August 4: 29-year-old Mark Duggan was shot dead by police
August 6: 150 people march peacefully to Tottenham police station demanding “justice” for Mr Duggan’s family. They were left outside with no explanation given.
After several hours of waiting all hell broke loose
Several days of unprecedented revolt by the most impoverished minority populated neighbourhoods of London shocked the stuck up British aristocracy and upper classes.
Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his Italian vacation in sunny Tuscany overseeing the RAF bombing over Libya.
Within a few days over 16,000 police officers were on the streets of London. They’ve made more than 1,700 arrests, according to news reports, for looting, arson, vandalism and violence since the riots began, employing a variety of sweeping methods, including raids of low-income housing projects. A majority of those arrested are minors, many of whom are being identified with footage from Britain’s extensive network of CCTV cameras.
The looting and arson that has scarred London and now other English cities represents the most frightening apparent manifestation of this public discontent. Yet, unlike the student riots or mass demonstrations, there are a few precedents in British history for the kinds of violent disturbances Britain has witnessed in the past few days. Indeed, it is the lack of a clear context (social, historical or otherwise) that makes them so terrifying.
Rebels without a cause?
Britain is certainly no stranger to serious rioting or civil disturbance. Many of the areas of England affected by riots as inToxteth Liverpool, Lewisham and Brixton in South London, have a history of unrest. There appear to be parallels in the way that the death of Mark Duggan has led to rioting in Tottenham as did the death of Cynthia Jarrett provoked the Broadwater Farm riots in 1985.
After the riots that raged throughout the United Kingdom young Britons already with sense of disfranchisement now face the hasty, heavy hand of the law.
I understand so far 4000 people have been charged The number of arrests continues at such a high rate that prisons and juvenile detention centres are running out of cells and beds to provide to their inmates,
According to the Guardian newspaper this panic attack undermines the due process of law and the presumption of innocence but with a government and government officials being driven by the media calling for harsh sentences guarantees of fairness of sentencing is remote
Prime Minister David Cameron said that a “major police operation is under way to track down looters caught on CCTV picture by picture and that phony concerns about human rights issues won’t stop them being published and won’t slow down the process”
Cameron wants anyone “convicted” of violent disorder to be sent to prison but it isn’t his decision, because the judiciary is independent of the Government and bound by the law and the UKs unwritten constitution. So Cameron has acted in flagrant violation of British Law
This is the man so vocal about human rights in Libya.
It is clear the impulsive punishments now being doled out especially by the Higher Courts and by some British magistrates do not represent the sentencing guidelines as laid out In the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 Judges have been instructed that they “must follow” sentencing guidelines rather than merely “have regard to” them.
They can still disregard them where they believe following them would be “contrary to the interests of justice”, but they must explicitly state their reasons.
Sentences confirmed by the Court of Appeal following the Bradford riots of 2001 show that the judges have previously upheld relatively long sentences against those convicted of public order offences.
One man with no previous relevant convictions was sentenced to 4 years and nine months in jail for holding a metal bar and allegedly being seen “occasionally” throwing stones at police lines.
In Tottenham, a father who fled his burning flat with his two children after it was attacked by rioters has called for proportionate sentencing and said prison for small-time looters “will not solve anything”. That is make the punishment fit the crime.
An example is the stupidity of sentencing for someone not being able to account for carrying a bottle of water that they claim to have picked up outside (inside) a shop (does it matter) getting 12 months Goal.
What good is a lengthy sentence going to do to any person and their later attitude to society? Being in a den of real criminals is not really good for the rehabilitative process. It should be noted that the UK has the heist rate of incarceration in Europe as it is
A Community worker Mohamed Hamadan, 46, lost all his belongings in the fire that destroyed the Allied Carpets building in Tottenham, north London, on the first night of rioting
His observation “We can’t just use this, [prison sentences] as a blanket way of resolving social problems,”
The Ministry of Justice has defended the apparent disparity in sentencing.
“Magistrates and judges are independent of government,” “Their sentencing decisions are based on the individual circumstances of each case and offender.
That is why different offenders may be given different sentences for what might appear to be similar crimes.
“To provide a consistent base for these decisions an independent body of experts, the Sentencing Council, set guidelines. These provide a suggested range of sentences that might be given for particular types of crime theft, burglary or robbery.”
In another case a Mother-of-two was jailed for 5 months by a district judge after she pleaded guilty for accepting a pair of looted shorts from her housemate. On Appeal Andrew Gilbert QC ruled the decision was “wrong in principle” and changed the sentence to 75 hours of community work.
However the person who looted the goods was still given a sentence of 18 months gaol a first offence.
The riots have been shocking that normally level-headed people start to see due process of law as an encumbrance to justice and get caught up in the Hysteria of revenge. The reverse is what should be true due process is fundamental to democracy and justice, even for the most criminal offender.
From the bench, what magistrates see is a raging bundle of id impulses, the desire for immediate gratification untempered by a sense of guilt and with only an ill-formed notion of right and wrong. The temptation to bang them up and throw away the key is strong, and magistrates will no doubt be encouraged to continue to do just that by the Conservative Tories and an opportunist Ed Milliband who showed his true middle class pink at the special session of Parliament.
Fortunately for some offenders it is not the way the courts work.
Despite the British government considering shutting down social media websites and Blackberry messaging services since blamed for playing a major role in spreading news of the unrest, a paradox is the Greater Manchester Police has been using Twitter to announce the prosecutions of rioters.
They have also been using Flickr to post pictures of suspects in hopes that citizens will identify them
So it appears, these last couple of weeks at least, after years of ignoring glaring inequality and injustice, that all of England finally took some notice of the crowded North London neighbourhood of Tottenham and to similar minority communities in Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol where an explosive, fiery social rebellion occurred
Tottenham is an area of multi-cultural mix of White working and middle class British-born African-Caribbean along with Turkish, Portuguese, Albanian, Kurdish Somali and Jewish population. Something about this community most share in common is poverty, unemployment, poor quality housing, a sense of despair and the abuse and neglect by the rich the bankers and the “Toffs” of the Government
The events exploded over yet another police killing of a Black Man. This policy of shooting also happened to one Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, was shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder
Some argue that London’s current revolt is quite different from the recent protests in other European capitals e.g. Athens and are distinguished from those in the Middle East. What is clear in this revolt for that is what it is; it lacked the cohesion of politicisation! When one sees the sell out of the British Labour and the Social Democratic parties of Europe and their disconnect with the poor. Its little wonder that those floundering in a mess of non political hopelessness exploded.
This is something they share the black and minority communities of North America. Neither have powerful advocates that are independent of the political and capitalist establishment.
Traditional community and the Labour Parties have failed in Britain and the United States to organise and represent the working class They have (as Edward Milliband did in his address to Parliament) utterly failed these communities and allowed both Downing Street and Wall Street to impose their most austere policies on those least represented.
“Most of all, it once again exposes the trickery and deceit of those who aspire to be our leaders. Not a single black ‘Parliamentarian spoke out in defence of the young people That isn’t to say one should condone their misguided method of revolt but they should at least to have identified the cause linked to effect [riot] of the deprivations suffered .
Below is a Video of a community worker writer Marcus Howe who was interviewed live on BBC television on 9 August, 2011 The interview encapsulates what is wrong with the media The interview was conducted by BBC presenter Fiona Armstrong
Shortly after Howe began lamenting that “young blacks and young whites… have been telling us, and we wouldn’t listen…” the presenter interrupted him to ask him if he “condoned the violence”. While denying condoning the violence, his attempt to decry the killing of Mark Duggan was interrupted by the presenter. Howe spoke of the events as a political uprising:
“I don’t call it rioting, I call it an insurrection of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham, it’s happening in Liverpool, it’s happening in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and that is the nature of the historical moment…”
Armstrong asked “You are not a stranger to riots yourself, I understand, are you? You have taken part in them yourself.”
“I have never taken part in a single riot. I’ve been on demonstrations that ended up in a conflict. And have some respect for an old West Indian negro, and stop accusing me of being a rioter. Because I… You won’t tickle me to get abusive, you just sound idiotic. Have some respect.”
Of course, the British government peddles a different story about events in Tottenham. Most are echoed by the establishment press and are readly absorbed by the simpletons who feed on such falsely written and Broadcast media.
Typical main stream media response collectively dismissed the social problems of Tottenham highlighted by the police killing of the black youth was from the beginning simply criminal gang acts of looting by mainly unemployed youth with nothing to do on a hot summer night.
To the extent that this crude and vulgar opinion is shared by many in Britain, it only serves to confirm the truth: Tottenham underclass is politically and socially isolated from the rest of British society and particularly from the rest of the organised working class.
Their isolated non politicised existence explains why the difference different form this rebellion took being more a chaotic riot as opposed to the far-better organized massive upheavals in Madrid, Athens and Cairo that united majority sections of those populations and therefore more easily won sympathy and admiration throughout the world. Although typically it’s okay over there but not [our] my backyard.
Why? Because this brought into sharp if unconscious focus, the divide through their eyes that exists in society. One of the “haves” v “have-nots” right just around the corner from their doorstep.
Culpability for the desperate acts across the UK is shared by organizations of the working and middle class that have failed to embrace and engage these communities and offer them leadership benefits of organization and social identity
The political and welcome inclusion into Political movements and Parties like the labour Party I believe; would have significantly altered how these young people young adults residents reacted.
In the United States attempts during the era of the civil rights movement to politically and socially unite the black community were met with government-inspired assassination and police harassment, proven by the US government’s COINTELPRO reports.
COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) was a series of covert and illegal projects conducted by the FBI aimed at surveillance, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting legitimate Political Organisations.
Organisations movements targeted included the civil rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Congress of Racial Equality, the American Indian Movement; groups protesting the Vietnam War and a broad range of organisations branded “New Left”
The FBI specifically developed “agent provocateur” tactics intended to heighten tension and hostility between various factions in the black emancipation movement. Examples of this can be seen today in the UK with tensions between the Afro Caribbean, Asian and disenfranchised White working class communities.
As a result, beginning in the 1970s, criminal gangs began replacing FBI-targeted militant organizations like Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Congress of Racial Equality, Southern Leadership Conference, Black Panthers, Young Lords, Brown Berets, and numerous other effective social and political organizations in the communities of the oppressed.
This had a debilitating effect after several decades, and results today in reactions to police brutality and poverty being often marked by scattered individual acts of frustration and anger. Protests are sometimes laced with anti-social behaviour previously adopted as survival techniques. This is what happened in the UK
For example, while ostensible political targets such as police cars and offices were burned in both Tottenham and Cairo, there was also, in the former case, the indiscriminate burning of buildings and some personal accounts of victimisation that come from years of pent-up rage.
There were other examples of criminal activity and even conflicts between gangs in the oppressed community of Tottenham that were also reported. Again, these are a result of decades of disorganization in the oppressed communities.
This is not an excuse for anti social behaviour but an attempt to lay bare the reasons why the outbreak now.
It is an explanation that contains the answer for its resolution: new organizations must be forged that unite the community around common social goals and aspirations.
The proliferation of criminal gangs and the utter lack of a coherent, credible and socially class-conscious leadership is but another reflection of political and social separation from the majority of working people.
But this reality and the impact it has on distorting the communities’ response should not in any way diminish the powerful and profound social nature of the Tottenham revolt, one deserving of our full support.
A Community in Action with a positive approach
This was recognised in the 1970s and in the face of eventual vicious public spending cuts under Thatcher we were able to overcome to a great degree the sense of alienation on one of London’s if not largest Public Housing Estate. The Pepys
In the 80s I was involved in a program called the Safe Neighbourhood Unit that was to find favour nationally throughout the UK in differing guises.
Its origins were on the Pepys Estate Deptford S.E.8 and its Sister estate. Broadwater Farm
Though the link to the report below is a shadow of the original it gives some idea of the issues faced then and now on an Inner London Public housing Estate. Important was that the data gathered in this report was contemporaneous and didn’t rely on a single (light switch) co-relation to violence of poor housing but on a whole board of con-founder light switches.
It was a though report that was totally involving of the local population.
As the Senior Youth and Community Worker (a role held since 1974) I was elected as the Chairperson of the Safe Neigbourhood Unit/Pepys Improvement Project Steering Committee
the members of which included :-
The Community Liaison Officer from the Metropolitan Police
The Housing Manager of the Greater London Council
Principal Planning Office of the Council
A senior representative of the London Probation and After Care Service.
Senior Youth Office from Inner London Education Authority.
Senior GLC Architect …with whom I worked on the development and design of “abuse resistant public doors and street furniture.
Also represented and most crucial to the outcome were the individual residents and members from the Pepys Estate Tenants Association, representatives from Save the Children and perhaps most importantly the Youth from the estate.
You can understand I was very proud after my challenges (with Police previously outlined in earlier posts) being chosen to Chair this committee. Quickly going back to my past clash with Police as a 15-year-old though never found guilty of any offence I was barred from pursuing an audition with the National Youth Theater.
I was lucky I had people around me who helped me overcome that blow…I expect the Youth of Tottenham including Mark Duggan don’t get that support. That’s why “London Riot” is a Map of the Underground.
Back in between 1975 1982 we had a rate of unemployment of 20-25% In 1977 the local National Front candidate in Deptford received 44% of the vote in local Council Elections.
Though disbanded in 1996 the Safe neighbourhood Unit undoubtedly had a legacy and halo of success in a crumbling society. A note aside Though I was already over the maximum recruitment age then I was actually interviewed and asked if I would consider a Constable role with the Metropolitan Police as a result of my Police – Community liaison work.
It turned out the local Chief Inspector had been brought up in co-incidentally in the same children’s home as me. Small world huh?
This is a synopsis of Safe Neighbourhood report published in 1998. It has some inaccuracies and the original report and action plan of refurbishment and social inclusion was published in January 1982 is of greater detail.
When delivered the report and the Safe Neighbourhood Unit were subject of a BBC documentary.
I have the original report still as it is still one of my most treasured possessions [along-side] my reports of German War Crimes in Poland which incidentally can be viewed today at the Sydney Holocaust museum.
Housing safe communities
The alienation felt by a community with no sense of inclusion is seen in the 1965 Watt’s rebellion in Los Angeles. Like the London Riots was similarly attacked in its day as a criminal enterprise, but history has now properly recorded it as a true revolt against poverty and discrimination.
History will eventually report the UK Riots in this way
The rich and powerful benefit from divisions and rivalries based on colour ethnicity, race religion, in the oppressed communities. Arguably, these same forces promote criminalization as a way of preventing the kind of social unity that could become a powerful political force such as seen in revolutions in history.
A politically educated and organised working class is the frightening odyssey that certainly haunts the wealthy elite in Britain.
The wealthy elite in the US and Britain are well aware of an underground discontent fuelled by job loses cuts in public services imposed on the marginalised poor in Britain and the US.
It may interest you to know with civil unrest spreading into the western world, the US is readying what to do should mass riots break out state-side.
What exactly is the official US plan of action should the government need to step in and squash demonstrators? Send the military after minorities!
Marc Ambinder, a White House correspondent at The National Journal, writes that the armed forces have plans should widespread riots infiltrate America.
“If what happened in London ever happened in the US, the military has plans – CONPLAN 3501 and 3502 – to suppress the insurrection,” The instructions contained with the CONPLAN guidelines are believed to be initiatives that the US can enact during times of domestic disturbances.
Just an Onlooker today
Today I live in Sydney Australia and increasingly miss my London. I watched the TV images of the riots and remembered my involvement on the frontlines of the Lewisham Riots in 1977.
Though originally brought up in care in Hertfordshire I grew up in Hither Green and Deptford in the London Borough of Lewisham. With each image I saw on the TV I felt a longing to go back. That’s me still believing I can make a difference. I believe what I know today equips me to make even better fist of it at encouraging the youth to take a positive approach to this challenging situation of social deprivation poverty and unemployment.
I feel guilty that I’m not there now; though I did make application to return to run a project in Brighton in early 2010 and am yet to receive an acknowledgement of my application almost 2 years later.
So why did the revolt happen? The daily bombardment of deceitful advertising messages “that you are what you wear, what you drive, what you watch and what you watch it on” but sorry you can’t have it if you aint gotta job is bound to cause a collision sooner or later If all you have is the bleakness of a grey housing estate landscape with the only light coming from multi coloured advertising messages it’s little wonder they have their faces covered and fucking hoods up.
Damage to property has, of course, been a feature of many violent protests in Britain’s past. The suffragettes targeted gentleman’s tailors as symbols of patriarchal oppression. Anti-capitalist protesters targeted major global brands such as McDonalds and Starbucks.
It seems with very few exceptions almost all Parliamentarians came out saying behaviour is “unjustifiable” and “unacceptable” without questioning how it might have been avoided. Britain needs to look at “cause and effect” and just why so many people feel so completely marginalised. They of course now indulge in a range of finger-pointing and name calling
Should we be surprised that these young people behaved destructively, How should we describe the actions of the city bankers who brought the World economy to its knees as the waltzed off with their big bank bonuses.
They wear suits and in Australia we reward riches won by doing over someone in business. It’s interesting bar one notable example not one of the Banker financiers is in Gaol. So it seems size does matter only nick a pair of trainers.
The public and international Anglophile anger expressed even here in Australia provoked by the scenes of looting and violence seen on our screens August 6-8 is evident in support for calls for the British police to employ tougher tactics including water cannon and Rubber Bullets and calls for the Army. This predictable hysteric response promoted by the globally owned and distorted media is not the answer. The interviewing in Australia journalists social commentators who are completely out of touch having done no research on the matter is profoundly unhelpful. One of the worst example was the interview on either Lateline or the 7.30 report of a Rick Brown a criminologist from the ANU who obviously hadn’t done any research or preparation on the issue just “faffing” around with vague answers throughout the entire segment.
Why interview an onlooker like Rick Brown who obviously haven’t done empirical research on social issues
If you don’t want your young people to tear apart the High Street as they retrieve their “Bankers Bonus” or retrieve their “Tax rebate” like Robin and all the Hoodys you better wake up and start to engage the less well off and deliver a sense of purpose for existence and one where the purpose is to have the latest gadget from Apple