that the composition of our police forces must reflect the make-up of the society they serve.” He found that ethnic minorities were significantly under-represented. Soon after the Macpherson report made a similar observation in 1999, the Government set a recruitment target for ethnic minorities of 8 per cent.
Scarman’s remark that the police should reflect the make-up of society is profoundly wrong. The police have never been representative of the social or ethnic breakdown of society. Police officers are people who have been chosen because they deserve to wear the uniform, not because of their ethnic status. They are individuals who deserve to be part of a profession that upholds the law without favour or affection, malice or ill-will. So long as that remains true, then every officer is entitled to respect, whether black or white, male or female. The legitimacy of the police has nothing to do with the racial composition of the force. It has to do with impartial enforcement of the law.
Instead of upholding strict impartiality, in 2002 police leaders published a “hate-crime manual” via the Association of Chief Police Officers. It was a defining moment that undermined the highest traditions of policing. The ideal of impartial justice was dismissed with particular scorn. “Colour blind” (in quotation marks to signify its implausibility) policing was defined as “policing that purports to treat everyone in the same way. Such an approach is flawed and unjust. It fails to take account of the fact that different people have different reactions and different needs. Failure to recognise and understand these means failure to deliver services appropriate to needs and an inability to protect people irrespective of their background.” Impartial justice was now “unjust” and it’s not surprising that many rank and file officers have had difficulty accepting the new approach. But their concerns have been given short shrift. They were to be “retrained” or disciplined. And yet it was not easy for officers to be sure how they could stay out of trouble. In another section of the manual they were told: “Anyone who is unable to behave in a non-discriminatory and unprejudiced manner must expect disciplinary action. There is no place in the police service for those who will not uphold and protect the human rights of others.”
In this kind of atmosphere, it’s not surprising that officers in charge of a riot think it safer to wait for orders from the top rather than use their discretion to protect the public without fear or favour.
Another element of police practice contributed to their failure. The police do not have deep roots in most localities and especially areas such as Tottenham. Few, if any, officers live locally. In earlier times, policing was seen as primary prevention, based on a visible uniformed presence. Gradually, under pressure to appear more “efficient”, policing became more a matter of reaction and detection. Officers waited for calls and responded as fast as possible, while teams of investigators tried to solve past crimes. Only in the past couple of years has it begun to be accepted that primary prevention has its merits, and the Government is supposed to be moving towards neighbourhood policing with named officers covering particular areas and charged with getting to know everyone. An officer who knows the law-abiding locals as well as the miscreants is in a much stronger position when things go wrong than the officer whose “response unit” has been called in to deal with some trouble every now and then.
Coalition cutbacks in the number of police officers have also been blamed for the riots. It goes too far to blame the Government, when the immediate perpetrators were unequivocally at fault, but cutting police numbers doesn’t help. The Coalition plans to cut spending on the police by 20 per cent. In the 12 months to the end of March 2011, the number of officers fell by 4,625 to 139,110. The number of community support officers also fell by 1,098 to 15,820. At the same time the number of police volunteers, or special constables, increased by 2,916.
So much for the underlying factors, but even after they have been taken into account, there has been an inexcusable failure of police leadership in the first few days of these riots. CCTV pictures of looting are now available and it seems likely that the police would have been watching from their control rooms. If they could see the window of a carpet shop or a jewellers being smashed and looters taking their pick of the goods, why didn’t they immediately dispatch a dozen officers to arrest every culprit? There are always people who are willing to become criminals for a day if they calculate that there is little chance of being caught. It seems likely that televising the fact that the police would just stand there while mass looting took place led to its spread to other localities the next night.
Being reluctant to use force can be admirable. But when events have got out of control, the fullest use of police powers is justified. The present generation of police leaders gained promotion by mastering the art of talking about “issues around” racism or bearing down on hate crime “going forward”. Learning the management buzz words of the last few years has not produced leaders able to command men in a riot. The injuries sustained by officers show that we have plenty of men and women prepared to be brave when needed, but they are lions led by donkeys who listened a bit too intently to the sociology lectures about “hate crime” at Bramshill police college.
David Green is Director of Civitas
Why I Took to the Streets with the Anti-Riot 'Vigilante' Group in Enfield
If I hadn't been there to report on it, I would have gone along to the Enfield anti-riot 'vigilante' patrol regardless. Like many of the hundred-or-so people who patrolled the streets of the North London town on Tuesday night, I'd spent the previous night indoors watching nihilistic thugs rampage outside, looting, burning and smashing things up on the television. Also like the Enfield residents, I was frustrated by the police's complete failure to gain control of the riots and their kid glove, risk-averse approach, meaning looters could often carry on regardless of the police's presence.
On the train to Enfield, I had been reading dozens of tweets claiming the anti-riot patrol was a front for far-right organisations and an excuse for racist chants and violence. The reality was nothing of the sort. There were no weapons being carried and no violence erupted at all. Yes, the majority of people there were white and working class, but there was also a range of people from different ethnic backgrounds. Indeed I found, if anything, people on the patrol were overly awkward about the fact they were white. One guy told me he had been worried he'd be seen as a racist by taking part: 'There's no getting around the fact that a lot of the rioters are black,' he told me, 'but you can't just do nothing just in case someone calls you a racist.'
During the course of the patrol on Tuesday, which I report upon in detail here, I heard no racist chants and, while there was plenty of discussion about football, there was very little political discussion and nothing that could be characterised as 'far-right' (although I understand in other places, such as Eltham, this may have been the case). As a libertarian Marxist - on completely the other end of the political spectrum to groups like the BNP and National Front - at no point did I feel uncomfortable with the discussions that took place. The anti-riot patrollers were largely a boisterous group of working class men, aged between 20-40, who felt let down by the police and that they could no longer be trusted to protect their communities.
So why have there been such negative, knee jerk responses to the anti-riot groups and continual attempts to smear them and align them with fascist groups? The anti-vigilante attitude, in the media, by the chattering classes and among the police, reveals both their alienation and disdain for ordinary working-class communities. They see a crowd of people as a 'public order problem'. And they are scared of nothing more than the sight of groups of white working-class men - racist progroms-in-the-making - who speak in the wrong sort of un-PC language and who are loud and confrontational, and would rather they just dispersed and went home.
But why should they? Why should it only be institutions that have the blessing of the authorities, like the Women's Institute or Neighbourhood Watch Schemes, that get to influence their local areas and have a say? Why shouldn't completely informal groups get to do that too? In my view, the fact that these groups have no link to the state or to the political class is actually a positive thing. Rather than being driven by the outlook of political gain or point-scoring, they are instead often driven by a basic love for their neighbourhoods and a desire for peace and respect. In many ways, what better people are there than that to police these riots?
The idea of informally organised community groups taking a role in maintaining public order and taking on rioters are an anathema to the police and the political classes who would rather we stayed at home and depended on them. But the truth is, we actually don't need the police to run every aspect of our lives. The reason these citizens groups, such as the anti-riot patrol in Enfield, now look shocking to some is because we are so used to bowing to third-party observers - whether it's CCTV cameras, ASBOs or police mediation of community problems - that we have outsourced authority for our communities and our neighbourhoods to other parties.
Over a long period of time, the notion of looking out for each other, helping each other, has been undermined precisely by the rise of the interfering state. That is the only reason these so-called 'vigilantes' look weird. We no longer even expect people to care for, or look after, their areas. It now seems alien to us, weird, as if there must be ulterior motives.
Which is what makes the impulse behind locals patrolling the streets in Enfield; Sikh groups protecting their temple in Southall; the Turkish community protecting their shops in Stoke Newington, something that should be welcomed. Given the complete failure of the state to provide even the most basic securities to people in the UK over the past week, I'd rather take to the streets with these so-called 'vigilante' groups any day of the week than cower at home, powerless, and watch nihilistic thugs rampage through our towns and cities.